The first time I saw the clothing line at Msafiri via Instagram, I felt so drawn and connected to its layers, prints and the classic & minimal style.
I then made sure to get in touch with Saanya; with an eagerness to know her story. I was so inquisitive to understand the ideology behind such thoughtful designs.
Now since this post is all about her story. Let me lead you straight to the crux.
Born and raised in Ahmedabad, Saanya has been brought up around the handwoven work. Which is currently collapsing in the clothing industry.
Saanya was a science student. She expressed “I have never thought of getting into any of this”. But since both of her maternal and paternal family were into textile business, she has seen handwoven work like Kota, Chikan Kari and likewise throughout her life.
Right from the 1st year at the Institute of Apparel Management, she started working. In that way, she parallelly also learnt styling, photography and client handling.
Working with Rugberry taught her a lot of business. She was working with them while she was in college then started working full-time there.
“I wasn’t thinking about opening my business. I was open to doing new things.”
Then she chose to work with few brands in various industries viz. interiors, bags, clothing. But after handling everything for a brand which was into production of rugs, she decided to move back into the fashion line. “I wanted to understand the fashion industry better” she added.
PATH TOWARDS MSAFIRI
“People don’t value Indian origin fabric like Tussar silk and likewise”. So through travel and designing, a thought of re-originating such fabrics from each city has emerged.
Furthermore, she advanced away from the studded fashion industry and began to travel.
Hence the name, Msafiri. Which means traveller (Musafir in Urdu). Saanya states “It is an extension of what I am and who I want to be.”
Sensing a big gap, she began to research what is missing in the market. The durable, Indian community made materials with age-old designs was the drop. She wants to bring these designs in contemporary form.
After travelling alone, Saanya moved back to Ahmedabad. Now, her mother also helps her in the business. That’s the kind of family support young designers need, which further helps them better to focus on other aspects of a business.
“Travelling was the best thing. Ease of meeting people, staying with them, understanding their stories. It’s really sweet to go back to the village. We lost the touch with our roots and we are missing out on so much because of this steadfast life. Travel brings peace to me.”
Msafiri will not limit to women’s clothing. Design is a holistic approach. So at some point, it will get into other features of lifestyle.
CHALLENGES & STRUGGLES
Unexpected reactions from customers are a part and parcel of running any business. Also, because of her early beginnings in the industry, may it be labours or customers, they didn’t take her seriously.
“I was ready with challenges, but no one is ever ready with all kinds of challenges”.
One major challenge she confronted is that the people in the village aren’t fast. They are pretty laid back. But client’s won’t wait for a product, which is meant to be delivered on time. And neither she wants to force the artisans, cuz she respects them. And also because doing things quickly won’t serve the beauty of designs. So time-management around this scenario was a learning for her.
I was relieved to know that Tax and GST is a nightmare not only to me but to Saanya too. It is so complicated. In her case, the weavers were not educated as well. But this all was a learning for the entire family of Msafiri brand.
EVOLUTION OF THE BRAND
In the past, since it was the beginning, exhibitions went fairly well.
At present, Saanya is working on understanding the market in other cities by exhibiting in Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. She recently did one pop-up at Singapore as well.
“Personally, am not an online shopper. So reaching out to people offline and understanding the customer’s psychology better will help me with researching on pricing.”
In the recent future, she will be starting a website soon. And do more of exhibitions around 1 & 2 Tier cities as well as international ones.
FINDING THE STYLE OF MSAFIRI
All her life she has seen her family wearing a particular style of dresses that dwells in minimal and classic silhouettes.
Also, feedback from her clients has helped her in terms of comfort, textile, functionality. That further extended her design elements and brought in attentive patterns in stitching.
AUDIENCE OF MSAFIRI
Seemingly, flea markets are taking a lot of her effort in justifying the pricing to the people The portion of appreciation is pretty less in there.
Even the visitors at 5-star hotel pop-up exhibitions, feel that the products are overpriced. So she has moved onto curated events (e.g. ideas on conscious living).
WHY ARE PRODUCTS WITH TERMS LIKE SUSTAINABLE AND ORGANIC, COST SO MUCH?
