Sandeepa Khosla, Director-Design & Product Development, Orient Fashions, entered the garment industry about 16 years back, little realising that one day she would be heading the design team of such a prestigious company. A loyal member of the Orient Fashion family, Sandeepa has been with the export house from the beginning of her career in the industry and is one of those rare designers who have attained success and remained rooted, despite having no formal training in design.
Spending her first year in the fabric department, with various trips to mills and gaining core knowledge in technicalities including fabric construction, counts, etc., Sandeepa was intrigued by the ‘design and sampling department upstairs’ and made her way into the department. After her first order (which was incidentally also her first design) of 70,000 units for a package of four white blouses, there was no turning back and as they say, ‘The rest is history’. Sandeepa, who primarily works with US accounts such as Target, JCPenney, Dillard’s, Kohls, etc., says, “Today, I realise that there was always a design person in me. You have to have the sensibility and it evolves gradually with time.”
In an exclusive tête-à-tête with the AO team, Sandeepa shares her views on inspiration and trends.
AO: The workplace always has an influence, so how has working with Orient Fashion over the last so many years groomed your design sensibilities?
Sandeepa: My evolution with Orient Fashions is very defining as I was not from a design school but have become a design person. It has also given me exposure and a platform to know my customers, offer them designs, interact with them, make costings and book orders. Travelling opportunities such as trips to forecast shows have also been important tools that have enhanced my knowledge and let me interpret designs, resulting in successful design absorptions.
AO: How have times changed for the design fraternity since when you joined the industry?
Sandeepa: Times have really changed from when I started out and now design has really become a big opportunity. At that time, when we were called ‘sampling coordinators’, things were much easier. The buyer would come along with a sample, or we would make a few samples based on the knowledge that we had from a few books. There was no internet, no computers, nor such frequent travelling. We were sampling coordinators who could turn into merchandisers and that is why today, I can do everything-merchandising, marketing as well as sampling.
But now, it’s not so easy because the competition is really tough and every one is giving a lot of attention to design. Now, you have design teams and a design head of a separate cell called ‘design’, which makes design an ongoing process- we create mood boards, understand languages, travel, get various information and I think the change is phenomenal.
AO: Where do you look for inspiration and how do you translate them into complete production?
Sandeepa: My market is the American market and I’m working with all the big department stores. Yet, the American market is a little conservative. So for inspiration, I look towards Europe as that is where fashion is really big and it sets the mood, flavour, the trend that is going to happen which, in turn, percolates down to the American market. If I was doing Europe, I would have to look into very high couturier designs but since I am working with America, I just look at the bigger picture- I absorb, I feel, I pick up colour samples, see the shows, etc., come back and interpret them as per my client.
I still go back to the US to see what my competitors are doing as well as seeing what is happening there, because sometimes Europe alone can misguide you as it is very forward.
For me, inspiration is understanding the mood, the flavour on the streets and in the stores- yes, there is a retro print, a babydoll, a tunic, etc. The most creative things are on the mannequins and that is what gives me a pull. Yet more importantly, I see fashion holistically and keep in mind what the tunic on the mannequin is to be worn with. So for me inspiration is just a mood, a flavour that I take in, come back home and design as per my customer. I tell my boss, “I have smelt the fashion. I have felt it.”
AO: So which direction do you see fashion in the US going?
Sandeepa: America is slow paced, yet over the years, it has picked up and the absorption of trends is getting higher. Everyone is looking at trends and the client has a younger attitude now. For instance, there was a time when people used to wear a lot of pajama sets and nightdresses.
Now, everyone wants to wear boxer shorts and capris, which gives me an idea that the client’s attitude is changing- she’s getting younger, busier, and wants things to be more relaxed. There is a dynamic change and today, all my department stores are looking at fashion, although of course they will modify and interpret it for their own client. American clothing is very casual and relaxed. We have to maintain the essence of that yet still have to give them, trends. That is my recipe for design-I see their sensibility and accordingly give them designs within that.