Sujata Gazder presented her eponymous line at the recent GenArt Fresh Faces in Fashion show this past September during Fashion Focus in Chicago. This talented designer has honed an aesthetic that combines romanticism and glamour with a fresh modern look that’s most evident in her beautiful evening dresses. In addition to several boutiques throughout the city, Sujata’s pieces are also available at the â€œDesigners of Chicago Shopâ€? located in Macys.
SCS Have you always been interested in fashion?
SG Yes, I’ve always loved fashion. I’ve designed my own clothes since I was a little girl of seven or eight. We would go to the fabric store. I would point up to the fabrics I wanted, and I would take it to the tailors and tell them I wanted. My mom was a seamstress too; she would take my designs and make clothes for me as well.
SCS Tell us how you got started in this business.
SG I have no degree in fashion, but personally I don’t feel like you need that to make it. I’m originally from India, and I came here in 1990 to finish my music degree. Then in 1996 I had my daughters, and after that I started thinking more seriously about going into fashion. I soon took courses and became more familiar with the industry.
SCS How long has your line been around for?
SG Officially I’ve been doing this for three seasons and I’ve gotten a very good response.
SCS Who is your ideal customer?
SG I design for a fashion conscious woman. Not someone who wears velour sweatsuits, but someone who wants to wear a very good pair of pants or a really good dress.
SCS What are your inspirations?
SG I think I was born a century too late! I love corsets and bustles and even Renaissance style clothes. Anything that’s romantic. Baroque architecture, scrollwork, nature. I love period paintings and books, books, books. One of my favorites is â€œFabrics of Indiaâ€? by Rithu Kumar.
SCS Speaking of India, how do you blend the influences of your heritage into your work without being pigeonholed into that category of ethnic designer?
SG As an Indian, you’re brought up in such a colorful environment that focuses heavily on embellishments, which has influenced my work. But in the beginning, whenever I talked to Indian designers, they asked me whether I design saris, lenghas, or salwar kameezes [traditional Indian clothes]. That of course isn’t what I do, and initially I felt like I was looked down on for not being true to my culture. And the western market almost expected me to design clothes like that as well. They definitely do try to niche you, but ultimately it’s more about what you have to offer than where you come from. And when they saw what I was offering, it became much easier.
SCS How do you go about designing for each coming season?
SG As a designer, you see what your strongest looks are. You bring back your core bestsellers, and then you try and build around that. You go to the drawing board and do a bunch of sketches. I start off with all the fairy tale prices and looks. Let’s throw everything I can do in there, I think. Then lets make it cost effective. And then lets think whether this will look good in larger sizes. Some clothes simply don’t look good the bigger they get. You have to keep your clientele in mind, and so some clothes I modify to keep larger women happy.
SCS You seem very business savvy.
SG After doing trade shows and meeting people, you get a feel for what people want. Don’t go and design in a vacuum because then you’ll never be in touch with your customer. And then you’ll wonder why it’s not selling.
I started off doing eveningwear pieces, but most women don’t have the opportunity to dress up. It’s a very small group, and did I want to be pigeonholed into that? No. If you want to expand your horizons, you have to come out with clothes that you can wear throughout the day. Right now, I’m expanding into more affordable daywear. One of my bestselling dresses cost $1650. Even I can’t afford my own clothes! So for this next season, I want to include pieces that will retail between $400-600.
SCS How do you balance your artistic desires with your commercial and business sensibilities?
SG It’s a compromise between what you can create versus what you want to create. You go to the fabric shop and see a drop dead gorgeous look, but then you realize that it’s completely out of your price range. You actually have an internal schizophrenic battle. At the same time, being constrained by finances keeps you focused. As a designer you’re not the sole creator. There’s a lot of public opinion. And if you’re not willing to listen to that, you either have a lot of money, you got a lucky break, or you don’t care. So at certain point you have to listen.
SCS Has designing in Chicago worked well for you?
SG In general being in Chicago has been terrific, especially with the mayor’s intent to make this a fashion capital. As designers, we are getting in on the ground floor. And all the designers here are very nice; anyone is willing to share their information with you. The biggest struggle, however, we have here is finding quality contractors. Another important issue is strong fabric sourcing.
SCS What other designers have you found to be influential in you work?
SG I love Valentino. I love the classic looks of Ralph Lauren- very clean and figure flattering. I like certain elements of the real women aspect to Donna Karan, and I like a certain amount of flash from Dolce and Gabanna. You look at all these elements and then figure out what works for you.
SCS And what is it that keeps you going in this business?
SG A fetish for fabric! It’s an addiction! Ultimately, what keeps me going is feedback. Compliments make me feel food. The fact that I can dress people and make them happy. I just finished a wedding gown for this one woman, and she sent me the sweetest email. You made my wedding dreams come true, it said. It’s not so much the money, but the validation from my customers.
SCS Are you happy with where you are right now?
SG It has been a good journey. I’m impatient though. I tend to get depressed when I’m not moving fast enough. I’d like to grow, be more accessible to the public.
At the same time, I didn’t think there was so little glamour. It’s such a grind. It can get overwhelming and frustrating, and sometimes you need to remind yourself why you’re doing this. I don’t design for the sake off being famous. I would be happy if I saw someone walking down the street in my dress. And I think, â€œWow, they spent their money on my dress!â€?