How this techie’s love for fashion took her sustainable clothing label straight to SoHo, New York

Bengaluru-based former techie Madhurima Bhattacharjee is a designer whose eponymous label offers sustainable clothing options for millennials.

Though Madhurima Bhattacharjee has always been passionate about fashion, she is practical when she says she put a lot of thought into starting up in the line.

“After all, passion should also pay your bills,” says the entrepreneur, whose eponymous label ‘Madhurima Bhattacharjee’ has had a slow and steady climb, with its collections showcased at the famed SoHo in New York. Madhurima was also one of the finalists in the Times SheUnlimited Women Entrepreneur Awards ’19 and was featured on Femina as one of the top sustainable labels to wear in 2019.

Born and raised in Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh, Madhurima pursued an engineering degree in electronics and communication at NIT Durgapur.

She moved to Bengaluru to start a career and coded for a while at companies like Huawei. “Over time, I stopped looking forward to Mondays, life seemed mundane and nothing seemed exciting,” she recalls.

The thought of an alternative career in fashion, one that had been brewing in her mind for some time, then surfaced. But Madhurima had no experience in the field and there was no one in her family who could give her advice on how to start up. It would be a big gamble, but one that she was willing to take.

Clothing the millennial

So, in 2015 she started off in the fashion segment, while sticking to her day job. “I thought of launching a sustainable line of clothing, using khadi and cotton, to make glamorous pieces that would be favoured by the millennials,” she says.

She had also heard of weavers in the city not making a decent living and decided to use their expertise to start her own brand.

But it must be said that the gamble was much bigger than she initially thought. For, Madhurima—though quite aware of fashion trends and what would do well—did not know to sew.

Her family, seeing her passion to do something of her own, gifted her a sewing machine on her birthday. And thus began her journey into entrepreneurship, buoyed with internet tutorials and replete with many hits and misses.

“I got in touch with a tailor on Commercial Street, started experimenting with designs and took feedback from friends and family. In October 2017, I decided to quit my full-time job and turn my passion into an enterprise,” she says.

Madhurima consistently researched new fabrics, scouted for the right production team, and tried to make the process as fool-proof as she could. She then began showcasing her pieces at exhibitions and pop-up events in the city and her first big break came when Jaypore agreed to collaborate with her.

From Bengaluru to New York

In January 2019, she was discovered by Femina through a pop-up event in Mumbai.

Around the same time, a California-based startup called The Woven Threads asked if they could showcase her dresses and separates at Flying Solo, which hosts independent sustainable designers across the globe in SoHo, New York, as part of their pre-fall collection.

Being a finalist at the Times Entrepreneur Awards this year has also been a game-changer for Madhurima. “I got to meet fashion biggies Shantanu and Nikhil, who gave me a lot of valuable inputs on how to run my brand. This year has seen excellent growth and I hope 2020 continues in the same vein,” she says.

Through its website, Madhurima offers separates, tops, shrugs, pants and skirts for women between the ages of 25 and 35 years. Her aim is to use cotton, khadi, linen, and jute with minimal wastage.

“Whenever I work on a collection of dresses, I use leftover fabric to do patchwork jackets for the next season. I believe you can sell sustainability if you innovate with it in a way it looks appealing. It will also give you higher returns,” she adds.

Fitted styles

The designer sources fabrics from Bengaluru and all across the country. She also works with specific weavers; for instance, an artisan from Bhagalpur works with Madhubani on khadi. She also has weavers specifically for ikat.

“My clothing comes with fitted cuts and silhouettes that finds a large audience in India and Europe where people prefer fitted clothing. Also, most of them is pre-washed and pre-shrunk, so taking care of them is not a big hassle.”

Madhuri still designs all the clothing herself, working with the very first tailor she had hired, and now also outsources to a production unit. Most of her sales come from her website and she has customers from the US and Europe as well.

She began the venture with Rs 80,000, and in eight months, has earned about Rs 15 lakh.

The pricing starts at Rs 1,400 for tops, Rs 2,000 for bottoms, while dresses start at Rs 2,700. She makes just six-eight pieces in a particular design as the fabric is handcrafted.

Madhurima is happy with the reach of Instagram and the support of the city’s media.

“My short-term plans include expansion of processes and iterative functions that could give the fastest results. I am participating in exhibitions across the country. I would also like to expand globally, and want to partner with multiple independent boutiques in Europe and Canada, besides scaling up the operations side of the business,” she says.

(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)