The business of fashion

How Trendsetters brought the freshest fashion designers in Nepal together to create a 100% Nepali fashion brand.

Coco Chanel once said “Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening” and yet in Nepal, the idea of fashion hasn’t been perceived beyond clothing. In general, fashion only means glamor to people – the craft fashion initiates is something totally misunderstood. In time, people are pecking on fashion to start numerous creative ventures around it. Some entrepreneurs are finally recognizing the metaphors of fashion runaways and working towards establishing real businesses with it. Here, in Kathmandu, its started with Trendsetters.

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It wasn’t that there weren’t fashion shows before Trendsetters or that fashion didn’t have communicators but when Manish Pandit came to Aashutosh Shrestha with his idea of organizing a fashion show – he had the pure motive of flaunting Nepali fashion. Long before this, Manish Pandit didn’t think he would ever be starting a brand – ‘Trendsetters’ which he now runs alongside Aashutosh Shrestha, bringing together the works of different Nepali designers. Talking about their experiences, both Manish Pandit and Aashutosh Shrestha says that “it seems as though we really have been working hard now that we are saying things aloud.” Within the year it started, Trendsetters had managed to set a buzz wherever it mattered.

Rewinding their story – Manish Pandit talks about the backstory of Trendsetters. “I was never interested in fashion much until I started taking it as a product to sell.” Today he also serves as the Managing Director of House of Alternative Apparels. Reckoning himself as a businessman, he says he kept looking for ways to flourish business and build new ideas to advance new prospects in his area of expertise. Consequently, when the idea of a fashion show popped in his head, he went to Vootoo Entertainment, an event managing company, to materialize it into a plan. “That’s when I met Aashutosh.” Aashutosh Shrestha, one of the founders of Vootoo Entertainment, describes his relation to the fashion world as something connected by managing events. “Fashion to me is an event,” he says. Both Pandit and Shrestha are firm believers of their business idea. Fashion shows in Nepal aren’t something new but the importance Shrestha and Pandit were willing to fabricate was something that was missing all along in the shows that have happened before. Together the two aspire to give a platform to designers and to arouse public awareness about the latest trends. After considering everything in their plan, they started bringing all the pieces of the puzzle together to walk their abstract ideas on the ramp.

Calling up designers to showcase their works in the Trendsetters fashion show – they were evoking the sleeping fashion world in Nepal to wake up and put a dent in the industry. Their first show in DurbarMarg’s Yak & Yeti Hotel received an amazing positive response. But this wasn’t enough for them. So they came back again with a Spring/Summer fashion show. They were now producing a runway of trends, people were liking the idea but they still didn’t have a place to go to shop for those products– a place to experience and purchase designer wear. Both Shrestha and Pandit then opened Trendsetters, a retail outlet at the Mayalu Centre mall in Durbarmarg aiming to sell designer wear to the mainstream. The store doesn’t just include designer wear but also local labels too, besides other products. The dream? To export these products to foreign markets someday.

Trendsetters is associated with more than 10 designers in a short span of time. By showcasing such apparel, the platform has added value to something enough people weren’t paying attention to. It is now attracting more people to indulge in designer products. Their venture has been constructive for the designers too, who get to learn more about fashion through the circle of designers. “I knew some people before I had this idea as I was associated with House of Alternative Apparel and some we came to know in the field.” The team says that it definitely looks forward to working with more designers in the future.

They’ve also taken the runway outside the capital. Trendsetters’ has now exhibited in Dharan, Biratnagar, Birgunj, Narayanghat and Dhangadi. By arranging such shows, they hope to inspire designers to exhibit more creative work to the world. Designing needs a lot of research and inspiration and with their fashion show, Trendsetters are willing to give that opportunity to designers. “I think when the designers meet they will be able to cultivate more ideas in their work and that is what we are aiming towards; not just a ramp walk but also valuable work that emphasizes on craft,” says Shrestha.

