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Fashion Talk

Payal Singhal

Label - Payal Singhal

My inspiration comes from problems for which we need to find solutions.

Leading South Asian fashion designer, Payal Singhal known for her signature aesthetic: contemporary and minimalistic, with a vintage heart. Her collection emphasis on wearability, comfort, value for money and effortless impact. In an interview with Kiran Sahija, the designer shares her thoughts on keeping a balance between her personal and professional life and highlights the increasing influence of creators and bloggers on the fashion industry.

Fibre2Fashion: Why did you choose fashion designing as a career? Was it your dream since childhood?

Payal Singhal:

My father was in the garment business, and my grandfather was a very well-known artist and photographer. I grew up around art and fashion, and I was always creatively inclined. And at a young age, I got an award in fashion at the age of 15. I had the talent, but it is not like I dreamt of fashion, but I was creative and I loved clothes and I had the opportunity because of my father. So that is how I got into fashion. 

In my childhood I always dreamt of being an artist and I still think I will do it one day. But this career takes a lot of my time and then I have a twelve-year-old son. So, it is very time consuming. Last 12/15 years have just gone doing this. So, there is no time to pursue art. But I would pursue it just as a hobby, and a passion versus a career.


F2F: Describe about your internship period?


The internship was great. I interned with Designer Shaina NC for 3 months and Export House export Syndicate for 3 months. It is funny for me, because after my internship, I never worked with anyone else ever. I started my own business, so I never really had any other opportunity to work with any other boss or whatever. So, for me, they were very memorable internships, because even like, 25 years later, I remember every day, every detail of my internship, and they were great. I learned a lot. And that is why when I teach or when I have students, who are mentors, I emphasise the importance of internships and working under somebody before starting or launching your own label. It is an invaluable experience.

F2F: How do you keep a balance between work and personal life?


It is tough. I forgot who said it, but they were like people pretending that you do it all. But the truth is we do not , and I do most of the things. Like most of the time, everything is like the best I can do, not the best that is possible. And that is fine. When I am at work, I am juggling work and home, and when I am at home--I am juggling home and work. And this is fine with the pandemic. Our children are at home since two years. So, for taking care of their education from home--the parents must be more involved. So many other things have become our responsibility versus the school. So, the work on me has increased. But we manage. I think you should just do the best you can do, and that is what I do. Honestly it is the only answer I have. It's like I wasn't great at either, but I do not mean I am failing at either.

F2F: Your designs and prints are very modern, eclectic, and versatile. where do you find your inspiration from?


For me, inspiration comes at all times. In fact, when I sit down to think what should I do a collection at? I am blank, but constantly from the time I wake up to the time I sleep, I think that what I create should be something which is more usable or practical design because the inspiration comes from problems for which you need to find solutions. For example, embroidery was getting expensive as time was passing. The print solution was to create a signature design which has an identity of the brand Payal Singhal but without it being too costly. And that's how print came into our label. With print came in so many product lines. The minute we started print, people are like, can you do our kids clothes? Can you do separates? So, a lot of information came from day-to-day life. Some customers, some problems that need solutions because I think beyond fashion.

Clothing is an important aspect of a person's life because people think of fashion as a very privileged thing. But fashion makes and breaks like the most important occasions of your life. The first thing one thinks about is what to wear, whether it is the day of your birth, the day of your wedding, or you are getting a big award. So, it is part of your emotional journey, which is why I look at tasks in a more holistic way and beyond trends and colours, and what is in and what is out. Because we have become part of so many people's important occasions over these years and those are the stories they remember. They do not remember that “oh that off shoulder lehenga was so trendy.” They simply don't, but they remember “I wore your lehenga for my engagement and like that.” So that is the emotion and inspiration. In fact, I do not get inspired by historical monuments, though we use the familiar motifs in our design, of course, because we have to draw things out eventually. But the real thing that inspires me is the people I work with.

F2F: As most of your collection is embossed with beautiful and detailed embroideries, contrasting and soothing pantones, how long does it take to design a single outfit and what is the process behind it?


When it's a new design, it takes about two to three weeks because first you think of and the process is first I sketch the idea. And while I'm sketching, we're simultaneously working on a colour palette and on embroidery like motifs and prints. So we have separate departments for each of these. Like, we have a separate embroidery department, separate printing, print design, separate dying department. Each department starts to do sampling based on a mood board. So first we do a mood board. Okay, this is the idea. And this is what I would feel like exploring for this season and I personally start working on the sketches. Then we all bring it together. And then we have a meeting with the design team. What we do is we decide which silhouettes we want to do, in which colour, with what embroidery or we want to do it in print. Like when we start to tell a story. So it is almost like how you build something like a painting. First you draw the outline, then you start putting colours, then you start to give depth to them. So that is the way. And then, of course, once it is decided on paper, then you start getting into practical. Then you start buying the fabric, give it for dying, give the embroidery. Then you stitch and then many times after the garment is made, we'll make changes to it because some proportion may be wrong or maybe too loud or too understated--whatever things come to your notice after the garment is made. So we make changes even after that. And then after the garment is made, then we think of how to accessorize it, shoes, jewelry, how a hair makeup should look and that's when a campaign is made. The whole process, I would say, is about three months.

F2F: Do you take the trend or forecast report, or you believe to put your own signature styles or the colour you feel like?


