Manoshi Kamdar, Founder and Creative Director of Aara Inc. shares journey of building her empire & addresses to the Fashion Industry

Brand/ company name: Aara Inc.

Company’s USP: Aara Inc. is a bespoke fashion design and business consultancy. We are an end-to-end affordable design to production solution for brands regardless of their scale. Our approach is collaborative, hands-on, and consumer-centric. Along with a repertoire of design solutions, we have a premium textile design offering, where we create fresh and artistic designs. Aara Inc is different from other companies because we understand and strike the right balance of design with business strategies. Our trend forecasting is highly localized and brand specific making collection design seamless. We are able to bring value to our clients through 2 perfectly located offices in Dubai and Mumbai which blend world fashion and a strong manufacturing base.

What inspired you to start a fashion consultancy service? What were the purpose/ mission behind it?

When I completed my Fashion Design at Parsons New York and returned to India, I realized how overtly saturated the Indian fashion scene was. I was quite put off by the idea of starting my own brand just for the sake of it and was quite certain I wanted to do something different that fulfilled a real need. When I began speaking to designers and brand owners, I realized that although many of them had multiple resources at their disposal to start and operate successful brands they get lost in the chaos and lose design focus. They needed someone who understood market nuances, design intricacies and had business acumen. That was the starting point for Aara Inc. Over the past few years, Aara has learned from its clients and created solutions specifically addressing their pain points. We help them bring balance and efficiency to design.

What all challenges you faced during the journey?

My biggest challenge was changing the mind-set of individuals and it still continues to remain a challenge. In a place like India the design market is highly saturated with talent and unfortunately a lot of people don’t value creativity and original thinking/ideas anymore.  There is also a stigma that external agencies or consultants lack interest and turn out to be more expensive than hiring in-house designers, which is not really true when one does the actual math. At Aara, we strive to show our clients that they benefit through simplicity, expertise and efficiency when they work with us

What all opportunities & achievements your brand received till date?

We have been very grateful to our brand partners for giving Aara the opportunity to work with them and help them in bringing their brand’s vision to life. At a very early stage, we got the opportunity to design a capsule collection for Reliance Trends. After achieving success with a retail giant like Reliance Trends, we continued to build our roster by providing designing solutions to established and emerging brands globally. We helped fast fashion American brand Bebe with their re-launch in India and renewed their design and marketing strategy. We have created bespoke print collections for numerous brands including renowned names like Spencer Retail and Kika Tableware. We have worked with slow fashion brands like House of Wandering Silk and French label Poppy Field. We are very thrilled with our accomplishments in such a short span of time. It is extremely overwhelming to see how our designs have been extremely successful for our clients.

What is your design inspiration model?

We at Aara Inc. truly believe that inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere and one just needs to absorb it through all senses. Considering our locations, we never fall short of inspiration. Team Aara travels across the world seeking inspirations from Culture, Nature and History. We scour through vintage and heritage textiles, study different crafts and educate ourselves on new techniques while visiting spots of cultural and historical interest, botanical gardens, museums, art exhibits and much more. We also attend a lot of trade shows globally to keep us ahead of the retail cycle which helps us in building ideas for the future. At Aara Inc., we encourage our designers to design introspectively, and brainstorm as a team; this is especially helpful in creating unique textile prints.  

What are the branding or market strategies you use internationally & how are they different from domestic ones?

Over the last few years, after trying multiple marketing strategies we realized what works best for us. The key strategical approach is to establish a personal rapport with the clients and brands and leveraging our network. It is important to understand that not every relationship will lead to a monetary benefit, but, one should put their best foot forward.

For domestic market, we use the marketing strategy where we personally reach out to the buyers and designers which gives an added personal touch; helps in building and maintaining long term relationships. Internationally, we participate in trade shows which have helped us establish relationships with buyers and form a strong networking circle.

What are the current issues being faced by the fashion industry? What is your take on this?