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The Trendsetters’ retail outlet showcases designer wear by the different designers collaborating with them. They have worked with many designers in the past; some of whom have their own labels and some who are freelancing at Trendsetters.
“We make money through sales transactions, we earn when the designers get paid. We can say we are on the same footing as they are – as the profit made is shared,” they say. Pandit and Shrestha work as a team with the designers to promote their business. “It’s a collective venture moreover,” they add. Today they have done over nine fashion shows and they believe more than ever that fashion is a lucrative business sector in Nepal. Their business doesn’t comprise of exactly mass consumption goods. Designer clothes are on the pricier side as they have more detail work on them than our usual clothes. For most Nepalese, to buy such products, they would definitely need to earn more. However, there a certain niche cleintele that is fond of designer wear in the time it took for Trendsetters to introduce labels and designer wear. The retail outlet thus made business sense. “Our outlet might appear costly but we also have designer wear that is more accessible. We have products ranging from 400 to 3000 rupees,” says Pandit, describing a lower price range. Besides supporting local designers, adding value to their creations and creating jobs, Trendsetters is also generating awareness amongst the public about new trends in the local scene. “The market might seem small but our consumers are opening up to the idea of owning designer wear.”

Manish Pandit and Aashutosh Shrestha knew for a fact that they would be questioned about affordability meeting sustainability. “Designer wear is priced high because the fabrics and other material used are exported and expensive. But even if we start using our own local products, we have no resources to support us; thus the price.” However, Trendsetters also understands the reality of Nepal and so have tried to price the clothes reasonably. For that reason, they admit to have constant debates with the designers. The production cost is the reason the price can be high in some cases.

“In time people will be willing to spend on designer products for its quality and elegance.” Trendsetters understands well that to sustain a retail outlet in Nepal, it has to be feasible for its customers to buy there. “The store will take its time to earn profits; for now we are just introducing designer wear to a niche market as they still aren’t aware of it,” says Pandit. Nepal’s instability keeps hindering people’s lives. People have no answers to half the consequences led by political decisions. In such a market, Trendsetters aspires to develop a fashion industry – a sector that is still largely taken as being frivolous. “Fashion does seem selfish, if we see it individually. But if fashion does grow into an industry, it will benefit our country more than anything,” says Pandit. Both Shrestha and Pandit guarantee job opportunities with the growth of the industry. They are confident and right to understand that if fashion, like other new areas of business, gains momentum, it will generate more work opportunities for the country. The offshoots of the industry can make way for entire industries on its own.

Trendsetters’ initiative takes the idea of designer wear to the commercial market, to traders who have long substituted original fashion with mass-produced clothing. For years, people in Nepal have grown used to the Chinese market and its mostly sub standard products and it is apparent that the idea of designer wear is going to take its own sweet time to sink in. For that reason, Trendsetters is continuing to do fashion shows via Vootoo Entertainment. Currently, Trendsetters is busy with its 16-city tour of the country, which aims to orient followers for the venture Manish Pandit and Ashutosh Shrestha started together a year ago. Even though they aren’t designers themselves, they seem eager to understand the world of fashion to improve their business. Fashion marks the passage of time. It is a very complex world, full of subtle nuances that make all the difference, although upfront, it looks like all fun and glamor. For a fashion house or designer wear to make any profit, more buyers and the environment it aims to grow in has to perceive that true fashion is art. Understanding this, Trendsetters have locked their focus on two kinds of people – consumers and designers. How successful they become will be a measure of their understanding of not just the economics of fashion but local culture and Nepal’s own unique understanding of fashion.

Towards fashionable business
Although fashion has been around for a while now, most Nepalies still don’t take it seriously. One shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but this is what is exactly happening in Nepal’s fashion scene. In the absence of huge investments and large banners, a lot of the creativity and the creators are clearly neglected. But in the last few years, the tides are turning in the Nepali market. The business ideas we are exploring are demanding new innovative approaches to work. Just like Trendsetters who broke the mold by introducing fashion as more than just fancy looking clothes, the designers behind the clothes are also coming up with ideas that poke you sharply in the rubs to sit up and pay attention. These designers have their own stories.

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Tenzin Tseten Bhutia
Tenzin Tseten Bhutia, one of the designers who started young with Trendsetters-1, is excited about the new opportunities Trendsetters is carving out as it escorts Nepali fashion forward. He graduated from NIFT College in Bangalore and interned under Manoviraj Khosla a renowned fashion Maestro. There he enriched himself with experiences in designing and working backstage at fashion shows. He also took part in Let’s Design, a show that was aired on Zoom TV. When he finally arrived in Nepal, he had big plans for fashion although he was aware of its status in Nepal. Like the owners of Trendsetters, he believes that the fashion business is just starting here.

