Founders | Women Series | Payal Khandwala

Women series is a monthly edit to explore creative entrepreneurship amongst women globally. Through this series, we wish to understand creative journeys, challenges, inspirations and develop a community.


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1. Tell me about how your creative journey started. Did you have creative influences growing up? What education/training did you receive?

I grew up in a household where both my mother and my grandmother painted and sewed. In that respect I was hardwired to do both as I was growing up. I studied fashion at SNDT in Mumbai and left to pursue Fine Art at Parsons in New York. I lived there for 8 years and on my return, painted full time for a decade before an opportunity arose to show at fashion week.

I could never find clothes that I wanted to wear, simple, comfortable clothes that were well made, luxurious and dramatic but in a minimal way. So I decided I would just make them. I had studied design so it was easier but my background in art set us apart from the rest. Also there was no one else at the time making pret with an India modern voice, so the timing was great. The business grew speedily and organically, but it was never a strategic move, just a shift in canvas.

2. What has been the source of inspiration for you (people, travel, places, cultures etc)? 

Intrinsically I'm inspired by colour, paintings, architecture, minimalism, proportion, line, drape, structure, and bold graphics. I always look towards tribal cultures across the world for their art, jewellery and clothing. Flea markets when I travel are my favourite places to be refreshed. I can be inspired by something as simple as a flower or a carpet, or something more complex like geometry or music. If you keep yourself open I think the inspiration finds you. 

3. Can you also talk about your experience of working in The Textile and fashion industry in India? Do you think your cultural identity brought influences at work? How does a sari fit into this intersection of culture and fashion? 

I thrive on the vast resources that our country has to offer. I love our history of textiles and my clothes are deeply rooted in them. I've always wanted to retain the spirit of India but suggest clothing that transcends geographical boundaries. So my work now and even my art is entrenched in my cultural identity, but in a way that is not overt. The sari is one of those perfect garments that needs no intervention. It’s timeless and modern and taken out of its traditional context it can just as easily be part of the voice of a new India. We have so much to offer as a country, colour, textiles, shapes, drapes, this is our differentiator, just as long as it’s not predictable and lazy.

4. Could you share how you conceived the idea of your latest collection GEMINI?  What is the step forward for your brand? Would you like to share any other projects(textile, sustainability or women oriented) ? Could you comment about 'being a creative soul' and how does travel facilitate your ideas?  

As a Gemini and a sari lover myself, I’ve always wondered how to make the sari even more multipurpose than it already is. What if we could wear the same sari twice, with the same drape and same blouse yet somehow make it look different both times? This was the starting point. How does one innovate an Indian essential that is already perfect?I love separates because they can be teamed differently each time they are worn.But I wanted to extend this experience to the sari, so that it can in some way become a little more creative than it already is. So I conceived it to be reversible.  It’s designed in a way that it can simply be flipped so that when rotated it can be worn two ways. There are two contrasting pallus, extended in length for maximum impact. The body of the sari remains the same, whilst it works seamlessly with either end. Reimagined to be modular,this way we can reuse and repeat the same sari twice without it looking the same. I think this duality lends itself perfectly to my own personality and this twin zodiac. Its unpredictable, versatile and expressive it allows the wearer freedom and flexibility.I'm committed to making clothes for women that are designed by a woman. As a philosophy we make clothes that are season less and focus more on personal style, than They do on fashion or trends. Separates that are timeless, can be teamed with different wardrobe staples each time you wear them can add breadth to your closet, without having to buy new ones each time. What this collection suggests is a way to buy less but better.I believe very strongly that conscious consumption is integral to shifting the paradigm from fast and cheap fashion to slow fashion. The planet doesn’t need any more clothes that are dispensable and end up in landfills. To be truly sustainable we must find ways to reuse, recycle and repeat our clothes. And the onus lies both on the manufacturer and the consumer.

So I hope to continue in a small but significant way to suggest ideas that support this way of thinking. As a creative person travels really ignites ideas. It’s the prism with which you see the world that ultimately informs your decisions. And travelling to different parts of the world exposes you to various cultures and different ways of thinking and different ways of seeing. This can be both energising and engaging.

5. Could you comment on the current landscape of independent artists/designers and how brands are more open to experimentation. Could you share any experience/ story with us of working with artisans. Any challenges of a woman entrepreneur? 

I think this a great time for artists and designers to flourish. People are more open than ever before, to experimentation and this will be a breath of fresh air for creativity in general. Having said that brands must be careful not to fall into the trap of recycling ideas because authenticity is as important as experimentation. Without a voice that is unique, we cannot propose something new. Innovation only thrives when we do not borrow.I have been very fortunate however. I don't have any more challenges being a woman in this industry than I would if I were a man. In fact being a woman making clothes for women is in fact a tremendous advantage for me. It makes our clothes more real and helps me connect with my audience. Sometimes I find that it can be hard for men to take direction from women, but I think that for the most part it has never been a hindrance.