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Design in their DNA

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Design in their DNA

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Established in 2011, fashion label ‘Peppermint Diva’ is Kolkata-based designer duo Deepika Agarwal and Mita Jatia’s standalone endeavour to pave their path to entrepreneurial success as Marwari women. In a first-person account for MARWAR, the cousins talk about stepping into an uncharted territory, their journey from homemakers to businesswomen and emerging victorious to carve out a niche of their own in the fashion arena.

WE ARE COUSINS WITH A…common interest in fashion. We studied fashion design at the Birla Institute of Liberal Arts and Management Sciences (BILAMS), Kolkata. We were homemakers, dabbling in fashion design and working on our own garments from home, until we decided to take a giant step forward and scale up our work. This meant stepping outside the comfort zone of our homes, renting a space, building the infrastructure, hiring a team and establishing a company. We have a similar design philosophy and wanted to create an ethnic wear brand. And thus, Peppermint Diva was born in May 2011 at Kolkata.

 

Naming the brand
It was after a lot of brainstorming that we decided on the unusual name ‘Peppermint Diva’ for our brand. It was cool, funky and immediately piqued the curiosity of many. Peppermint refreshes you and our designs make you feel like a diva—hence the name. For each garment, we focus on fresh designs by mixing pastels and vibrant colours in unexpected yet delightful combinations. We also use embellishments such as cut dana mixed with thread-and-mirror work. This eclectic mix appeals to young brides as well as family members and friends looking for outfits for weddings or other special occasions. When we started, the kind of Indian wear available in stores was either very high-end or too low-end, so we decided to build our brand on mid-range prices, but with great design and quality. Customers tell us our garments are excellent value for money.

pep1Learning the ropes
When we started, we were not well equipped to manage a company. As homemakers with children, although we had family support, we didn’t have the requisite experience. Managing a company with karigars and administrative staff is a completely different ball game. Even with our design-oriented education, dealing with employees, handling accounting issues and logistical problems were not something we were familiar with.
We had to make sure everyone in our team worked in sync. The karigars, embroiderers and pattern makers all needed to be on the same page if the garments we envisioned had to be created. It did take time to get everyone working as a team and we learnt a lot during the process. Handling a business in India is no easy task, especially if you are a woman. Sometimes, we needed a man to step in to sort things out. Our families were encouraging and motivated us. With their support, we were able to navigate the unfamiliar territory of running a fashion house.


Increasing visibility

When it came to design, we had a vision for our first collection, guided by which we prepared our samples. We were an unknown brand, so we first worked on gaining recognition for Peppermint Diva. We packed our samples in suitcases and like itinerant salespersons went to buyers across the country—New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai—to explore retail opportunities. Despite our confidence in our designs, quality and creativity, waiting for the final nod from buyers was always nail-biting.
Meanwhile, we looked for ways to be directly visible to potential customers. Since we were confident of our designs, we set about doing this by following a simple but aggressive strategy: be seen at the right places. So, as we scouted retail stores, we simultaneously participated at premium exhibitions across the country. These exhibitions were tiring and hectic, but the experience was rewarding and our strategy worked. By just being there helped generate word-of-mouth publicity and made Peppermint Diva a fairly identifiable name in the market.

pep2Adding star value
In India, celebrity-watching is a pastime. So, when a celebrity wears your brand, you are suddenly in demand. With this is mind, we put our public relations machinery into motion; we began collaborating with stylists and soon enough celebrities started appearing
in Peppermint Diva ensembles at
public events.
A major breakthrough was when the gorgeous Madhuri Dixit Nene wore our outfit for the TV show Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa three years ago. Karisma Kapoor chose to wear a Peppermint Diva ensemble for a high profile event in Abu Dhabi as well. Both are quintessentially stylish, so when they chose to wear our clothes, it gave us a reason to feel flattered and be proud of our work.

Measuring success
For a business, success is measured in terms of sale and profit. While a healthy balance sheet is critical for any company, to us, delighted customers are just as important. If a young woman tells us, “I wore your lehnga for my sangeet ceremony and it was beautiful” or “I got several compliments for my Peppermint Diva outfit at my sister’s wedding”, it means a lot to us. This kind of feedback inspires us to work harder and stay true to our design philosophy.
Since we started out, we’ve noticed some changes in the Indian fashion scene, be it in terms of industry professionals or end customers. People are more style conscious now and want to look different yet trendy at weddings and festive occasions. And there are new designers popping up every month, adding heat to the already competitive market. This means it is survival of the fittest, and the need of the hour, therefore, is to be innovative. It’s good to see how serious the process of buying has become with careful attention to quality and design, pricing and logistics.

Preparing for the future
A natural step while building a fashion brand is to participate in a fashion week, which we have skipped completely so far. Therefore, the next leg of our journey would be to showcase our collection at a renowned fashion week. After all, it’s a great platform to meet more designers, get feedback on our designs and interact with buyers.
What began as a passion for both of us has now transformed into an established brand. Our baby is going places. From homemakers, we’ve transformed into designers and businesswomen who are serious about their work. In the Marwari community, you’re usually identified as someone’s wife, daughter or daughter-in-law. Now that we have our own business, we have formed our own identities as Deepika and Mita of Peppermint Diva. It has made us more strong-willed, career-oriented and determined. We cherish the acknowledgement that comes with it—even homemakers can fulfil their dreams —and the respect that it brings.

We still have a long way to go as a fashion house and we want to spread our wings and fly further. So, as we focus on expansion, we also remain on the lookout for new projects and challenges. We’re being asked about ethnic wear for children, so perhaps sometime in the future we may think about launching a kids wear line.

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