I don't follow any trend or forecast report. But honestly speaking, if you're a well-informed, well-read person, you're on social media, you look around, you have to be kind of aware of what's going on. You know basically what the trends are. You start to see which direction the world is going. So for example, when the pandemic hit, everybody was kind of going towards easy pieces, a more relaxed also at times fitted and comfortable to be taken home for two years. Even though we're coming out of the pandemic, we still are learning to socialise all over again and so we want to go for easy pieces, which would make us feel comfortable, and beautiful. So we started to make the kaftan kurta with palazzo pants. So if you are empathetic towards what is going around you, you won’t need to see a trend and forecast thing. And then of course, like you said, it's about being a Payal Singhal product. So we have to bring our signature to it. So yes, we do know what's in fashion, what's not and what people want, and then we give our spin to it. So it's a combination of both.

F2F: Technology is scaling at tremendous heights. So what is your approach for better clothing, better fabric, and trendier garments through technological advancements?


I remember, I was living in the US for five to six years in the middle of 2003. And I remember thinking that, no other designer was thinking of technology. I felt technology is the future of fashion. And today, it's a buzzword in 2021. So we have started clear--we were one of the first few designers to have a website, to have an e-commerce site. We started having video content on our Instagram, as well as on our website. We' have been pioneers in using technology. I mean now we are using fabrics, embroideries, and stuff which are done using technology. Having said that, I don't like to replace the artisan because I feel that's also equally important craft and art. So, I have to support both. So, what we do as a brand is that we work with the artists and artisans like (50 per cent) to create pure hand woven and embroidered fabric and then rest (50 per cent) of it is digitally printed--fabric made digitally which are environmentally friendly or fabrics which are recyclable or made from recycled products. So, we are trying to balance it because if you want to be part of the future then you have to be technologically advanced. We consciously balanced it because we want to move with time but we don't want to forget where we came from or forget about the artists. You cannot make the artists redundant or the art, because then you will have no desire in the future.

F2F: Which state or city fashion/textile or embroidery attracts you the most?


I would say for me its Banaras, the woven textiles of Banaras. I find them most beautiful and intriguing and then keep going back. We do not use as much brocade as I would like to because I don't get enough time to travel to Banaras. But for me, the beauty of that textile where you can use zari--it is timeless. It is like a heirloom. It's not about being impacted or not. And it is truly Indian. So if I had to pick one because there are hundreds and thousands of artists for example--I love Lucknowi work. I use bandani leheriya and jaipur work but coming to one art and craft which I truly think is very valuable--I think it is the weavers of Banaras.

F2F: What is your take on the culture/trend of influencing fashion style and trends by creators on digital platforms?


Let's say you have to move with a tag and you know, my opinion is important as an observer. But I think the world has dictated what they want, like they are happy to see influencers over Bollywood now. They are happy to see content creators over television. So it's like what the customer or what the client is seeking--who are we to decide whether it's good or bad? I work with a lot of influencers. And bloggers create content, which is interesting. It's a different medium, right? Like in my generation, everybody used to do newspaper, advertising and billboards. When we came into our careers, there were billboards, that became redundant, and advertising was there, but it was black and white. So we started to advertising in magazines, and on television and, started styling. Now, the younger generation of designers have got social media with content creators. Medium, it's the same form, but a different medium. You have to find your customer where they want to be. You can't let the customer be like, I'm going to remain old school and you come and find me on a billboard, you know? Yeah, the influencers are doing so well is because people want to consume content in that way. And I'm also going with the majority. So I mean, I enjoy working with them more than I enjoy working with certain celebrities. Because I feel like they are so passionate and doing more--either they're getting paid to do it or because they have to do it to give them some mileage, where they need all my content. And they are not only about the money. Initially, it's all about creating good, cool, different innovative content. For example, I remember I worked with Siddharth Batra just when he started out on his own. He had just taken an outfit to wear it in four or five different ways. I didn't even know who he was. And I just saw it. And I just can't imagine of what he has done with this video--it is so innovative. And I'm talking about something four to five years back. And now look at him--he has such innovative content for menswear, you can hate him or love him, but you can't ignore him. Right. I think that's what I mean by content creation. It's truly like an art form. Now it is someone showing their creativity.

F2F: Being in the fashion industry for more than 20 years, is there anything that you would like to change?


Yeah, we thought that as an industry, it is a much nicer, friendlier and a warmer industry. Like I see it in the jewelry industry in our gems and jewelry Council that there is lot of   and support. There's a lot of inclusivity. There is no judgment to know all. Our industry is trying to emulate the West and forgetting our Indian values and it's a very intimidating industry in our country. And, and it's hard. Like, it's hard for someone who's like maybe not coming from an affluent background or not coming from the connections or whatever to kind of breakthrough, And I wish that our education system thought a lot more about the business of fashion. These are my two dreams for the Indian fashion industry--a much friendlier industry, and a little bit more supportive of each other. And secondly fashion education should definitely include lot more information on the business of fashion versus just designing or design part. I mean, the education in general, is not being done very seriously in our country like in all other countries. In fashion, we started teaching the subject as a diploma course. And it's such a serious business now--the fashion business is one of the largest industries in the world. So, India is one of the largest exporters of garments to the world. So why would you not give the education to this industry? I feel like kids are going to come out of colleges, struggling to understand what they are really expected to do meaning everyone has to be a designer, but everyone cannot become a designer.

F2F: What would you want the listeners to take away from this interview?


I would like to say in conclusion that anyone who's reading this would either be someone who's interested in fashion and who's wanting to think of it as a career--always believe in yourself, work hard, and be consistent. And this is all you need. You don't need people’s validation, you don't need great resources of money. If you do these three things, you will be able to have your dream career.

What would you want the listeners to take away from this interview?

Interviewer: Kiran Sahija
Published on: 08/12/2021
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