Joining the team
When Bhutia was approached by Trendsetters he was more than happy to share a platform with Nepali designers. Bhutia since then has been collaborating with the Trendsetters’ retail outlet and has been exhibiting his designs at Trendsetters fashion shows. He calls the show a festival for designers to celebrate fashion. “A retail hub that brings designers together is something new to Nepal, this marks a beginning for us.”

Planning and researching
Nepali fashion, something that was slacking behind lazily is today finally learning to exercise itself to do better with the start of Trendsetters. As one of the contributing catalysts, Bhutia is enjoying the idea behind Trendsetters and is digging deep in his mine to keep experimenting at every level. Garnering inspiration from what he can to implement it in his work, he does his homework passionately. “I keep observing the people around me, how they dress up, the colors people use and brainstorm about it.” He stresses on how important it is to do research for design. In the three fashion shows he’s done with Trendsetters, he presented ‘Keti Collection’ in the beginning, a tribute to Nepali women, and then ‘Keith et’ Anita’ for his second show and ‘The Nudist’ for his third – in which he exhibited designs reflecting the free spirit of nudes. His collections brought to attention the craft that fashion actually aspires to delve in.

Challenges
Starting a fashion line itself in Nepal is a challenge. When prodded further, Bhutia says that not finding a proper place to source fabric and materials from is the biggest problem he faces. The idea of branded clothes and designer wear isn’t something that relates to everyone. “Yes, owning designer wear is a luxury rather than a need –designers put in a lot of effort. It’s because we are just producing one garment at a time and creating it for one individual,” says Bhutia.

Prospects of fashion
Bhutia speaks of how fashion is likely to be selfish. He explains how owning designer wear can indeed be an indulgence but he points out how in broader nooks, fashion also has the potential to improve the economy and employment opportunities. “Look at the benefits it will open for us, look at the imports we could be making and the income we will be generating.” Although he wishes people to be more welcoming about fashion, he understands that it will take time for them to accept it as art. He feels happy that people are at least conscious about fashion now and are taking an active interest in it, even though it doesn’t meet his expectations.

Bhutia believes he has much to do – beyond Trendsetters too. “It’s an opportunity that I will always rejoice but then I have much to do, because right now in Nepal sadly, I have no one to look up to.” Originally from Sikkim but based in Kathmandu for now, he is hopeful that he will do something worthy to grow the local fashion industry.

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Suruchira Shakya
When Suruchira Shakya went to observe the first fashion show by Trendsetters at the Yak & Yeti Hotel, she knew right then that Trendsetters was introducing a new idea to the industry here. A runaway that spread mass awareness about fashion and at the same time brought Nepali designers together – it was something she really enjoyed watching as a member of the audience. As a fashion student looking for an opportunity to venture into fashion, she found in Trendsetters, a platform for her to create.

Joining the team
After finishing her graduation, she called Manish Pandit and Aashutosh Shrestha to look at her designs and give her an opportunity to improve. For every show, Trendsetters was taking in new designers and so Shakya was welcomed into the club. She says that for someone like her, marketing is very important. “It’s only when people know you better that they will approach you,” she says. Shakya is convinced that the little things people know about fashion is because of publicity and not interest. In her first Trendsetters show, she presented simple corsets.

Planning and researching
Nepal is not as developed as other countries. We don’t have the purchasing power to afford luxury. Shakya reveals that people are now slowly getting into the mood for fashion as our social lives become more vibrant. Aware of the fact that people tend to mistake her for a tailor sometimes, she tries to change this idea with her garments. Spending time on what trends and cuts are doing well, she prepares a handful of ideas to work out in her designs. She dwells over the creativity that fashion is wrapped in. In her to-do list, she plans to make her identity first and then to work on bringing in more customers to her workshop.

