Designing functional pockets: Why this Kerala-based entrepreneur and feminist is bullish on customising women’s apparel
For centuries, men’s clothes were designed to be functional, with pockets having a specific purpose and use. However, when it comes to women’s clothing, pockets share a complicated history as their designs tiptoed around fashion sensibilities.
The history of pockets dates back to the 17th century, when they were included in undergarments as a “tie-on”. In the 20th century, as working women began sporting pants, women’s fashion started idolising skinny women and this led to very tiny or non-existent pockets – indicating that the concept of pockets has sexist origins.
But Jayalakshmi Ranjith from Trichur, Kerala is bent on changing the status quo with her venture – Pockets13.
An agricultural engineer and communication specialist, Jayalakshmi quit her job to take a break in February 2020. Then the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdowns served as the right nudge to start, an Instagram-based small business that specialises in designing customised women’s apparel with “functional pockets”. The entrepreneur emphasises the word ‘functional’ “because women’s pockets have been one big sham for too long now.”
Jayalakshmi herself is ditching jeans and pants designed for women. “I bought jeans of my size from the men's section, and when I wore it and put my phone in the back pocket, it completely slid in and I am not used to that. I don't find any specific reason why women's outfits should not have functional pockets. They are either faux pockets or just enough to keep coins. That's just not fair,” she tells HerStory.
Jayalakshmi had always been particular about what she needed in her clothes and made sure to explain everything in detail to her tailor, much to her mother’s annoyance.
“Since I was six or seven years old, I always asked for different kinds of customisations and my mom would find it annoying as it took time. Over some time, my tailor aunty and I developed a rapport and she figured that whenever I made an appointment, she would keep extra time for me to decide things together,” she says.
As she moved cities for higher studies and to find a job, she graduated to other tailors but still designed her own clothes, with a focus on pockets. Her friends and colleagues took notice and began asking if she could design similar outfits for them.
With ample time amidst the early days of the pandemic, Jayalakshmi took the plunge to start Pockets13 on June 13, 2020, beginning with some sourced fabrics.
Jayalakshmi in Pockets13 dresses
All sizes are standard
Bootstrapped with her savings so far, the brand’s key focus is comfort, convenience, and choice.
The pocketed apparel are also made free of standard size labels like small, medium, or large, and everything is customised. “I have personally heard friends and colleagues say that certain designs look beautiful but I am an XL or XS and won't get such designs. As a very staunch feminist, I find it very saddening. When they are comfortable presenting themselves in certain designs, why aren't they given that option?” she says.
Working with a local tailor, customers can choose from design templates, request any customisations they need, send a basic measurement of bust, hip, and length, and if possible, a sample picture. The tailor then begins work and has the order delivered within two to three weeks.
“We don't ask them what size they wear,” she says, adding, “I had a tailor who entertained everything I wanted in my clothes and that is something I am trying to do.” The brand only uses cotton fabric and ensures packaging is eco-friendly.
The way forward
Just over a year old, Jayalakshmi has been juggling the venture alongside her consultancy work.
India is the sixth-largest women’s apparel market in the world where the domestic market sales from women’s fashion accounted for more than Rs 1,313 billion in 2018, according to Statista. Pockets13 is fielding the market as an alternative to various global and domestic commercial brands that continue to play by the fashion industry’s norm when it comes to women’s pockets.
This has also helped build a community of sorts where the women are simply grateful for functional pockets. As a one-woman army working simultaneously as a social media marketer, accountant, and working on designs, the logistics restrictions have been a challenge but she says transparency in communication with customers is key.
“If you need to step out today, all you need is a phone and probably your card to get anything done – at least in metros. You actually have the option of going hands-free if you have pockets.” Jayalakshmi's goal is only to enable that.
Moving ahead, she plans to build an all-women team to ensure employment for women as the business expands.