What is the future of fashion?

Four GenZ designers take us through their vision as brand owners in the ever-changing digital world.

Harper's Bazaar India

The age-old question of how education affects the career you choose and how you grow in life, lingers. And we couldn’t help but wonder the same about the fashion world. Is having an education in fashion important for a career in the field? We asked aspiring designers behind four Gen Z brands (none of whom have an educational background in the field) whether it matters. Sufia Lambrou and Aarna Salla of Acel; Ansh Gupta of Eggwhites; Jay Mehta of Stamp Duty; and Tianna Khambatta of Fringe, shared what inspired their foray into the world of fashion.  
A quick scroll through these emerging Indian fashion brands will show how they are striving to customise high-street fashion, long been synonymous with brands like Zara and H&M, for the Indian audience. Mehta, Khambatta, and Gupta said they were compelled to start their respective brands because they felt there was a gap between what is available in stores and what they wanted. Mehta said, “I saw a disconnect between brands and the consumers. Some brands don’t resonate with the Indian audience; it’s called western wear for a reason, right? And as a western wear brand, it is something we wanted to change.'' 
In a freewheeling conversation, the GenZ founders go on to talk about all things fun and fashion as they take us behind the scenes and into their vision as budding brand owners.   

From L-R: Aarna Salla, Sufia Lambrou, Jay Mehta, Ansh Gupta, Swapnil Pande, Rishika Daryani, Tianna Khambatta

What it takes to build a memorable brand 

Making your presence felt in a space where brands are almost becoming unforgettable—thanks to targeted ads, collaborations with influencers and the works—is challenging and takes a lot of effort. And it only gets tougher when a small team or an individual is doing it all—from researching and designing to marketing. Talk about multitasking! 

“Every day is a new struggle,” admitted Salla and Lambrou explained why that is so. “It is difficult to get people to take you seriously. The craftsmen are almost twice your age and often don’t share the same vision for a design. Sometimes, we need to put our foot down to get a design made.” She went on to explain that these conversations and the approach can get overwhelming, considering they are only 18-years old. Lambrou and Salla, who got the idea of creating a brand after successfully managing a thrift store as part of their college project, shared how it is a huge responsibility for them. “We haven’t figured out what we want to do with our life; we just jumped into this. But now we have employees whose livelihood depends on us.” 

Gupta talked about his experience, “In the beginning, suppliers didn’t take me seriously, but now that we give them large orders, there is a shift in their attitude.” 
In addition to meeting the demands, Mehta mentions how there are other technical aspects of running a brand and how the pressure to get things right is all-prevailing. He said, “We also have to deal with finances and people management. There’s a lot to take care of—marketing, designing, executing, and the list goes on—but it’s part of the process and we’ve accepted that. For me, fashion is a series of propositions, so every day you want to make an opinion or put something you strongly feel about out there.”  

Pande added, “We’ve converted our struggle into fun—whether it is coordination, getting things done, marketing, or even social media. And that matters.” The brand’s social media manager, Rishika Daryani explained how everything is new and exciting, “But sometimes you don’t know what’s right to put it out there or what would work for them. People will take inspiration from you and that’s a lot of responsibility.” 

The love affair between fashion and art, then and now

Throughout history, art has inspired fashion. From D&G and Hermès to YSL, Valentino, and Versace, many fashion designers have created outstanding collection based on art movements. However, with fast fashion picking pace and consumption trends changing rapidly, there has been a shift. According to these Gen Z brand owners, globalisation and rapid commercialisation has driven fashion away from art. “Every piece that Maison Margiela, Issey Miyake, or even Alexander McQueen created told a story. Everything—from the stitch to the fabric—was art. We want to bring that back,” said Lambrou. Mehta agreed and expressed his wish to go the unconventional route to bring back the artistic silhouettes that were lost. 

What they love (and hate) about their work

Playing to each person’s strengths is at the crux of great team work and smooth running of an organisation, and these Gen Z brand owners exemplify that. Salla and Lambrou work hand in glove and have the perfect tuning. Salla likes sketching and looking up patterns and hates going to the tailor, while Lambrou detests sketching. Lambrou added, “I love ideating and working with patterns. I am a perfectionist. Sometimes if there is something wrong with a mock piece, I get it made the second time; it’s something I enjoy doing.”  

“Fabric shops are like candy land for me! When I see fabrics, ideas pop in my head,” shared an excited Khambatta, as she continued, “Sometimes the scraps I put together change the look and feel of the piece. I do not get attached to my initial designs, because it’s fun to go with the flow and see what we end up creating.”  
On what their workplace looks like 

Aarna Salla and Sufia Lambrou

We asked the Gen Z founders if they could ever do a 9 to 5 job and the answer was a resounding no! In an entire work day, the group squeezes in studies, personal development, physical activity, and of course, building and running their brand. 

“Our work environment is chill. Everyone involved in the process—from the designer to the tailor—has a say. But sometimes the communication gets difficult as there’s a thin line between being their boss and respecting them because of their age and experience,” said Lambrou. 

Eggwhites also seems to have fun and inclusion at the core of its functioning. Gupta said, “I often incorporate suggestions from my designer and tailors for a design. I am open trying it their way. Our experts give their inputs, in addition to taking it up as a challenge to give form to the design. The discussions are fun and insightful.” Pande echoed the sentiment, “There is stress, but it is on us how we channel it. Watching our designs come to life and our product shoots are the most exciting part of the work.”  

Khambatta gave us an insight into being a one-person company, and concluded, “It’s just me and my tailor. I have fun with my materials, fabrics, and embellishments. I’m pursuing art design, so waste is like gold to me; I love repurposing. I like that there are no standards set, so if I make mistakes, I learn from them and move on.”  

Yay and nay fashion moments

We asked the designers the one trend they never want to see making a comeback and the one they hope sticks around for the long haul. Salla points out the trendy Balenciaga sunglasses she loves and wished tights with denim shorts never made a comeback. Lambrou added, “I remember wearing hideous fishnet tights, neon tops, and chokers. Neon should never trend again!” 

Mehta agreed with the Acel girls and expressed his dislike for anything skinny-fitted. “I am drawn to neutral, simpler, and lighter colours. I think oversized clothing will stay forever because it’s so comfortable.” Gupta expressed his love for ripped, distressed denim, “I like the effortlessness of ripped clothes. You can pair them with anything.” Khambatta went on to express her hatred for peplums and talked about navigating trends and making them your own. This conceded with the unanimous opinion on the table that sometimes it is more about fitting in and not standing out.

The dream muse

Finally, we asked the up-and-coming group of visionaries who is the one person they’d be excited to see wearing their clothes. Salla hoped it is Alexa Demie. “We are obsessed with her!” added Lambrou as they both fangirled. “For me, it’s Bella Hadid and Kanye West,” said Mehta, while Gupta hoped to dress Logan Paul someday. “The Weeknd is on my wishlist,'' added Pande. Paying a nod to home ground, Khambatta stated, “I think Ranveer Singh will wear something I make and he’s going to rock it because I feel like he gets my style.”