When did you know you wanted to become a designer?
I was born in the UK shortly after my mum and dad arrived from India. My mum couldn’t speak a word of English, but she was the most amazing seamstress. She worked in a production unit that would send garments to Paris. I intently watched and learned from her. As a child I’d spend my summers in India surrounded by beautiful fabrics and intricate embroideries. I was totally smitten by the world of fabric and garment making and began designing and making my own clothes from a young age. There was not really a moment of thinking I would be a designer but was a natural process that is a self-taught one since childhood.
What is your earliest design memory for your brand?
I live near to and often spend time relaxing in Battersea Park in South London. It’s one of the most beautiful parks in London, especially as it changes with the seasons. I remember using the idea of evolving seasons and the different seasonal color palettes for the embroidery inspiration for one of my very first collections which were made up of just three pieces.
Where do you find inspiration?
Practically everywhere. I’m constantly sketching ideas based on inspirations from daily life and travels. Whether it’s the antiques and décor of the Queen’s Room at The Royal Albert Hall, or the colours of Autumn in Battersea Park, inspiration is all around. For example, the batik prints previously seen in the trans-seasonal 20/21 collection are inspired by intricacies of blood vessels, something I studied during my time as a research scientist, my career before fashion entrepreneurship.
What is your favorite part about designing?
I love sourcing fabrics and putting color palettes and patterns together. I always sway towards beautiful textures which is why you often see woven fabrics and embroidered pieces in my collections. I’m constantly thinking about my clients and what they would love. They are my inspiration. I love thinking about the garment as a 3D jigsaw puzzle that’s got to work perfectly to form around the female anatomy.
Tell us more about the name VAAI London.
Each letter in VAAI is the initial from the next generation of children within my family. I feel like I’m leaving a legacy to them, one which is ethical and as sustainable as can be, thus progressing in a way that is friendly to the planet and its people.
Also, VAAI in Italian means ‘let’s go’, very much the kind of person I am!
“Our mission at VAAI is to balance contemporary fashion and design whilst maintaining respect for centuries old artisanal craftmanship.”
What was your previous work experience before launching your brand?
I have a PhD in Transplant Immunology. After numerous years in academic research and becoming a mum to two delightful girls, motherhood propelled that need to change my entire focus. I guess creativity is in my DNA! Fashion and the creativity behind fashion allows me to explore what has always been deeply set in my heart since childhood.
My previous experience in the science field has given me a skill set which are transferable to this business. For example, just as I did in science, in fashion I need to network, research, present my work logically and financially budget.
What sets your brand apart from the rest?
Our ethos is to endow quiet confidence in the woman that wear our garments. It’s all about our customer. If she feels great and is comfortable in what she’s wearing, she’s going to achieve whatever her mission may be. It’s all about female empowerment through style!
What brand values are the most important for VAAI?
Our mission at VAAI is to balance contemporary fashion and design whilst maintaining respect for centuries old artisanal craftmanship.
Aside from our ready to wear collections, we provide a bespoke and made to measure service. We believe in old-school practices in the sense of creating a personal individualised and immersive service for our clients.
Each piece we design can be styled in at least three different ways. We believe in arming our customers with styling and care knowledge. This promotes sustainable slow fashion as opposed to fast throw away fashion and is better for our environment.
What do you envision for the future of your brand?
In this era, you see brands come and go especially those that grow very quickly and can’t keep up. The VAAI business model has been designed to be sustainable with slow steady growth. The brand has organically grown over the past two years, with many of our clients remaining loyal and continuing to support us. We will continue to follow this direct-to-consumer path. Our ambition is to continue expanding our network of clientele. We often host styling events and experiences, and this will continue. We are proud to be featured in the British Vogue, Vanity Fair and Asian Wealth Magazine and look forward to being featured in other leading publications.
Do you have a favorite piece that you have designed?
The Herringbone Ruffle trousers are our signature style and an absolute favourite. Crafted from a beautiful organic cotton that is woven by a small community of artisan weavers in South India. They are trans-seasonal, extremely comfortable, and can be dressed up or down so incredibly versatile.
What were some hurdles you had to overcome in your business?
As a self-taught designer, the learning curve has been a steep one. I was introduced to Belinda Dickson, a successful businesswoman within the British fashion industry and who holds a chair on the UKFT committee, so her knowledge was invaluable. The UKFT have also been an invaluable source of information and guidance. To run a successful brand, it’s not enough to be a designer, you must be an entrepreneur and wear several other hats to market, PR, and retail the brand.
“VAAI is a slow-fashion brand, our designs are thoughtful, and we work and create in a socially responsible manner with our planet and its people always on our mind.”
What is the one piece of advice you would give to a new designer?
Understand your consumer and what their needs are (know your market). You can design the most extravagant outfit (we know fashion design has no limits!) but ask yourself, is someone going to wear it?
How important is social media to your brand?
Social media is incredibly important for brand growth, the content you create is the face of your brand and it’s a way to reach untouched markets globally. However, I do think there is strength in having a brick-and-mortar space to showcase our collections. Especially with luxury products, our consumer wants to understand and feel the garment in person - something that social media doesn’t allow.
What role does sustainability play in the design and creation process?
Sustainability is at the forefront of what we do at VAAI.
VAAI is a slow-fashion brand, our designs are thoughtful, and we work and create in a socially responsible manner with our planet and its people always on our mind. We are conscientious with the use of fabrics, with over 90% of collection made from natural fabrics. We work with like-minded sustainably driven suppliers and supporting small production units and artisans. We are working towards full transparency, providing our consumers with as much detail as possible in terms of fabric fibres, sources, and who makes our clothes allowing our customer to make a conscientious choice on the clothing they purchase.
What is the most important thing you would like your brand to be recognized for?
Slow fashioned, timeless, and well-crafted womenswear made in limited runs.
How would you define fashion?
I prefer to define slow fashion; I think there is no space for fast fashion items in the current climate. Every brand should be challenging fashions status quo. Every brand should simply be “designing and making garments in a way that is friendly to our planet and its people.”