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Everyone has a story to tell, a dream to pursue. Meet fashion designer Nidhi Sharma, who takes action on her aspirations to make them reality.
When we are kids, we want to become everything that we fancy. We’ve all played our favourite characters in games: chor-police, teacher-student, doctor-patient, king-queen. We’ve made make-shift houses with bed sheets, pillows and all sorts of odd things. The 80s-90s were an age of long power cuts, no internet, and a solitary Doordarshan channel on TV. Our exposure to the outside world was limited, through a few movies and serials. Yet, this was enough for us to be attracted to the technicolor mirage of dreams. Despite this collective experience, only a few of us achieved our childhood dreams.
From being an 80s kid with a dream to become a fashion designer when she came across a fashion show on television, Nidhi Sharma Sethi is now the Senior Vice President of BIBA in the process of conceptualising her own brand. Owing to her mother’s knack for dressing up her daughters, and Nidhi’s interest in stitching, she began designing her dresses by the age of 15.
She is a romantic, loves travelling in India and outside, and chanelises her experiences into creating her designs. She has worked with brands like Planet Sports, W – the contemporary Indian wear brand, NDTV ethnic wear venture-indianroots.com, and JB Exports.
Let us meet my tenacious friend Nidhi Sharma Sethi who entices and raises the fashion tastebuds of a quotidian to a unique style quotient.
What does success mean to you?
Creativity for me means innovations with comfort and custom that may uniquely dress the common. I know, it seems like a paradox but this is what anyone desires: to dress appropriately in style. I am a designer for masses, therefore, success for me is to observe my design becoming a new fashion fad.
How have life events changed you over the years?
I have two sisters. My parents grieved for a boy that they were never blessed with. My father turned overprotective to raise his precious daughters within a pretentious honourable social protocol. I wanted to prove my mettle as being no lesser than that of a boy. I was good in studies and as stereotypical parents, my father nursed the hope that I would make him proud as a doctor, engineer or an IAS.
I reluctantly opted for science in class XI. We had a big showdown in class XII when I didn’t fill-up the forms for the medical entrance exam. I resolved to fight my battle and was crazy enough to intentionally spoil my Physics and Chemistry papers so that I may not get admission in science in future. I struggled with a patriarchal, orthodox mindset for four years to secure admission in India’s premier designing institute NIFT.
My dream to become a fashion designer did not go well with my father’s conventions and status. He had an unpleasant experience while visiting the NIFT campus in Delhi upon my insistence. It turned out to be a big deterrent as he came across a couple kissing on the campus. It was a taboo to work in such fields, and this episode strengthened his belief that fashion designing, modelling and acting are not meant for girls of ‘good honourable families’.
He tried talking me out of it via heated discussions, silent treatments, counselling by friends, reward and punish strategies, and finally warned me that he would marry me off just after class XII. Both of us were adamant and finally, I agreed to complete my graduation, and then pursue my dream in the final year. He assumed that my ‘fitoor’ would soon fade away.
I opted for fine arts and psychology and got admission at MKP girls college in Dehradun. I never broached the subject again, but kept nursing my wounded soul for three years. I learned to sketch, design, practise day and night to qualify for the entrance. In the final year of my graduation, I asked my father for just one chance. He was aghast with my stubbornness on my designer dream but gave in.
Ok, great! And then?
My cousin’s friend in Delhi advised me to draw any sketch, figure, interiors of a room without looking at it, practice so much that 3-D images are printed in your mind. I could make a ceiling fan, cat, furniture, name anything perfectly with my eyes closed. I had a flair for fine sketching and designing but it was Ms Neena Khanna who trained me to qualify for the entrance exam and the interviews. She still helps the NIFT/designing aspirants at her coaching institute, AFS academy in South Delhi.
My maternal uncle, Vivek Sharma, is very close to us, and he gave one mantra: While you are in the examination hall, concentrate on your sheet, don’t look at what others are doing. I still follow this mantra in my life. I kept drawing and enjoyed completing my paper well in time. I was selected to the most coveted institute in design. I danced and jumped that night, probably broke my bed.
I was allotted the Hyderabad NIFT which was newly opened. I was sceptical that my parents would not agree to send me to Hyderabad to live in a hostel. But things had changed. My father came along and completed the formalities, taught me how to use a bank account and a lot more. He visited the institute, observed life closely through my eyes. He returned home a proud father.
People approached Papa for advice on a career in fashion and admission to NIFT. I used to have a muffled laugh whenever he said, “I always advise my daughters to opt for a professional course.” When I returned during my first vacation from NIFT, he was a changed man. The incident paved the way for my sisters and many more in my family.
What’s your defining story as a designer?
Life happened when I moved to Hyderabad to study at NIFT. I just loved that period in my life: three years of hard work, my newfound freedom, independence, and learning design! I completed my course with flying colours.
The turning point was not to opt for labelled designers, haute couture for elite fashion shows. Here, the clients are limited but big tickets. The drawback is that either a new designer has to work under an established designer, or needs to have an insane amount of money to launch a classy, independent brand.
In 1999, there was hardly any retail sector in clothing in India except for a few export houses. I wanted to be in designing and not in merchandising. Campus learning and designing in the field are poles apart.
Tell us about getting into the retail fashion scene.
Each job was a learning experience that shaped my vision. My first job was at J.B. Exports. I learned designing for retail based on the specifications given by foreign clients. Interpreting the buyer’s mind came naturally to me and helped me in designing perfectly, as per the demands.
