Womenspiring Wednesdays…

Be The Change You Want To See !

Shweyta Mudgal – Eight Thousand Miles & many more to go before I sleep…

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 “Fashion is Architecture: It is a matter of proportions”

I have always believed in the power of design, much before I even decided to dedicate a career to it and train formally as an Architect/ Urban Designer. (I have an undergraduate degree in Architecture from Mumbai University and a graduate degree in Metropolitan Research & Design from the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles).

Architects are intrinsically arrogant with great belief in their individual creative pursuits. We like to design anything and everything in our lives while tending to think that we are good at it all. Sometimes, we formally gain expertise in other design faculties before transitioning careers, while at others we simply apply our creative education from one field into our next one. Dual careers are an oft seen career path in the lives of most Architects and I joined that bandwagon in early 2014.

Sartorial or spatial; design at any scale has always given me a high like none other.I like to think of my design journey as always having been spatial – that has transcended scales – from public to personal, from cities to clothing, airports to apparel and ‘macro’ to ‘micro’.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

The seed of Eight Thousand Miles was planted in my head, funnily enough, while flying between the 8000 odd miles that lie between both my chosen homes – of Mumbai & New York. (For the last 5 years in my career as an Airport Planner/ Designer, I had been shuttling between continents for work, having been on the design-team for the Mumbai International Airport).

Post that ‘dream project’ came a 2.5 year long global mobility stint, with the husband and daughter in tow, that saw us live in New York, Singapore, Mumbai and back again in New York, with travel to 20 odd countries thrown in, successfully convinced me that life was led best, between homes, as against in either one of them. Why choose one over the other, when I could live/ work in both?

It was in early 2014, when we moved to Mumbai for the year, that I decided it was time to amalgamate and anchor the multiple ideas in my head under one common lifestyle design venture, that traversed the varying scales of design – from S,M,L to XL. I was also very clear from the start that design entrepreneurship would have to go hand-in-hand with social entrepreneurship. So I devised a business model that would operate with social responsibility and have a direct impact on the lives of those working with me.

And so Eight Thousand Miles – the design venture was born, in Mumbai, in 2014, aptly named after the miles that inspired its inception.

Eight Thousand Miles – the brand

The brand – Eight Thousand Miles – aspires to bridge the cultural and cartographical distance between the two cities; that celebrates the idea of home as a place sans borders; embodies the belief that all individuals are born as non-conformist, free-spirited wanderers with the world as their oyster.

Our eclectically created, contemporary product-line, hopes to strike a chord with like-minded global aficionados the world over. Our designs marry the vivacity of the bohemian, colourful care-free aesthetic with the minimalism of an uber-modern design sensibility, thereby aiming to celebrate free-spirited self-expression.All our products are made of natural artisanal fabrics of the highest quality, many of which are hand-block printed traditionally; primarily cottons and voile.Our designs reflect a play of a diverse eclectic palette of prints, with an emphasis on gender-neutral styles & reversible patterns, vibrant colors& many textures.Characteristics such as simple cuts & silhouettes merged with playful styles ensure that the fabric is the key focus & comfort is the top priority.

Our environmentally-conscious design approach entails up-cycling older vintage fabrics and utilizing industrial waste textiles whenever possible in the creation of many of the products.

Challenges

  • The very 8000 miles that inspired the brand evolution also present its biggest challenge. Living in New York, I work primarily in India, as it continues to be our larger marketplace of the two countries that we operate in. Co-existing within the two antipodal time zones, remote co-ordination meetings, the inability of being in both places at the same time and different public holiday schedules are only part of the problems I pose on a regular basis. While most small businesses operate within limited geographies, mine operates within two at the very least, which makes it double the effort (and of course double the fun).

My typical work day starts after dropping my daughter to school at 9:30 am EST which is 8 pm IST. A routine conference call with my workshop supervisor for a complete round up of their days and weeks activities and putting out any fires/ answering queries/ setting deadlines etc helps set the groundwork for what I work on for the rest of the day. I also make frequent work trips to India alone (leaving my daughter behind in NYC with an extended support system offered by our friends/ nanny etc since my husband practically lives on an airplane himself) to oversee sampling/ production and even fabric printing with my printers. So it takes a lot of personal/ professional co-ordination between my husband’s and my work schedules to be able to run the show remotely.

