[HerStory Exclusive] Masaba Gupta on 10 years of House of Masaba, and building a profitable business in fashion
Boxes have a unique place in fashion. They look great on shelves, are easily accessible, and help segregate one label from another. But fashion also liberally boxes in people - XS, XL, for peach-shaped body, for hour-glass figure, women-only, festive-special, strictly formal, etc. Since the fashion world has no dearth of labels it is refreshing to see someone move past the stereotypes that perpetuate fashion for the sake of fashion, and look at making it into a profitable venture that addresses needs.
Celebrated designer, and daughter of veteran actor Neena Gupta, Masaba Gupta is one such name in the industry who has turned fashion into a full-time career without succumbing to the usual stereotypes that many others in the space grapple with. She is the face, soul, and the very essence of House of Masaba. With an ever-evolving style, she has not only managed to find the sweet spot between haute and pret couture, but has also learnt to shop her brand of anytime-anywhere creations to a loyal base of customers.
Recently, Masaba opened a store in Bengaluru. While she doesn’t claim to be an expert on Bengaluru – or as she says the ‘fabric of the city’ – she is quick to point out that after multiple pop-ups over the past five years, she has set her roots in the Silicon Valley of India. Her idea is to cater to the women of Bengaluru who are not only well-travelled and like sarees, but also court traditional wear with great gusto.
In an exclusive with HerStory, the designer, whose creations regularly drape the who’s who of Bollywood, talks to us about her work, failure, feminism, and how we can work towards an equal world.
Finding her feet in the fashion industry
For a fashion designer as easily recognised and accomplished as Masaba is today, designing was not the first choice. “Fashion was never on my radar to begin with,” she says.
But now it’s obvious where her strength lay. In its tenth year now, Masaba’s fashion label, best described as a diffusion line label, has made its presence felt everywhere: from Chennai and Kolkata to her latest store in the heart of Bengaluru. The brand might be a decade old, but it shows no signs of slowing down, or stagnation. Much like the heart and brain behind the label herself.
Starting off early, at the young age of 19, bursting with inherent creativity but without a business strategy, Masaba has been relentless in pursuing her passion. She has been constantly innovating, reinventing, and creating. She believes that it is imperative she reinvents herself after every season to be able to deliver what she is known for.
“A lesson I’ve learned over the years is this: you’re only as good as your last collection,” she says.
Armed with a diploma in Apparel Manufacture and Design from SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai, Masaba started out wanting to push her boundaries, and to try out different things.
Masaba Gupta at the launch of House of Masaba in Bengaluru
Fashion became a serious choice after she won a few awards in college, and decided to showcase her collection at Lakme Fashion Week.
Over time, she says, she realised the importance of balancing creativity, functionality, and commercial viability to create a collection and run a brand. “I just knew there was a gap in the market for easy, comfortable garments that are neither luxury nor pret, but somewhere in between. Like an ‘anytime-anywhere’ brand,” Masaba explains.
This is the vision brought to fruition in all her garments. Whether it is through the merger of handloom with quirky and outlandish prints, or with a refreshing palette of vibrant pinks, yellows, greens, and blues against tribal motifs – the new-age designer ensures her heritage and cultural identities are a big part of her clothes. The influences are all very strong and dynamic, as Masaba quips, “I get inspired by the everyday things around me and these elements have a very strong personality.”
My mother, my muse!
Coming up with a unique and novel idea is critical, but it is also one half of the task. The remaining bit of fruitful entrepreneurship, as some might say, is tedious, and needs years of building and innovating. In Masaba’s case, this relates to her 10-year-old label and the people working for it.
“It’s very important that people on board are a cultural match. They should understand the voice of the brand and blend accordingly. We look for people who are willing to express and push the boundaries, their voice should match with the very ethos of the brand, even if they are just trying to discover it.”
When she says ‘voice’, Masaba is conscious that it’s an ongoing process of discovering and evolving. She is aware that the creative leaning was inherent for her, thanks to her one true muse, her mother and actor Neena Gupta. And she is also quick to attribute the credit to her other mentor, who inspired and influenced her as she was foraying into fashion:
“While my mother has always been my muse and inspiration, having a mentor like [designer] Wendell Rodricks has helped me take the first step to pave a way in the fashion industry,” Masaba adds.
Voice of the millennial
Ask her if she feels responsible to her band of followers who look up to her, adore her, not in a way they adore movie stars, but as someone who is breaking all stereotypes and setting her own rules, and the designer wastes no time to respond with a resounding yes.
“I think I’m one of those few personalities who is actually saying things as they are. What’s in my head and heart is just out there and they connect to that. Since I started out really young, I speak what comes to my heart unapologetically and tick all the boxes that they’d like to. I voice their inner voice for them, and they feel like they are living through me.”
Her thoughts resonate in her action. She has been outspoken when it comes to the need for inclusivity in fashion, by talking openly about photoshopped magazine shots, and body distortions. Being a victim of body shaming herself, she voiced the thoughts of many young girls recently, when she floated the idea, ‘Different is beautiful’.
It is this very grit and honesty that defines the ‘House of Masaba’. And also the person behind it. From embracing her cultural heritage and identity, beginning a venture from home without any proper business set up, to scoring a spot in Forbes’ ‘30 Under 30’, there is little that this feisty fashion entrepreneur hasn’t already gotten covered.
For whatever’s left, there’s the proverbial bucket with the long list, which Masaba lets us in on. Topping the list is her desire to explore the magical city of Paris with her mother! “We both love travelling, I’d love to spend some time with her.” A hydrophobic, she wants to also fight her fears through deep-sea diving. She also wishes to pursue a childhood hobby she let go of years ago.
But her perpetual mantra is to grow constantly at work and do new things that challenge her.
And we can’t wait to see what Masaba’s label comes up with next.
House of Masaba store is located on the Ground floor, No. 4/1-1, Lavelle Heights, Lavelle Road, Bengaluru.