INTERVIEW with Samiksha Bajaj, Co-founder, Samshék
Last year you won The Stardust Awards for leadership. What inspired you to become a role model woman?
I come from an entrepreneurial family where my father started his own rice trading business and after university I likewise wanted to create my own business particularly in women’s fashion
What is the story behind your vision?
My first venture was creating my own ladies fashion brand buying from suppliers, getting clothes made and going to markets in different parts of India to sell to customers. While I enjoyed the experience and learned my trade this was all time consuming and not readily scaleable.
Around 2014 I could see the limitations of the fashion market for consumers and how the choices in the market were polarised between the ready-to-wear and tailor made sectors but at the same time improved digital and other technologies were impacting the development of many industries, although the fashion industry was slow to embrace the ensuing progress.
One day I awoke and thought what if you could get what you desire in the clothes you wear in terms of design, colour, fabric etc and at the same time your choice garment could be worn out of the shop within 99 minutes from creation and this proved to be the inspiration from which the Samshék brand was born.
What were the top challenges when you started your journey as a business owner and leading entrepreneur?
Having the vision and knowing that the timing to give women more choice in their lives was here and now, the challenges of making this happen in reality proved daunting. This was best exemplified when I and my team looked to raise over $ 500,000 to get our first city centre ladies fashion shop using the latest technology with 99 minute fulfillment established. The investors really loved our vision and idea but being young and lacking traditional retail experience they told us that “we love your idea but you have no traction…. come back and see us when you have the traction”. Despite this setback to establish our vision we took their words on board and started an online version of the customisation principles we believed in, all self funded from our own limited resources.
What are the top wins you achieved since you embrace your passion?
My top wins include the recognition that my original vision is now fulfilling an unrecognised, or perhaps I should say an overlooked, need in the fashion market, whereby customised clothing is now giving greater empowerment to women in what they wear and making them feel individual and special. This manifests itself in many wonderful testimonials that I received from women who have bought from Samshék and delight in the clothes that they wear, as well as the various awards that I have won for empowerment and entrepreneurialism, none more so than the prestigious Stardust Award last year.
Also, a top win has been working with a great team to start the business and take it to where it is today, including my youngest brother Abhishek who lives and works in the USA, my good friend Graeme Daniel who helps develop the business in London and my other brother Rijul who assists me in India.
What are your plans moving forward as a leading fashion designer?
We wish not only to provide choice by way of customisation but it is important that our original in-store designs that form the basis for an individual’s design choices, reflect the latest fashion trends that flow from the fashion centres of the western world, namely New York, London, Paris, Milan. We constantly monitor the latest fashions coming out of these iconic centres and while we produce 4 collections a year we also look to add new lines in between.
Who are the creatives in your team?
We have used an international designer in the past and being a small and close knit founding team we all have input into what we feel would appeal best to the discerning customer, but at the same time being very conscious that we wish to position our product as being trending with the latest fashions but affordable luxury.
Do you remember the outfit you wore at the Stardust Awards Ceremony in London? What is the inspiration behind ?
Naturally I remember the black and gold trouser suit at the prestigious awards ceremony. We designed it to reflect fashion elegance and yet at the same time be appropriate to wear for that special occasion, and indeed that was just how I felt wearing it.
What is the most unethical practice in the fashion industry and you want to make a positive change?
Perhaps the most unethical practice in the industry is the exploitation of cheap labour in squalid working environments in overseas, less developed countries and quite often this practice is accepted and used by well known brands whose fashion lines sell for hundreds or thousands of pounds each.
Here at Samshék while our base is out in India where this practice can be carried on, we look to pay our staff a fair living wage and provide a working environment that is clean, healthy and conducive to good workmanship and generates respect from all parties concerned.
Closely aligned to this ethical practice is the whole growing global trend of sustainable fashion incorporating both social and eco friendly best practice. We at Samshék fully endorse this trend and I believe that as a brand we practice this by holding next to little stock, producing garments to order, thereby minimising surplus wastage. Also, our policy on made to order returns if this ever occurs is to donate any returned garments to charitable causes to help the less fortunate to feel good in what they wear.
The fashion industry is known for having now not 4 but 52 seasons. What gives you courage in the process of creating a new line ?
As I referred to above we are ourselves looking to extend our offerings beyond 4 seasons a year by introducing new lines every couple of weeks. However, the emergence of this trend I see as an opportunity as in order to fulfil this need it is necessary to embrace rapid design and fulfilment of product to store and this is best done by harnessing technology to make this happen. I believe that Samshék as a fashion-tech business is well positioned to take advantage of this trend as all garments are made to order and currently we can fulfil orders within our store in Delhi within 48 hours from making a purchase there or within 5 days from order from our website anywhere in India, UK or USA.
What did you learn to avoid while moving forward?
What I learned is that there are many hurdles and setbacks to overcome and that while the obstacles turn out to be twice as big than one expects or milestones take twice as long to achieve, it is important to hold strong to one’s vision and self belief that whatever it takes we will make it happen.
You just launch your first shop locally. Congratulations! What triggered you to challenge the status quo?
Yes, we are delighted to have our first high street fashion-tech store in Delhi where we have the latest body scanner technology to be able to take over 100 individual body measurements to get the perfect fitting garment. We always fully appreciated that every woman is an individual in terms of her body shape and size and while many fit into the so called standard sizes the fit can be less than perfect, as well the fact that the size requirement can differ between brands; moreover, there are those women who don’t fit the standard sizes that are normally retailed as they are shorter, taller, thinner, have a fuller figure etc.
Samshek’s store caters for every individual’s shape and size to give them the perfect fit and choice of garments and is one of the first stores in India to use this cutting edge body scanning technology.
Do you prefer to deliver what is expected from your brand or you prefer to be authentic?
We seek to deliver delight in the customer experience in terms of the ease with which garments can be chosen or created, the fit and quality of the the purchase, as well as providing great value. This is what we wish to deliver and personally this and the ethical values which we embrace in our modus operandi is what I want our brand to stand for. I don’t believe that this is in conflict with our authenticity but if in any circumstances these should conflict we will always stand by our core values.
Do emotions interfere with your business plans or they drive you vision ?
Rarely do emotions interfere with us working towards our vision and achieving our goals, however, when the obstacles slow our progress or block our path then our determination and work commitment grows stronger to overcome the set backs.
However, I feel positive emotions when our customers share their delight of our service and products that they have enjoyed.
How many of your friends are wearing your brand , or recommend it to others?
When we started our business through our online store the initial attraction to our new brand was our warm market, particularly amongst family and friends, and I suppose in total we made close to 20 sales through these close connections.
What changes would you introduce in your local community , if you had a magic wand?
Living in Delhi, you see many sights daily of people who struggle to feed themselves daily or to sleep in a comfortable, safe, secure environment, as such if Samshék grew to be very successful I would want to share some of the gains to bring a better way of life to those who have been less fortunate than myself.