  • Being a one-woman show, with no other founding partner-in-crime, is also somewhat of a challenge as this can bring a lot on my plate. So while being the only one comes with its own individualistic perks – of having complete creative & operational freedom to structure the direction and growth of the company as I please, it also means being the only one responsible to steer it towards success. The pace of growth was mine to pick and very early on I figured that it was not going to be a slow one. Founding and running your own start-up is like getting on a drug – that slowly starts taking over your life and gets addictive. There’s no looking back & as far as I am concerned there’s no slowing down either!

Thankfully I’ve always been a good multi-tasker and that aspect of my personality lends itself immensely to my entrepreneurial lifestyle. I wear many hats in a day and during the course of the week. One day I’ll be punching invoices to be sent out to various vendors and the other day I’ll switch to sketching designs on paper and simultaneously transitioning them on to Photoshop to send to my fabric printer. From peon to proprietor, sketching to sales I have done it all for the company with equal fervor – not something exceptional however, as that is what the life of any start-up entrepreneur entails. Although I must admit that accounting/ finances/ legal paperwork are not really my cup of tea. I prefer to delegate those roles to the experts while keeping designing, social media and client relations in my kitty.

  • The transitional journey from working at a design firm to starting up one of your own comes with its own set of changes one must be willing to adapt to. Entrepreneurial life is often lonely as it lacks having colleagues to work with, at least until you hire people and set up a physical office space. A lot of time is spent working alone – which is not my preferred style of working. I do miss office interactions, occasional water-cooler chit-chats and the general banter that comes within an office environment.

However the above challenges bring certain opportunities with them – to be able to work on my own timeline and capitalize on a dynamic schedule by taking off mid-week afternoons for an art exhibit/ grocery shopping/ personal errands and chores or even a movie sometimes. Not having to commute to work everyday is another plus, especially in grueling New York winters. However, this work lifestyle changes completely when I am in India, where work constantly entails interfacing with the workshop staff, fabric suppliers, block-printers, clients and meeting with other like-minded entrepreneurs in search of future possible synergies.

  • One of my other bigger challenges to-date has been the inability to find and subsequently retain reliable, dedicated and committed full-time staff. Considering I work directly with artisans from under-privileged communities, more often than not, I have to subscribe to their timelines, professionalism and social calendars. Women from under-privileged backgrounds still prioritize family, festivities and social pressure over paid regular work. Commodities such as time are sorely misused with “two minutes” being more of a phrase that means “some more time” as against an exact measure of time.

I have tried to overcome the above challenge by introducing the concept of a ‘Common Working Calendar’ that schedules ‘personal time off’ and ‘holidays’ at the start of the year, with the women. This helps us determine staff availability/ unavailability while pre-deciding work load before our ‘peak’ seasons kick-in. Women populate the calendar as per their availabilities thereby helping us materialize an efficient schedule that works for everyone.

  • Getting our foot in the door, in the US Market has also been a challenge we are learning to overcome gradually. The US Market is more structured and formalized. Hence the path of navigation here is different than in the Indian retail marketplace.

We adapt to context with respect to the varying design sensibilities, climatic considerations & general demands of both countries vary as well, thereby resulting in the need for a mutually exclusive diversified product-lines that are specifically tailored for each place – (for example we do a traditional ethnic line in boys/ girls clothing in India during the festive season, while we do unisex jackets/ winter wear for kids in the US). Having penetrated the Indian retail scene via pop-up markets, stocking in stores and online marketplaces, we follow a different marketing strategy in the US – by showcasing our product line to buyers through tradeshows and directly retailing through Holiday Markets.

Inspite of all these challenges –the best part of my role is that I get to wear many hats.

As I always jokingly say – “Being overworked & underpaid never felt this amazing before ever!”

I can be reached at shweyta@eightthousandmiles.com

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