Fashion Value Chain indulged in an extensive conversation with Anu Mehra, Fashion Designer / Founder, Charisma by Anu Mehra.
Can you tell us about your journey as a fashion designer and how it led to the founding of Charisma?
Armed with a fashion degree, my journey commenced during my early days as a young mother. Frequently, I grappled with the challenge of managing a limited budget for my clothing needs. This often led me to a crossroads where premium dresses appeared overly extravagant while budget-friendly options compromised on quality. At this juncture, I resolved to craft high-quality and stylish Indian attire tailored for the everyday woman. This endeavour was directed towards women who, like me, adeptly balance the demands of family, work, and the myriad responsibilities of modern life.
My conviction firmly rests in the notion that achieving a million-dollar look shouldn’t demand a million-dollar expenditure. Guided by this principle and fuelled by a vision to revolutionize the fashion panorama, Charisma’s evolution has been remarkable. While our offerings have expanded beyond Indian wear to encompass Western attire, our core specialization is Indian bridal ensembles. Throughout the years, we have guided numerous remarkable women in harmonizing fashion, tradition, and their distinctive personas through accessible outfits. This aspect stands as the most gratifying part of my journey.
What inspired you to start your own label, and what were your goals when you began Charisma?
My motivation came from the unaddressed requirement for affordable yet top-notch clothing, particularly stylish everyday wear and bridal attire. The existing array of designer brands either came with exorbitant price tags that did not align with the financial constraints of budget-conscious women or fell short in terms of the desired quality standards. This realization prompted me to embark on a journey to revolutionize this sector. My goal was clear: to bring about a transformation by introducing personalized, high-quality, and appropriately priced fashion options tailored specifically for women.
How would you describe the philosophy and vision behind Charisma by Anu Mehra?
The vision behind Charisma was to transform the Indian bridal wear and female fashion landscape. We aim to bring about high-quality and fashionable Indian and Western wear for everyday women and high-quality Indian bridal wear that comes without budget constraints.
Charisma by Anu Mehra is known for its bespoke bridal wear and contemporary couture. Could you elaborate on the design aesthetics and unique selling points of your brand?
Our status as a fashion brand with comprehensive in-house design and manufacturing capabilities is a significant aspect that sets us apart. This differentiates us from labels that depend on external sourcing for multiple stages of production. My direct engagement at every juncture of the journey further distinguishes us. I involve myself with every process, from the initial conceptual sketch to the final product preparation and delivery stages. This level of unparalleled involvement guarantees our customers personalized excellence and attention to detail that they genuinely appreciate.
You mentioned that the brand offers ready-to-stitch artisanal materials and accessories. How do these features contribute to the bespoke experience for your customers?
There are numerous fabric arts across India, such as Ikat from Orissa, Pochampally from Andhra Pradesh. A multitude of skilled artisans are rooted in their localities. We endeavor to unite these artisans, who are geographically confined, under a single platform. We collaborate with these artisans to infuse our designs with their expertise. These designs are then carefully curated using a variety of renowned fabrics. Our clients can observe and envision these creations, allowing us to tailor their preferences to perfection.
The logo of Charisma features a golden feather inspired by Lord Krishna. Could you explain the significance of this imagery and its connection to your brand?
I deeply revere Lord Krishna, who resides close to my heart. His peacock feather serves as a tangible manifestation of his divine presence. With its captivating beauty, the peacock symbolizes elegance and strength through its splendid feathers. I consistently carry his memory in my thoughts, attributing everything to his grace, which unfailingly accompanies me.
As an ethical and sustainable brand, what steps does Charisma by Anu Mehra take to ensure responsible and environmentally friendly practices?
Charisma is a brand firmly established upon the three fundamental pillars of sustainability, ethics, and quality. These guiding principles have been the driving forces shaping our trajectory since the brand’s inception. Our primary focus revolves around making a positive impact on the environment and the skilled artisans who breathe life into our creations.
We have taken a proactive approach to material sourcing in pursuing these goals. By cultivating robust partnerships with local vendors and Indian manufacturers, we exclusively collaborate with them. This deliberate choice grants us complete transparency and control over our supply chains, ensuring our ethical standards remain unwavering.
