Even among the scores of designers, brands, and labels in the global fashion landscape, Payal Khandwala’s brand stands out. Her artistic sensibilities and non-conformist approach to contemporary fashion has made this artist-turned-designer one among the most popular designers in the country today.
Ever since the launch of her eponymous label in 2012, her creations have been noted for the blend of luxury, style, and practicality. Payal’s unconventional use of colour, minimalistic and drama-free designs, and sharp silhouettes have made her label a favourite among the likes of Kareena Kapoor Khan, Dia Mirza, Karisma Kapoor, Sobhita Dhulipala, and Parineeti Chopra.
Interestingly, Payal had no plans of making it big in the world of fashion. A graduate in Fine Arts from the Parsons School of Design in New York, she took on fashion designing purely as an experiment. In a recent chat with MAKERS India, she spoke about her journey and how the fashion industry is evolving.
A Penchant for Trying new Things
As a child, Payal was averse to outdoor activities, spending her free time painting. She recalls, “My mother and grandmother used to paint. And I also grew up seeing my grandmother make clothes for my mother, and my mother making clothes for me. It was a very creative atmosphere and it was natural that I took to art.”
Payal was the national topper in ICSE board exams and was expected to opt for Science; but she did not. “I did not want to work so hard. I took Commerce and hated it. The saving grace was my experience working at Garden Vareli in Mumbai, which was my first tryst with fashion,” she recounts.
Payal’s stint at the store led her to pursue fashion at the college level. She studied fashion designing at SNDT College Mumbai, where she was taught by established designers like Hemant Trivedi and the late Wendell Rodricks.
She says, “I had won multiple design competitions at the state-level, and a national-level design competition conducted by Shoppers Stop. But I did not venture into the world of fashion immediately. My first love was art, and so I went to Parsons.”
In New York, Payal got to work with award-winning designer Sandy Dalal; but the struggles of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world caught up with her.
She says, “I needed a visa to stay back in New York for which I needed a full-time job. I tried prolonging my stay by doing some odd jobs like waitressing, bartending, designing, and PR. But that left me with very little time to paint. I did not have space to paint either because I was living in a 300 sq. feet apartment.”
In 2002, Payal returned to India and indulged in painting for a decade, participating in shows and exhibitions across the country, before she stumbled into the Lakme Fashion Week in 2012.
The Accidental Designer
Payal recalls that when she moved back, she could not find clothes to her liking in the market. “They were too ‘costume-y’ and bridal while I wanted attires that were free of typical Indian cultural trappings. Also, everything came in sets and I wanted to do the matching myself. So, I began designing my clothes and getting them stitched by my mother’s tailor.”
So, when the opportunity of presenting at Lakme Fashion Week popped up, Payal took it up as an experiment. “Things had slowed down considerably on the work front after I gave birth to my daughter in 2009. I thought this [the Lakme Fashion Week in 2012] should be fun because I make my own clothes anyway and if nobody else wants to buy them, I will have 16 new garments to wear,” she jokes.
With no tailor, assistant or factory, Payal managed to design her label and finish the collection in two months.
On whether her background as a painter gives her an edge over other designers, she says, “One of the signatures of our label is our strong and bold colour palette. That comes to me with my comfort in colour theory as a painter.”
Although Payal never felt burdened by the need to cater to her audience by making designs that could be labelled ‘cool,’ making her customers fall in love with her brand’s aesthetic took a while. She says, “The concept of separates was non-existent at that time and stockists were also nervous. I had to make it more inclusive, but I would still never make something that I would not personally wear.”
Thinking like an entrepreneur
What Payal started as an attempt at something new to break the monotony in her life has now become a roaring business. She has two retail stores in Mumbai, and her collections are showcased at various multi-designer stores in all major cities.
Recently, Payal also launched a one-of-a-kind shopping experience for her customers, even amidst the massive crisis unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Customers can pick products from the comfort of their homes via video calls and the outfits will also be delivered to their doorsteps for trials.
Payal believes that the Coronavirus pandemic will change the way people live. On the possible implications on the fashion industry, she says, “Clothes will be more minimal, more practical, and there will be an emphasis on buying local, artisanal creations. Timeless pieces will be favoured more but that also depends on the condition of the economy. As far as our brand is concerned, we are trying to shift our businesses online so that we can retain our employees without running out of money.”
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta and Athira Nair)