You know what determines longevity and relevance in a business and design market which is teaming with creativity, talent, unique sensibilities, and is continually evolving? Your ability to reinvent with ingenuity and a studied determination to connect with a clientele that is not one standard size, loves how they feel when they slip into the garment you have thoughtfully put together as a designer, and keeps coming back for more, season after season. Shweta Kapur, founder and creative director of 431-88 has the 'always relevant' disposition inbuilt in her design DNA, loved by women who are always on the go, stylishly.
Although she started her label in 2012 after working with industry stalwarts like Abu Jani - Sandeep Khosla, Nitin Bal Chauhan amongst others, post a stint at Burberry in London and VPL in New York, her pieces were considerd too edgy and contemporary at the time. It was only later that with the pre-draped sari things really took off, making it easier for her fuss-free separates to get the much needed spotlight they deserved. Ten years later, Shweta Kapur's latest collection 'X' celebrates chic minimalism that elevates transitional dressing and everyday style. We caught up with Kapur to talk design, non-negotiables, and how to keep it real in an often crowded and cluttered market.
Harper's Bazaar (HB): This year marks a decade since you started your label, take us through the highest high and the lowest low you have had as a designer?
Shweta Kapur (SK): It’s definitely been a long ride and a very interesting one to say the least. I believe, everyday is a new day. One of the major highs was to showcase on the runway with FDCI very early on in my career. It was a time when all designers and buyers were inclined towards bridal and couture and for 431-88 to break through that with its pure contemporary voice was a major high. Our aim was to bring contemporary fashion into mainstream conversation. I gradually made a place for myself at the proverbial table and found recognition by the media and other industry professionals. The only downside I would say was when, despite the appreciation, sales weren’t as fast to pick up and sustaining the business became difficult. It’s when I decided to give out my best with Coll 12, making it a do or die for 431-88 as a brand. Luckily, that was the biggest turn around for us as our elements of fringes and saris were much loved. The rest is history.
HB: What does a day in the life of Shweta Kapur look like?
SK: It’s pretty standard. Mornings are all about self-care and me time. My morning meditation and coffee is non-negotiable and I don’t talk to anyone before that. I’m also strict with my 8am workout slot because if I don’t get that done, then finding time in the day is pretty tough. For the first half, I like to check in and follow-up with each department in my team. Post lunch, I sit on my tasks and tick off things from my checklist. Evenings are for me to unwind with my dogs and have family time. Weekends are also usually quite chill with dinner and drinks with my close friends at home. Basically my days of raging are over.
HB: In your earlier interviews you speak of how the digits that define your brand have been special, do tell us how they hold meaning to you besides being the last five digits of your phone number and manage to transcend any other numerical codes?
SK: I have been asked many times about the meaning of my brand’s name. It’s actually very simple, 431-88 has been derived from the digits of my number which have been lucky for me.
HB: You’ve worked with international brands like Burberry and trained under Abu Jani - Sandeep Khosla. What were your biggest takeaways working with them?
SK: Working with big names really does make a big difference. I remember working every summer during my uni days and exploring different segments of the industry, from journalism to styling, I have done it all. This led not only to make my basics strong but also worked for me to understand some important learnings that teaches you the length and breadth of the entire business. I have worked with big brands like Burberry, where, being a huge organisation, your job was just to do one thing and focus primarily on it and on the other hand I have also worked with small labels like VPL NYC where the work was always hands-on. The differentiation is very interesting to be honest and I have incorporated the same in my working process, where initially we were a small team where departments were not so structured and now where we have a dedicated team for everything.
In all my jobs working with international companies, the biggest takeaway was how to structure and run a fashion label as a business, since these were things that were not taught to us in fashion schools. And in all the Indian companies I worked with, the biggest learning was how to quickly adapt when problems come through. In short, how to use jugaad in the best possible way.
HB: What colour and material do you naturally gravitate towards while designing your pre-draped saris which are also a celeb favourite?
SK: I am a classic at heart and live in neutrals. Though I have always loved my black and whites, these days I’m finding a new love for colour contrasts. I believe colours when worn give such a fresh perspective. My first set of samples though are always in black or white where I focus on the cuts, details and the fit. Once that gets a go ahead, then I start playing with colours and textures. With saris the first go to is also always the fabric. Depending on how it drapes and falls, I drape it around my body to give it the right feel and make sure it accentuates the body the right way. Post that we start playing with colours.
HB: Your latest collection, 24-7, celebrates transitional dressing, however, you have been known for your pre-draped saris and the inherent feminine appeal of your collection. What are you keen on working next and does 24-7 signal a departure from your go-to style?
SK: We started 431-88 with an idea to provide fuss-free contemporary clothing. As we grew, our pre-draped saris which signified comfort and style, became a cult favourite. With 24-7, we wanted to bring the kind of clothes which can be worn at any time of the day. So be it pre-draped saris or everyday essential pieces, the idea has been constant: basic key separates that form the building blocks of your wardrobe. With completing a decade in the industry, we now intend to push the envelope further. Our new collection, Collection X celebrates the idea of elevated essentials. These are pieces that can be worn to work, to the gym, for travel and everyday lunches.
The core aesthetic of 431-88 will always remain the same. Sexy, feminine, confident and always authentic.
HB: How important is it for brands to evolve given how unpredictable and volatile the market can be? Lessons from lockdown you still carry with you three years on…
SK: The pandemic has taught us impressive lessons like adapting to the new normal and mending our approach towards business. Our Industry in itself is ever-evolving and with lockdown, communication and sale strategy changed overnight. There is a need for brands to have an authentic voice and position themselves where they connect with the audience who actually resonate with their vision.
At the same time, the first big lesson from lockdown was how to think and adapt quickly and embrace imperfection. If you feel something, commit to it and make it happen quickly. The world is not going to wait. And the second big lesson was to be friends with the concept of jugaad.
HB: For young designers starting out today, what are the things that they must keep in mind to be a cut above the rest?
SK: As I would see it, being real and having a strong comprehension of the business, assists you with supporting your brand over the long haul. I always say, creativity is the building block for any creative label but understanding how to market it, will always be a deciding factor for one's success.
And always have an authentic voice as no one can take that away from you.