The fashion industry is currently dealing with what are its most challenging and complex issue yet, ‘sustainability.’ While we see a lot of corrective measures taking place at every level of production and consumption which will definitely help, a much bigger change is needed and quite fast. Aara Inc feels that the governments of the world (especially manufacturing hubs like India) need to start taking the impact of fashion pollution quite seriously and institute legislation to bring about real change. Another age old problem that is still pertinent is poor working conditions and appalling wage gaps for labourers in many garment factories across the world. There are many organisations working for the betterment of labour however, this like many others is a consumer-led change. Today, social media is such a powerful tool that if consumers were to boycott brands that does not maintain proper standards they can really bring about change. From our end, we always encourage our clients to strictly assess the factories they work with and conduct random checks to ensure quality and standards are maintained. As we believe that every stakeholder needs to share the responsibilities.

What is your take on the future scenario of your segment in the domestic as well as global market?

There is always room for growth in every segment no matter what the business conditions are, it is just a matter of adapting to the situation and being flexible enough to evolve. I believe companies like Aara Inc. will play a bigger role in bridging the knowledge gap and take a more educational turn. Our future lies in bringing new age design and production techniques to the forefront, educating our clients to think about designing sustainably, and helping create conscious brands that in turn play a larger role in bringing change. 

How are established fashion brands within the industry trying to become more sustainable? 

We are seeing brands become more conscious of their impact and revisiting their entire supply chain to make a difference especially the smaller and emerging ones. Relooking at their inventory, fabric decisions and challenging old processes will bring them a step further to sustainability. For the big players in the market the change towards sustainability is much slower due to multiple complexities in the supply chain and it still feels like a marketing gimmick when it’s done. I recently attended Premiere Vision in Paris where I was pleased to see massive advancements made towards sustainable materials. Brands now have all the tools in place to make big moves towards sustainability. We are positive that it won’t be long before Indian players follow Zara’s footsteps and pledge complete sustainability in this decade. We also believe that a strong push from consumers is what is needed to accelerate the process. 

How Trend Forecasting report is important for Indian Market? Do Indians really follow trends?

Trend Forecasting is quite important in fast fashion and has been driving the western wear categories in Europe and America. The Indian consumer is a slow adapter of trends. Today most of the trends we follow have stemmed from European fashion brands-runway and high streets. Validation of trends either through reports or store mapping is quite important for buyers in India to minimize the risk on inventory and ensure sales. Hence we see a 1-2 season lag before trends hit the floor. On the consumer side, we notice that trend adaptation requires coaxing and convincing as Indian consumers do not easily experiment with new silhouettes. Bollywood and TV celebrities are quite crucial to help drive trends.  

Trend forecasting for Indian wear is almost non-existent. Whatever little is done is quite challenging due to its complexity and requires meticulous tracking of imagery and data. Within Indian wear the fusion category is much more “trendy” than the ethnic category and fusion trends are often watered down upon western wear trends. Runway names e.g. Sabyasachi or Anita Dongre drive new design ideas as the European equivalents of design houses. These ideas percolate to the organized and unorganized retailers and they in turn use it to update their offerings. However, season on season we see similar silhouettes with minor updates in prints and trims. Within ethnic wear even though silhouettes are limited, experimentation and innovation does take place at the textile level. 

We are now noticing a growing populace of brands and consumers who are becoming quite experimental in their clothing, adapting much more street wear than before and becoming trendsetters in their own right. This populace of brands and individuals operate like trendsetters in the western world and are helping India create a vibrant and dynamic fashion scene.

Where do you see your company in the next 5-10 years?

The last 3 years were a rollercoaster and we expect nothing less in the next 10 years. In the beginning of this decade we made a conscious decision to change the way we approached design. Using our client experiences we identified the most crucial areas that need big changes in the industry and decided to work towards those. The focus will be efficiency, sustainability and modernization of design. In the next 10 years we expect Aara Inc. to become 

– The go to place for brands and designers to create their collections 

– A premium textile design studio

– An agent of change who pushes the industry forward