A few years ago, Soundarya was a nerdy student at the coveted Sri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC), Delhi. She was torn between her college, CA and taking up the lead and growing Vastara, an affordable clothing brand. When you are starting out, you never really have a huge customer base, you start from scratch and build it step by step. Making it into a label that means something is an even bigger challenge.
Today, she has built the clothing line into a brand that functions according to consumer preferences and budget. With the Covid pandemic creating a new wave of e-commerce 2.0, the opportunities are only bigger for creating a customer-centric shopping experience.
In an exclusive interview with Chennai Insider, Soundarya shares tidbits about Vastara, her schedule and what keeps her going.
There is a stigma that if the clothes are priced less there’s surely a compromise in quality. I wanted to break it and bring Affordable Fashion to the fore.
Chennai Insider: Between being a commerce graduate in SRCC and balancing CA studies, how did Vastara happen?
Soundarya: I studied in Cluny Convent at Salem. I was blessed with Anglo Indian teachers who had a great fashion sense. They were very instrumental in shaping me. I am also an ardent shopper. I used to spend a lot on clothing. In the third year of college in SRCC, my cousin approached me to do Marketing for her clothing line when I was actually doing crowdfunding campaigns for an NGO associated with Teach For India. She wanted a social media drive for her clothing line and she gave me a debrief about how her business model works. That’s when I realized fashion is over-rated. Over a cup of coffee, I decided I am doing this and that my vision would be AFFORDABLE FASHION. I am a fashionista myself and I didn’t want everyone to spend as much as I did. Also, I wanted everyone to be able to afford it. There is a stigma that if the clothes are priced less there’s surely a compromise in quality. I wanted to break it. So what started in 2018 as just marketing and helping my sister to get the retail traction that she wanted with the strong vision that I had for Vastara has taken me forward to who I am today. Now, I have also started designing and ideating on various designs on our page. I have really come a long way.
My day started at 5 AM and went on till 11 PM. Time management was everything!
Chennai Insider: How has your college experience/CA helped you in the journey of Vastara?
Soundarya: I would say time management is a critical aspect that both college and CA have taught me. From crazy assignment deadlines to case study competitions and conferences happening almost every day, I had to choose how I wanted to spend time and I learned a lot with respect to planning. My day started at 5 AM and went on till 11 PM. As much as I wanted to participate in almost everything, it was not quite possible. So, I decided what I wanted very clearly and laid a road map for myself. I became very disciplined with respect to time management and I was very clear with what I wanted. I did a cost-benefit analysis for every opportunity that came my way. This helped me plan and execute the domain I have for Vastara now. Of course, I learned plenty from my mistakes. To err is human right? But every time I did a mistake, I used to discuss it with my dad and get my head clear and move forward. My dad is my go-to person.
Chennai Insider: What is your favourite piece from your collection?
Soundarya: This is a very tough question since I am the one who decides what goes on the page and not all our collections that we design are posted on the page. I choose them very meticulously. But what I wear from my collections are the kurtas and trouser pants that are so perfect for office. We even have a dedicated office wear collection on our page. So that’s what I love the most and invest in also.
Chennai Insider: Any tips for the fashionably clueless and those on a budget?
Soundarya: There are so many cues one can take from Pinterest and fashion bloggers to know about the recent trends. Like I already told before, always make sure you invest in something that is of good quality and at the same time doesn’t burn a hole in your pockets. Make sure that the product is worth what you’re paying for. Also to reiterate, if anything is affordable doesn’t mean that there’s a compromise in quality.
Chennai Insider: What do you believe is the magic with Vastara and how would you differentiate it from competing brands?
Soundarya: I always directly interact with customers and cater to their needs. I recently met with an accident when I broke my collar bone and was admitted at the hospital. I couldn’t move my hand and I also posted about it on my handle. I made my mom to deal with customer’s queries. If you appreciate my candour, I was not too happy with that. After two days, I started dealing with all my customers myself. All my customers were so supportive and understanding. So many of them called to check on me and a few of them in Chennai even visited me at the hospital. According to me, the magic of Vastara is the fact that I directly connect with my customers and I always answer their queries myself and also the USP being Affordable Fashion is what is much appreciated by my customers.
Chennai Insider: The most fulfilling aspect of being the connoisseur of fashion and Vastara?
Soundarya: The only fulfilling aspect is to see my customers wearing our collections. All those pictures motivate me and push me to come up with better designs every time. So many of them even write to me as to how they love our collections and how different they are and a few even give me suggestions. There are so many suggestions that have turned into our statement pieces. Now that I have even started designing and working closely with my designers, the exciting part is when my inputs are appreciated. So many of my designs have also been launched and this makes me really happy.
Chennai Insider: Recent times have witnessed a strong emergence of freelancing part-timers who later grew it enough to convert into full-time. Do you think you would also consider the apparel and fashion business a full-time career option?
Soundarya: I don’t really have an answer for this now. I love Vastara as much as I am ambitious about CA. CA is my ambition and Vastara is my passion. I hope to never give up on both. I will surely plan well to strike a balance.
My grandmother is my biggest inspiration
Chennai Insider: What inspires you and keeps you going?
Soundarya: My grandmother is my biggest inspiration. My grandmother had to give up her studies to take care of her siblings. She is my source of strength and confidence. She is a strong lady. She is the one I look up to always. My dad plays a key role in helping vastara grow. Whenever I am posed with a challenge, I immediately ring him up and he is the one who clears my head and brings me back to perspective. Last but not the least, my mom is both my cheerleader and criticizer. Without them, CA or Vastara, none of this would be possible.
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