The customers used to ask her “This dress looks so simple. Why are you charging 5k for it?” Most of the time she tried explaining the people who can’t afford. But some don’t even look at the pricing and buy them. She adds “Because they’ve experienced it. People need to experience it. The clothes instead get better in quality after washing. “
“I belong to a middle-class family, used to be a shopaholic. But I also wanted to bring the shift. It is about the choices you make. If you buy 3 clothes of mediocre quality, instead, buy one of impeccable quality”
Thankfully like me, she too believes in conscious living. Saanya elaborated that, people buy from Forever 21, Zara etc. at season sales (and they lasts hardly for 2 months). Because of which, sadly the supply of locally produced materials has reduced so much.
That extra amount that the new Indian designers’ charge is for great design, fabric, quality, the effort for patterns and stitching are intense. There’s so much sampling that goes into it before even it hits the market for sale.
I second that Saanya. People are okay with purchasing from a mass production line. And are kind of okay with having someone wearing the same dress as they are on the same spot at the same time. The only reason being it is cost effective.
“Here’s the irony. If you demand more of Indian, organic fabric, more will be the supply. So the weavers will get more work, eventually which will reduce the cost of our products. Thereby making ‘organic’ and sustainable’ products more affordable.”
Sustainable products are things that will last long. Beautiful handwoven locally made dresses with styles will charm the generations to come. You can pass them onto someone else, reuse them, restitch them.
ACADEMY VS SELF-TAUGHT SKILLS
According to her, students of art first need to intern, have a job and then they can move to own a business.
“Don’ be motivated by money, be motivated by work. Don’t expect money right from the beginning. Most art enthusiasts are not aware of their capabilities. They won’t know till they explore it.”
She states that exploring the potential happens while working with other people. Because you learn more from other people than you do all by yourself.
Saanya also mentions that the college has pushed her confidence and motivated her to research. B, but it was her travelling to various cities that taught her the most about everything else related.
She believes that you’ll also learn a lot from working with people in a similar industry. For e.g. dealing with clients, customers, artisans, marketing people etc.
She had interns, coming for 2-3 months for helping her in the business. And they were hired according to their strong work ethics in various departments.
Her mother handles the entire store. Only recently she has hired a textile designer because she had a pretty similar aesthetics.
As far as social media is concerned, Saanya herself is handling it entirely. She is also the one who consistently contacts and follow up with the clients.
What rules your job profile, what’s the drive?
Travelling, understanding culture and meeting weavers. Crafts originating from different regions, has its own history, geography and material yields. It is so versatile.
The worst part of your job?
What do you like in current lifestyle trends?
Exquisite fabric that designers are using. I am amazed by the sector of the new and upcoming designers who are bringing more variety in handwoven textiles. Even the luminary designers like Ritu, Sabhyasachi and brands like Raw Mango.
What inspires you every then and now?
Once every month I travel, so the people around me, the way they dress up, architecture. Even the cute things my intern brings office. I observe quality, comfort, functionality and style. I do not stick with one aspect of a thing, rather multiple. I have clothing based on my travel, not as per season. Indian regions inspire me.
Favourite guilty pleasure?
What’s always in your bag?
Phone charger, lip balm, eyeliner. Because I look dead after hours of work.
Which place are you planning to visit next?
Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand
I have come across many designers and brands who are into sustainable clothing label. But at Msafiri, the softness of the fabric can be touched through the naked eyes. The minimalistic approach and delightful crafting via stitches have specifically caught my attention.
This is the first time, I am writing about a brand before accessing it live or owning a piece of it. Because I am so confident about this brand.
Experiences while travelling is definitely in contrast to the ones happening at Fashion Weeks. But the way she has woven two of her passions is beautiful and inspiring.
Presently her focus is only Instagram and Facebook, that’s why the website is taking a backstage. So you can enquire and place an order, or stay updated about her exhibitions in your city via those social media platforms.
Do you own a piece in your wardrobe that is organic or sustainable? Do you believe in the concept of slow and sustainable fashion?