Home is where the heart is: Kidswear designer blends social responsibility with businessFrancesca Ferrario
The borders of places Shweyta Mudgal calls ‘home’ are eight thousand miles apart. This is the distance between New York and Mumbai – the cities where she has lived and worked – which gave the name to the fashion brand for kids that she started a year ago.
Shweyta is an architect specialised in airport design by profession and her career has always been a springboard toward new experiences. Some years ago, she received what she defines the ‘dream offer’ to collaborate at the project of Mumbai airport with a company based in New York. “It was the best thing that could have happened, I was working for my hometown but I was based in my favourite city,” she says.
Since then, she, her husband, and their now three- year- old daughter have never stopped moving. “We’ve lived in New York for 11 years, then in Singapore for a year, then back in Mumbai and now we are again in New York. And we love this!”
This style of life has provided the ideology the brand is based on. “Eight Thousand Miles celebrates the idea of the home as a place sans borders. We embody the belief that all individuals are born to be non-conformist, free-spirited wanderers. Kids, who are innocent and free of prejudices, embody this idea even further,” explains Shweyta.
She runs her business in New York and Mumbai simultaneously and considers any place in between suitable market for her sales.
When Shweyta first thought about starting up a clothing brand, she searched the commercial manufacturing units, but “there was not-so-soulful connection in running a business.” Then, she realized that to remain coherent with the ideology of her brand, social responsibility should be at the center of her business model.
She approached a Mumbai-based NGO, Aadhar Skill Development Trust (ASDT), which helps under privileged women in society to develop different skills to increase their employability. Here a group of six-seven women constitute the Eight Thousand Miles sewing unit. “They receive regular training and get exposed to the entire process of the brand setup,” says Shweyta and explains that the team of women is paid as per the design they sew.
Shweyta adds that, “Eight Thousand Miles operates on a dual design track: the ‘created’ (90% of the product-line) and the ‘curated’ (10% of the product line).”
The women from ASDT represent the creative line, whereas for the ‘curated’ track, the team identifies craftsmen whose work resonates with their bohemian-chic design aesthetic and commissions them to create a ‘limited edition’ collection for the brand. “So far we have had a variety of design associations with artists and designers from all over India as well as co-branded on some projects to develop customised creations that have been marketed and sold under the eight thousand miles ‘curated’ track,” says Shweyta.
Eight Thousand Miles has got an online retail platform on its website but Shweyta says that most of the sales happen offline. There are several reason why this is a better option for the brand.
“Firstly, the choice of creating a small manufacturing unit through an NGO limits our production capacity,” she explains. This makes it harder to keep large stocks of the same items, whereas it facilitates regular smaller production of new pieces which are easier to sell in pop up markets or fairs.
Secondly, the very essence of the brand is the personal connection with customers. It does not matter how far from each other New York and Mumbai are, and how differently shoppers behave in the two cities, Shweyta needs to see the reactions of those who buy the clothes and receive their feedback because it is this connection which creates the strength of the brand. “We have a selected clientele that loves us because they love the idea behind our brand,” she says.
Although the big brands Shweyta is looking at for collaboration are based in New York, Mumbai is a crucial market for Eight Thousand Miles. “People here do not need a reason to shop. They shop any time of the year and they buy from us because they appreciate our ideology and quality. They buy our clothes even if they don’t have kids saying that they’ll give them to their neighbours.”
Expanding the borders
One of the main challenges Eight Thousand Miles is currently facing is the lack of regular commitment the women of the sewing unit can guarantee due to familiar issues. Despite a regular core team of four, the number of women keeps fluctuating because sometimes they have to leave work; or they have to move with their husbands or sometimes even give more importance to family.
The brand has to cope with this, and Shweyta says, “Now the idea is to expand with other units. We are constantly on the lookout for other non-profit that have other sewing collectives whom we can partner and co-brand with.” The idea is that the expansion of business and social impact go hand in hand.
The beauty of the venture is that Eight Thousand Miles is based upon the idea that limits are relative. Boundaries might confine physically but not mentally. Business can become socially responsible, and run in the opposite ends of the globe: differences are sources of learning and mergers are always possible.