Challenges
For Shakya, the biggest challenge is manpower. Shakya opened a workshop of her own six months back and she is still struggling she says. Up till now she was doing everything on her own. “If I want to expand I also need to manage the work time, so I hired a worker recently,” she says. Not many people understand why she frets over her designs. “There are many other designers, but not everyone has the opportunity I do. With changing times, people organizing fashion shows should open up to new designers too.”

Future prospects
Suruchira Shakya still sees fashion growing slowly in Nepal as she isn’t satisfied with the audience the shows recieve. She agrees that pricing is a challenge that will follow us into the future. But she is positive about the idea behind Trendsetters and its initiative to be reasonably priced despite the production cost. In the coming days, she hopes to see more investors coming into the fashion business. “Of course, things are going to be slow but then we will have to buckle up to create larger audiences for fashion. It’s only then that I can see myself as a better fashion designer.”

The creation of able manpower is something Shakya emphasizes on throughout the conversation. “The customer’s choices for designer wear is increasing, although it seems unconvincing to spend on designer wear in Nepal at this time,” she says. Thankful to her exposure in the fashion world brewing here through trendsetters she immerses herself in the craft now than ever to change the perspective of fashion for once and for all.

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Ayasha Elsha Thapa
While Trendsetters made calls to designers, there were instances where it was the designers who approached Trendsetters. Ayasha Elsha Thapa was introduced to Trendsetters as a spectator after getting an invitation for their fashion show. Thapa had already worked with Archanna Kochhar, an ace couturier in India and strong experiences from the workshops and the international fashion shows around India in which she had participated. Thapa now also teaches at IEC and is the cover stylist for WOW magazine too.

Joining the team
Having had abundant exposure to the fashion world during her stay in India, Thapa returned to Nepal to do something in Nepali fashion. She opened a store – Elsha’s Pret. But after witnessing the Trendsetters show, she wanted to tell her own fashion story and reached out to Manish Pandit to join the team. As a ‘teacher’ of fashion, she also wished to inspire students by showcasing her designs. In her first show with Trendsetters, she presented the designs she had already displayed in Bombay.

Planning and researching
Thapa shares how she was really disappointed with the attitude people had about fashion when she started out in Kathmandu. She reminisces of the professionalism in India and says, “We actually have a lot to learn from them.” The creativity in fashion is still misunderstood by Nepalese, as they label only wearable garments as fashion. Planning and research is still missing in Nepal. Thapa is also saddened by the fact that nobody is bothered by fashion here. Thapa is now planning to design plastic garments for her next Trendsetters show.

Challenges
In the years gone by, many have believed plainly that they have understood fashion when actually they fail to even see the hard work behind clothes. “I clearly seem to be very negative about Fashion in Nepal although I wish to believe everything is fine,” says Thapa, when describing the challenges of starting a fashion line in Nepal. “There’s no flow of creativity in fashion, and costume designing is totally new here.” Even at Trendsetters’ shows, she misses the thunderous applause she wants. Most importantly, she says, “I have equipment that requires electricity, but the lights are out most of the time, troubling me with my designs.”

Future prospects
Nepal’s fashion story seems to be in a slumber. Thapa believes we have a long way to go to gain any momentum. She suggests organizers to involve fashion students as volunteers to let students learn more from the fashion show. “Education abroad is a must for students who want to study fashion as the exposure you get is profound,” she says. Trendsetters fashion tempt people to follow fashion. However, Thapa is convinced there is much more to do. Doing everything on her own, she even creates fabric and textures for her garments. Elsha Thapa though aspires to define Fashion she feels out of place in Nepal. Thapa says “we say we are moving forward but it feels like I am moving alone.” Nepal’s fashion seems to be growing but at times it fears to take a leap. To justify it Thapa says “ Nepali Dhaka can be used in so many ways but people always blend it culturally .” With Trendsetters Ayasha Elsha Thapa longs to see the change she has been working towards. “We have to get started as we can’t wait for people to be ready always.” These designers and some of others in Nepal who are still trying to prepare a ground for a potential fashion industry in Nepal need all the support they can have. For fashion is something that can bring changes to the lifestyle of people in Nepal. Having to say Fashion isn’t integral and hasn’t much to do then just flaunting garments would be totally wrong to assume now when the prospect of fashion is expanding day by day.

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