Daughter of an insurer, Taj Preet Kaur was so in love with designing that her family gave her full support. The passion to pursue fashion eventually led her to avail a state sponsored scheme and make it big, reports R S Gull
“I was so passionate about designing that I was dreaming of a marrying J J Valaya, a top designer who is a sardar,” Taj Preet Kaur would tell matter-of-the-factly at her boutique Soch: Shades Of Women, in Jammu’s crowded Ghandi Nagar. “I followed my passion so completely that anybody and everybody who came in my view helped me to be what I am right now.”
Gurbachan Singh retired as divisional manger of state’s life insurer, the LIC. He had groomed his kids well and given them proper education. While one of his sons landed in police and is a Dy SP rank officer, the other one decided joining any service and opted to be a contractor, a supplier to the army, to be precise. But his daughter Taj Preet wanted to opt something very different. She wanted to be a designer.
Text books for Taj Preet were apparently a second priority. The first was trying to be creative whatever she found was around: interior designing, apparels, and whatever. “I was not so much interested in studies,” she admits. “Sometimes at home, I would end up cutting clothes of my mother to create new patterns and try to be innovative.”
In her state run college in Gandhinagar, when she heard of NFT offering a two year course in textile designing, she was desperate to get in. She graduated with Arts subjects in 1998 and then joined the NIFT. “That was the start of a new life completely,” Taj Preet says. “I met the couturier Valaya and attended many top designers like Ravi Bajaj, Ritu Beri, Sheetal Malhotra and many others.” With Beri, I attended three months workshop. That helped me a great deal in understanding the nuances of the area; Taj Preet was so desperate to get into.
By then, she had made her mind that she must have her own outlet. But the destiny had pre-decided the interruption. Her father suffered a paralytic attack in 2004 and the entire attention of the family was diverted. “It drained the family completely: physically, emotionally and economically,” Taj Preet says. “For three years, we all were living a life that had health of my father at the top, nothing else.” In this depressive phase, however, she said she would occasionally find time to stay in touch with the trends and the market using the internet. Singh Sr was all right and Taj Preet was back on her track.
In 2012, Taj Preet flew to Mumbai and joined Mumbai School of Designing. With her father’s funding the studies by paying Rs 2.50 lakh, she ensured every single moment of the course was taken seriously. She was fortunate that her cousin, a builder in Mumbai, had some projects in Lunawala and in Kerela. “That was a Godsend opportunity and I took the two assignments as part of my studies and gained lot of experience,” Taj Preet said. “I completely designed 52 rooms of a three star hotel and that was huge for me.” By December 2012, she was back in Jammu with new experience and an impressive exposure.
Back home, she had made a bit of saving. That she invested in the renovating her father’s home! Now, she had the pulse of the market and knowledge to work but she was short in finances. Then somebody lead her to the EDI.
“At the outset as people started introducing the EDI to me, I though it is completely fake,” Taj Preet asserts. “How could institution work faster than bank and ensure you hit the target and support you completely and totally. I had never heard of it but once I got in, I was shocked while experiencing this all.”
After completing her training when she was supposed to make a choice between opting a plan: SKEWPY’s Seed Capital Scheme or the Youth Startup Scheme, she was in a fix. “I knew how banks work and I talked to lot many people and finally I decided against availing the Seed Capital Fund Scheme, I choose the other one,” Taj Preet said. “In Youth Startup, I got the funds directly from the EDI at throwaway costs and that is the main turning point in my enterprise.” By now, her project has lead to an investment of a million rupees.
Her boutique was launched on October 23, 2013. Day one sales were Rs 1.65 lakh. On Day 2, it was Rs 75,000 and on third day she sold designer dresses worth Rs 45,000. “My monthly average is Rs 85000,” a confidant Taj Preet says. “I employ four persons and pay them well in addition to the monthly rent of the shop.” Her margins are around 15% and she believes these will improve once the brand evolves.
While her hands are full with orders and purse with money, it is the experience that she has in abundance. She knows the exact trends of the fashion world and pinpoints the real artisans who make the best across India’s diverse arts. She is actually working with most of the best artisans across India: those specializing in Jarkan, Kundan, Dabka, Khadi, and Tila.
“I take fabric from Mumbai and then get Kinaris, buttons, silver Kundan and Jarkan accessories from Jaipur and then design myself,” Taj Preet said. “In certain special cases, I order artisans from Rajkote in Gujarat and right now I have around a dozen workers specialized in stitching, dabka and khadi works busy here for the season.”
The interesting part of her professional career is that she has never visited Kashmir despite being the resident of the state. But she is not unaware about the arts and designs of Kashmir. “The first tila work I did on a bridal was so fascinating that my cousin took it for Rs 24,000,” Taj Preet says. “Kashmiri embroidery is so much in demand in a particular circle of society that I sell a lahanga for not less than Rs 35,000.” She said that people in Mumbai are so much in love with the Kashmiri tila work that “whenever I send a consignment, I get an immediate call that it is exhausted and new orders pour in.” In order to manage her tila works done, she works with three Kashmiri embroiders who operate from Jammu.
Not Kashmir alone, Taj Preet has experimented with Jammu’s tradition attire as well. “Gotapati is one of traditional works of Jammu and very recently I sent 10 pieces to Pune and believe me I am supposed to manage many bulk orders now,” she said. Gotapati is a grand mix of zari gota, zari dori, silk, sippi and stones. “This art is with select Hindu Dogras who live around Link Road and it is male-only bastion because females lack the fine craftsmanship.” Usually a saree takes around 10 days.
But did she ever think of intervening in the ethnic wear of Jammu? “I am thinking of it. We can make it more modern,” Taj Preet says. Jammu’s traditional wear includes chodidar Pyjama, long kurta, half jacket with frills, and turawala turban. Most of it is symbolic and is restricted to the weddings. “There is lot of scope in intervening in it and believe me nobody has explored it so far,” Taj Preet says. “The best tailor sitting at the pyramid of the sector in Jammu is a Bihari!”
With Red and White Chinese velvets, Taj Preet is experimenting with the latest Karachi designs that have gone viral in Jammu these days. Using Sippi works in chiffon and georgette, she has created many hybrids. Staying in tune with the trends in the market, her target is different. “I have big dreams. I want to take my creations to the Lakme Fashion week,” Taj Preet says with a visible determination. “I have lot of support from my family, friends and the market and I will do it.”