SUJATA & TANIYA of SUTA
SUTA is not
just another fashion brand, it’s a thought woven lovingly together by a dynamic sister duo (Sujata & Taniya) who created a business based on sheer passion & nostalgia. Building a community instead of a brand, their aim is to share the beautiful stories that revolve around a handwoven garment be it the weavers’ or the customers’ - the ‘Suta Queens’. It is one of the most hands-on partnerships that you will come across where one sister models while other photographs in addition to splitting an equal share of a very demanding workload that any startup requires. From its inception in 2016, their label has not only become synonymous with mul-mul amongst saree connoisseurs it has also managed to become a successful business with a 4 crore turnover which definitely says a lot about their leadership as well as partnership. In this exclusive interview we go behind the scenes to discuss how these boss ladies function so efficiently and how the lives of two ex-corporate professionals came to revolve around handwoven sarees.
What is your first memory of being exposed to Handloom?
The first memory we have of handloom is from back when we visited our nani’s house during summer vacation . Nani would be in a corner cooking for us and we would go and hug her and we remember that feeling of fresh linen that she wore right after washing and drying. It was such a motherly smell that we still distinctly remember it. We remember how we played hide and seek amongst her freshly washed saris that hung out to be dried and how that lovely soft smell was so pleasantly refreshing on those hot summer days. When we started our own brand, we tried to get the same smell in our brand’s garments and we have gotten really close to that exact smell. It’s safe to say that all Suta clothes smell like our Nani.
What do you love about sarees the most?
They are the most forgiving outfit and super flexible. Also, you know how you have some outfits that are too loose at one point and too tight at another in your life? Saree is one attire that irrespective of what physical state you are in, Saree will hug you the same way. You know even on some of those bloated days when you feel uncomfortable in everything or on those outings when you want to eat a lot, Saree is the most convenient option. You can wear the same piece in so many ways as well – to a dinner party, a lecture a wedding, a brunch and so on. It can be styled in so many versatile ways and that’s why we love it and celebrate it.
How many Sarees do you own?
We have a common pool of sarees between us sisters and our mother and so far it is somewhere around 200. We also keep trading between our friends and families so the number keeps fluctuating.
What is your favourite weave and why?
Jamdani! Specially on mul cotton!
Initially Jamdani started as floral patterns in Bangladesh but we are now trying to modernize the patterns in mul mul cotton so that it can be worn on a daily basis because otherwise they are known to be expensive. We also love it because of how much effort goes into making it – from the design being first made on a cardboard to then punching and weaving it along with the fabric to ensure absolute perfection in intricate patterns.
What is the percentage of handloom to non-handloom in your closet?
10% non-handloom which are mostly gifts.
Does handloom always have to be minimalistic?
Not at all!
We try to make handloom accessible so our prices are more reasonable but we also have high priced products like linen Jamdanis. Actually, there is so much scope that the price can go upto lakhs depending on how intricate or heavy you want it to be. It was a conscious choice for us to keep the entry price points low and so in order to do that we had to keep the sarees minimalistic.
What are your professional backgrounds?
Suajta - I have done engineering from CET Bhubaneshwar and MBA from IIFT Delhi. Then worked for 10 years before sharing this.
Taniya - Engineering from NIT Rourkela, MBA from IIM Lucknow and worked for 6 years before starting up Suta.
How would you describe your brand in 3 words?
Humble. Honest. Hot.
What are some things to keep in mind when you have a family member or a friend as a business partner?
If you a hire a friend or family member as a business partner nothing can go wrong. Because ultimately even if you do hire strangers, you become a family when you are working together towards the same goal everyday.
How do you resolve conflicts between the two of you?
We often have professional & personal conflicts. So what we do is take an hour or so and think about it and come back to confront each other and finish it up so that we can get back to work. Ever since we were kids we always resolved our issues because our mother always told us never to sleep on it, so we are still the same.
What are some key things you keep in mind when sourcing your merchandise from all over India?
We don’t really source. When we come across a cluster of artisans we train them partially, explain them our quality standards and observe their eagerness to experiment and learn new techniques.
Most important thing for us however is that they need to be consistently quality conscious because that is of utmost importance to us.
At a time when the world is more westernized than ever, how important is cultural representation?
We never tried to save the Indian culture. Our idea has always been to be yourself and be comfortable in whatever you wear.
We don’t want to impose the traditional idea of wearing traditional jewellery or footwear or bindi with a saree. We just promote it because we love it! We love the beauty of handwoven sarees and the effort that goes into making each piece and this is why we try to share the story of behind each piece. For us it is art.
It’s the effort, time, patience and skill that goes into a handwoven product…
..that no matter how hard you try you cannot replicate it with a mechanical/digital process.
Why should one opt for hand woven textiles rather than much cheaper synthetic versions?
This is a touchy topic for us.
It’s like comparing your mom’s baingan bharta with the one at a fancy restaurant or a letter with an email. It’s about love.
It’s the effort, time, patience and skill that goes into a product which makes it so breathable and absolutely charming that no matter how hard you try you cannot replicate it with a mechanical/digital process.
Not that we are dissing the machine-made products because we still do buy clothes from high street brands Zara but handwoven sarees are so much more precious! There is just no comparison!
Do you plan to expand into offline stores?
We are available at OMO, Flyrobe and we still take appointments at our studio. In the future we do want to open up a boutique where people can come over have a cup of coffee while shopping and reading about the story of our weavers, our process and learning more about our brand. It would also be great for people who are not so tech savvy who can come over and chat with us to understand a product well before buying it.
What makes your brand and product stand out from others in the same segment?
We don’t follow trends.
We don’t have pre planned palettes, blouse styles or themes. We are inspired by various aspects of nature and so our inspirations are more about stories rather than current trends. We love to know & share the stories of our weavers and our customers because more than a brand Suta is a community.
What has been your proudest moment so far?
We are big Bollywood buffs so when someone called to tell us that Karan Johar picked our images and wanted our pieces for Lust Stories, that was a big deal!
Even otherwise considering we don’t reach out to publicists & stylists, and we have production houses and actresses buying our product it makes us very happy.
Describe a Badass woman.
A woman who knows herself inside out, is comfortable with herself and doesn’t bend her ways to please the world.
Name a few Badass women who inspire you
Marie Curie. Kangana Ranaut. Malala. Jhansi ki Rani. Oprah Winfrey. Sushmita Sen, Geeta Phogat. Audrey Hepburn.
Any woman who has fought, for her rights or others’ is absolutely badass!
Words of wisdom to girls who are too scared to make the switch from conventional jobs to the business of their dreams.
If you already want to quit because you have a dream it means that you don’t enjoy your current job. The only fear which usually women have is whether they will be able to sustain financially and yes you do need to initially struggle till the business clicks but know one thing, that if you are passionate towards something and you manage to make it work somehow, there is no better feeling. Don’t be scared of hard work & consistency while believing in your dream and building a solid team.