Our commitment extends to the welfare of these artisans and craftsmen. We actively seek out talented individuals and engage in direct collaborations, guaranteeing them fair compensation, safe working conditions, and the appreciation they deserve for their traditional mastery. Our overarching ambition is to empower them towards enhanced livelihoods while safeguarding India’s rich heritage of crafts.
Our approach to sustainability is distinctive in nature. We channel our energies into unveiling limited-edition collections, each piece meticulously crafted with precision and care. This methodology averts overproduction and excess inventory, thereby reducing the likelihood of unsold items ending up in landfills. Moreover, the exclusivity inherent in our limited editions resonates with our customers, who acknowledge that their purchases not only embrace style but also reflect conscientious choices. Embracing the art of upcycling, we further minimize waste by creatively repurposing surplus fabrics and materials into smaller accessories, ensuring no resources go to waste. This approach significantly lessens our ecological footprint and fosters a sustainable, circular economy.
At Charisma, we extend beyond mere clothing; we offer narratives. With each acquisition, our customers become part of a broader story that celebrates local artisans’ artistic brilliance, champions environmental protection, and advocates for responsible fashion. We remain constantly evolving, adapting to industry shifts, customer inclinations, and ecological awareness. At the core of it is our steadfast belief that fashion can be a catalyst for positive change, and we are resolutely committed to setting an example that others can follow.
In the highly competitive fashion industry, how does Charisma by Anu Mehra differentiate itself from other brands, particularly in the bespoke fashion segment?
We are different from the other brands in the vertical due to our end-to-end in-house design and manufacturing capabilities. From sourcing the materials, and creating the first sketches to manufacturing the product, none of the processes is outsourced. As the founder, I am personally involved with each stage of the process. This is unlike what other labels in the market do. Our customers get the guarantee of unparalleled personalization and meticulous attention to detail, which they highly value and appreciate.
How do you maintain accessibility and affordability while providing high-quality bespoke fashion?
We have made a deliberate effort to exclusively source all our materials from local vendors and manufacturers within India. Additionally, we possess a comprehensive in-house capacity to handle every facet of the design and manufacturing procedures. These capabilities and our streamlined manufacturing processes that minimize wastage and prevent losses from excessive unsold inventory empower us to provide exceptional quality while maintaining the right prices.
The brand has gained popularity among celebrities and TV stars. How has this recognition helped Charisma’s growth and reputation?
We have many celebrities and social media influencers as our clientele, and we also collaborate with other influencers to wear our designs and leverage the visibility of such collaborations on social media platforms. Further, we actively engage with fashion influencers and bloggers aligned with our brand values. They have a significant following among people who prefer ethical and sustainable fashion, and through these celebrities and influencers, we can showcase our products to such audiences.
Starting from a small shop, Charisma has grown into a go-to label. What were some of the key strategies or challenges you faced in this journey?
The most significant challenge brands face is the surge of fast fashion. Social media has propelled large, international, and budget-friendly brands to the forefront, making it challenging for smaller brands like ours to compete in pricing and design diversity. Striking a balance between keeping pace with rapidly shifting seasonal trends, accelerated by the entry of these fast fashion giants, is crucial. We navigate these demands while upholding quality standards and avoiding unnecessary waste. This journey represents a learning curve inherent to all fashion labels, and we surmounted these hurdles by remaining steadfast in our commitment and resisting the allure of low-cost, fast fashion. We proudly value our craft’s craftsmanship, sustainability, and timeless appeal. A growing awareness of the environmental repercussions of fashion choices prompts consumers to be more conscious. Our dedication to cultivating a sustainable brand identity has proven economically prudent and ethically rewarding.
You mentioned plans to grow spectacularly. Could you share some insights into the future expansion and growth plans for Charisma by Anu Mehra?
We aim to expand Charisma’s coverage worldwide through strategic partnerships with retail chains and are also exploring our presence in e-commerce platforms. We will also launch new collections every month, whether in sarees, Indian wear, western wear, or bridal collection. This month we launched our new collection, Tarang, a sustainable collection of casual Indian wear inspired by the sea. You can explore it on our social media pages or website!