Planet Sports was launched in 2000. I was lucky to join in January 2001 when the Indian retail industry was booming. It was a new concept in sports and lifestyle brands. We created ranges for men, women and kids apparel; launched Converse, Puma, Speedo and Barbie apparels in India, and Arena in the Philippines. While managing the retail sector along with designing, I learned creating a range and selling a brand, getting the requisite licences and identifying the market needs. Since then I continue to be in retail.
W is the most professional and organised brand in the retail fashion industry. I joined W in 2004 and learned about the ethnic contemporary fashion industry for women. Working there as a senior designer was an eye-opener with multitudes of creating designs and vast opportunities in women’s fashion. From organising photoshoots to conceptualising window displays and selecting jewellery from Hong Kong, Paris and other countries to go with the apparels was an experience in itself.
The fourth turning point was BIBA. From a professional business group to a family-owned business was a big change. Here, the owner Mina Bindra and her son Siddarath Bindra gave a free hand in selecting my team of designers to set up BIBA’s first design studio and sampling section. The clean slate BIBA soon tasted professional success with the launch of my first collection within two months of my joining in 2006. The business doubled by the end of the next two months and there was no looking back. I became a very important person at BIBA. As the head designer, I channelised their retail business. From a turnover of 17 crores, the company today has a turnover of 800 crores, and 700 stores across India. I am the proud senior Vice-President of the company today.
What inspires you to become an entrepreneur?
As luck would have it, I joined all my companies in their nascent stage. I grew with the companies I worked with. My passion to design for the retail window made me learn the trait of identifying market mood, buyer’s need and fashion across India and abroad in agreement to customs, culture and local traditions. The cut-throat corporate learning of life, limits of experimenting and introducing fresh ideas successfully take years of understanding the target customers. I am in a position now where I can freely experiment, take risks and enjoy my passion on my terms.
I want to carve my niche and launch a brand to reflect the real Nidhi with my ‘NIDHI’ (treasure). I am super excited to showcase my style and conscious art of living through my brand.
What is your idea behind your brand?
The aura and era demand conscious mindful living. I want to launch a range which is completely in sync with nature, and sustainable fashion living. A legacy to carry forward for future generations and ever. I want to plan a wholesome conscious living concept. From interiors to artefacts, fabrics and lifestyle range, everything will be in the league of tenable nature and aestheticism at its best.
We have immense diverse designs, raw material, fabrics, natural dyes in vibrant colours, styles, patterns and traditions to learn, experiment, mix and match and improvise. My strength lies in combining traditional art across the globe into a unique modern fusion of Artistique‘s signature style. It is an amalgamation of my life. My products reflect the global concept of fashion in a natural environmental friendly fabric and raw material drawn from organic farming and natural occurring states. The range includes pure eco-friendly breathable items that soothe the body, home and the ambience. It is a fusion of traditional Indian art and designs with the global world.
You are a globetrotter. A hodophile designer. What’s your take on it?
I love travelling and that is my ultimate stress buster, unwind raga, an inspiration for more designs and learning. I have travelled all around the world and India to explore the unseen, unravelled mystery of nature, tradition, art and typical designs created over the centuries in a particular community. London, Milan, Paris, Greece, Belgium, Ghant, Scotland, Netherlands, Rome, Venice, Sardinia(Italy), Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Austria, Japan, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Gaunzow, Thailand, Singapore, Mauritius. Just name a place, I might have a story to share. If you suggest something exotic and exciting and I haven’t been there, you might find me scouting it next time.
In India, I have toured the length and breadth of the country to learn the traditional art and culture. Hunted down the exact origin of a particular fabric or design and how it is made in collusion with safe environmental practices. Our natural dyes and organic fabrics are the keys to sustainable development in fashion and conscious living. I’ve visited villages and remote areas and discovered the unexplored beauty and designs that make us so diverse and unique.
Which is your favourite place?
Each place has something unique. In India, it’s Rajasthan for its vibrant colours in the backdrop of sand multitudes. London is my one-stop for fashion and shopping as it is the metro city of the entire world. Burges in Germany is my favourite destination for its natural beauty. I find it very green, peaceful and liberating. Remember ‘Daffodils by Wordsworth’
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
This is what travelling does to me and my designing. Both are my source of pure joy.
Behind every successful man, there is a woman. What about a successful woman?
Definitely. I have two adorable kids, and a loving husband who has always prioritised my aspirations and shared responsibilities whenever I am at work. My achievements wouldn’t have been possible without him having an active role in raising our children. He always held the family fort happy and happening during my frequent business trips abroad or in India. He has been my pillar of strength in all my ups and down, listened to me with patience and trusted my instincts without judging me.
What legacy would you like to leave for your family?
I want my children to be happy in whatever they pursue. I don’t want them to run in a rat race of success and amassing wealth. They should value humanity and be ready to serve and help as and when required. Being thoughtful, humble and happy is my legacy for them.
How do you visualize yourself in ten years? What is your life goal?
I want my brand to carve a niche in society as a conscious, mindful artistique brand. My customer should have faith in me that one is buying my product as a contribution to sustainable living for the future generation. A statement to the world of fashion that global and local can coexist beautifully for every fashionista.
Learn to be with nature. It has given us so much. Be grateful and return to nature for the sake of our future generations. We can live in style and adorn the new age development and fashion without causing damage to nature. So, Choose Mindfully!
I follow the same philosophy, in designing and my life. Be YOU, do what you love to do with full conviction. Don’t compare and look at other sheets. Plan and draw your own designs, follow them zealously. Success and life will follow you back. Contentment is a bonus.
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Alumna of English and Foreign Languages University, Teacher and Academic consultant, Mother of two logic-
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