This fashion entrepreneur believes India has enough beauty to inspire a designer for a lifetime
Fashion entrepreneur Manali Jagtap launched her label at the age of 22, and was immediately off to a great start with a standalone store to her name and celebrities gracing her brand MJ.
Introduced to fashion while helping at her mother’s boutique in Bandra, Mumbai, some of Manali’s best years were spent accompanying her mother to Hong Kong, Bangkok, and China to source material for the boutique. Over time, Manali tried her hand at designing, adding about four Indo-western pieces a week and they would get sold out immediately.
Once, after designing a few wedding outfits for a regular client, people took notice of her work and she was immediately offered to do a sequence at a fashion show, which had some of the most established celebrity designers showcasing their work. This solidified her thoughts to venture into fashion designing and she launched her store in 2011.
Small acts of kindness
Besides the label, the year 2011 also saw her launch her own charity organisation, Umeed Ek Koshish, to help people who had lost their loved ones and belongings in the monsoon floods of that year.
Manali says she and her friends grew up in a bustling Mumbai, and was not used to seeing the city in ruins. They gathered grains, utensils, and clothes from friends and family members and donated them to people affected by the floods, every day for two months.
As many people appreciated their consistent work, Manali and her friends founded Umeed Ek Koshish and took responsibility for 150 destitute children, looking after their educational and basic needs. One of the children recently got married.
“It is not something extremely big but something my friends and I wanted to do in our capacity to help,” Manali says.
A designer’s journey
Designs by Manali Jagtap (picture courtesy: Manali Jagptap's official instagram account)
Meanwhile, her design label was soaring to greater heights with celebrities like Sushmeta Sen, Dia Mirza, Shilpa Shetty, Huma Qureshi, Richa Chadda, and Malika Sherawat, donning her outfits.
She had also contributed to regional movies by designing for movies like Classmates and De Dhakka 2 and Bollywood film Jia Aur Jia that stars Kalki Koechlin and Richa Chadda. Manali’s creations were also showcased at IIFA Award 2013, Music Mirchi Awards, and several beauty pageants.
She attributes her success to the rich culture of India and believes a lifetime will not be enough for a designer to explore India.
Having done a show presenting ten brides in traditional wear from different Indian states, she says, “It looked like ten different shows in itself. Exploring India and playing with different traditional fabrics and embroidery is enough inspiration to keep me going.”
The secret to sustaining, she says, lies in consistency and experimenting. In the era of social media, the audience are more aware than ever of fashion in general and original artwork.
Catering to upper middle class and upper-class people, the MJ label, that started as a bridal couture, has evolved into specialising in occasional wear. Manali learnt that bridal wear is seasonal business and not a sustainable one while occasional wear focuses on attires for parties, anniversaries, and special occasions.
“Bridal wear ranges start from anywhere above Rs 1 lakh and occasional wear starts from Rs 30,000,” she adds.
Designing despite challenges
Manali says behind the glamour and glitz of the fashion industry, there is a lot of hardwork and determination.
Amongst the many challenges that she had to overcome, the fashion entrepreneur calls demonetisation in 2016 as a ‘starter’ and the COVID-19 pandemic as the ‘the main course’, when offline luxury businesses were worst hit.
“Demonetisation caused a sudden drop in business. My clients who were earlier ready to pay lump sum amounts for once-in-a-lifetime occasions started budget shopping and were more interested towards investing in jewellery,” she explains.
When the business started picking up a year later, Manali had to take a sabbatical for two-and-half years due to health concerns. The store continued to operate but with reduced capacity.
Just a little while after her health recovered and she resumed work, COVID-19 broke out in India. “Once again, the business went for a toss and people started to become wary of spending,” she says. Now, Manali plans to launch virtually in 2021.
Manali claims that some of the biggest designers who have never put their items on sale are offering upto 70 percent discount on their designs now, and this speaks volumes about the effect of COVID-19 on luxury business.
However, the enterprising designer remarks that regardless of the economy, “you need to believe in yourself because you are selling your vision, be it designing clothes or styling celebrities, and that is not easy." Perhaps that is why Manali is sure of emerging stronger despite all the odds.