How do you plan to leverage digital platforms, multi-designer retail stores, and social media to reach a nationwide audience?
We have plans to mark our presence on more fashion websites and marketplaces and even do offline product placement across Mumbai or other parts of the country. We already have clientele in international markets such as MENA, USA, UK, Australia, and other major countries where a sizeable Indian diaspora resides.
Word-of-mouth seems to play a significant role in customer acquisition for Charisma. How do you ensure strong customer retention and satisfaction?
Our unwavering focus has always been on providing our clients with high-quality, sustainable, and affordable experiences. This commitment has led our clients to genuinely value and hold dear the products they acquire from us, prompting them to endorse Charisma to their acquaintances. Additionally, our clientele encompasses numerous celebrities, social media influencers, and fashion trendsetters, and we capitalize on our partnerships with them across various social media platforms. These endeavours have played a pivotal role in establishing Charisma’s robust organic presence, solidifying our reputation as a continually expanding fashion label that embodies sustainability, style, quality, and accessibility.
What are some of the memorable experiences or feedback from your customers that have helped shape the brand’s identity?
Since the beginning, I have been directly crafting all the designs for clients. Each client has a unique persona, and we tailor our designs to match their individuality and preferences. Every client is treated with utmost significance, and we prioritize their needs personally. The positive feedback we receive is a testament to our efforts, as clients often return with anecdotes of receiving compliments on their attire. Remarkably, my first client continues to entrust me with their clothing choices. It is encouraging when they express that our creations possess a timeless quality while staying abreast of current trends, positioning us at the forefront of fashion. These consistently uplifting comments serve as a driving force. Ultimately, our clients find their distinctive identity through our work.
As the brand’s first client, how did you maintain your connection with customers as the label grew?
Our policy centres around punctual delivery aligned with client preferences, quality, and budget considerations. We give them a comprehensive offering that caters to all their needs. Each client is important as they often bring in new referrals. Taking my first client as an example, their entire family has become loyal clients. I have had the privilege of coordinating attire for four generations of weddings within the same family. My team knows these principles must be adhered to with every client interaction.
Personal and Inspirational:
You have been a part of the fashion world for over two decades. What are some of the most valuable lessons you have learned during your journey as a designer and entrepreneur?
Beyond mere financial gain, work ethics and a fervent dedication to your craft are very important. Establishing a solid foundation and maintaining unwavering principles are essential. Furthermore, customers are primary. While financial resources are necessary for expansion, the role of clients cannot be undermined. Additionally, it is imperative to ensure the well-being of your staff and uphold a commitment to deadlines and core values. Lastly, embracing the notion that growth stems from learning through mistakes is of utmost importance.
Who are your design inspirations or role models in the fashion industry, and how have they influenced your work?
Ritu Kumar’s profound connection with Indian heritage inspires me, and I admire her journey. I am very inspired by Sabyasachi Mukherjee, and you can see much of his influence in my work.
What advice would you give to aspiring fashion designers and entrepreneurs who want to make their mark in the industry?
For any young entrepreneur aiming to build a fashion or lifestyle brand, embracing one’s unique vision and passion is key. Our vision is often shaped by our personal experiences, needs, and values, but how it caters to a specific audience or addresses a unique need can set a venture apart. I would advise budding fashion entrepreneurs to remain authentic and let their genuineness reflect in their creations. Secondly, passion fuels creativity and determination. You must find a purpose that you resonate with strongly. It could be empowering women, cherishing the cultural heritage, promoting sustainability, and even combining all these values that can drive you forward. It is this passion that can be a game-changer during challenging times.
I would also advise people not to get discouraged by the limitations of resources. It can be daunting, but it would also push you toward becoming more resourceful, innovative and make you a problem solver. The core things to focus on are your products’ uniqueness and value addition. Stand firmly behind your value proposition and let it guide your brand identity. Last but not least, I advise you to celebrate your positive impact on your customers’ lives. Every time you add joy to someone’s life, you would realize how it adds to your confidence and joy as an entrepreneur.