Small Business Spotlight: SWATI Couture
This is a reprint of an article that I published in 2012. You can find SWATI Couture at https://www.facebook.com/SWATICouture/.
What do you do when your Silicon Valley IT company closes its U.S. operations? For Swati Kapoor, founder of SWATI Couture, the answer involved taking a step back and embarking on some deep soul searching.
“It was a fabulous job and the pinnacle of my design career. I’m doing graphic design for a time and then the next thing you know, they don’t need you anymore,” Swati reminisces. “I was traveling, I gave it my heart and soul and then one fine day, they decide to shut down US operations. I had the option of taking on another job, but by then it was all meaningless.”
After taking some time off, Swati began hosting designer trunk shows for friends and family and found that she not only enjoyed it, but she was very good at it. After encouragement from her support network, Swati decided to start her own fashion house. While she had enjoyed success reselling clothes, Swati’s ambitions were to be a stylist and have her own line of clothing with her name on it, clothing that is designed exclusively for her muse.
Embracing her belief that “there is something you have to do that no one else can do,” Swati envisioned making a difference in women’s lives by making them “look and feel good about themselves through beauty and adornment” and “in empowering and celebrating their divine feminine.” Swati felt deeply about her vision because it took “birth when my own femininity was being questioned during my infertility battle.”
The first thing Swati did was to define her market. She wanted to create a clothing line for the Bay Area woman and for the bourgeoning Indian American community, where Swati’s role would be the adaptation of the art of embroideries and fabrics from India to the needs of the people here. Using personal savings, an investment from her mother, her knowledge of art and love for beauty, SWATI Couture was born.
A fan of Bollywood and the dramatic costumes, Swati reached out to Reza Shariffi, costume designer for “Devdas,” the most expensive Bollywood movie at the time of its release in 2002. Shariffi, whose designs earned the movie an award for Best Costume Design, was friends with Swati’s cousin. Swati explained to Shariffi that she wanted to “bring the richness of India into the richness” of her clothing. She wanted to “bridge the gap from India to America.”
Upon hearing Swati’s goals for her clothing line, Shariffi was sold and the two became partners for her Couture label. In addition to Shariffi, Swati commissions a few other Indian artisans to craft her ready to wear clothing line.
Swati says that while she was working as a creative director in the IT world, she “specialized in the look and feel of websites. But at the end of the day, I said to myself what difference did I make?” She is now the creative director of SWATI Couture, specializing in how women look and feel about themselves. Swati’s tag line is “Adorn your inner goddess and step into the limelight.”
In the beginning, it was not easy to strike a balance. Swati found that SWATI Couture was unpredictable in terms of time commitment. She says that things were challenging at first. Her mother helped out when she could and her weekends were completely taken over. Intending to spend time with her son, Swati found she had to hire a nanny in order to keep up with business demands.
“There were moments when I was torn,” Swati said. “There were moments when I wanted to be with my child but I had a client coming in.” Happily, being an entrepreneur affords Swati the opportunity to spend time with her son and take him along to many of her shows and events.
Driven by the opportunity to make a difference and profitable business out of her passion and artistic gifts, Swati is determined to make it work. Her family has pulled together and provides the commitment and cooperation that Swati needs in order to tackle a business that is decidedly NOT 9 to 5.
In 2009, SWATI Couture, like most small business with luxury products, was hit by the global economic crisis. Business was slow. A marketing expert in her own right, Swati used that time to expose her brand and reach out to more people just when social media was beginning to become popular. She did several trunk and fashion shows in order to keep the brand afloat and build brand awareness. While the business did suffer financially, Swati has become one of the most well-known Indo-American designers. The popularity of her exclusive designs is well established.
With the West beginning to warm up to Bollywood productions, Swati’s fashions have found a wider market than what she originally intended. Because of the quality and uniqueness of her work, Swati finds that her business is steadily picking up with clients outside her original market. A pioneer in Indo-American fusion fashion in the Bay area, Swati has many repeat customers. She even has a single customer who owns over 500 of her garments! Swati expects her market and clientele to continue to grow as the luxury markets rebound.
While Swati had studied art and graphic design, she knew little about the fashion industry when SWATI Couture was created. She now considers herself a veteran after 10 years in the business but she says she does regret having begun her journey while being unprepared. Swati advises new entrepreneurs to take time laying the proper ground work and learning their chosen industry. She also suggests taking classes to learn how to run a business. Swati believes that with a bit of preparation, an entrepreneur will have fewer chances of burning out and more opportunities for success.
Having worked through the dot com bust, Swati warns that, “Just because someone puts millions into your business doesn’t mean you are going to be successful. Without building one brick at a time and a solid foundation, you won’t be successful. Time and perfection lead to success.” She feels the dot com era “really screwed up everyone’s heads.” Swati says that today’s aspiring entrepreneurs need to understand that there are no short cuts.
Swati says that her biggest fear in starting SWATI Couture was how much it would interfere with her personal life since her fashion studio started out of her garage. Separating the business from her personal life continues to be a challenge.
From her small home studio in Palo Alto, California, Swati hopes to expand to a larger space that will allow her to have a physical separation from her work and give her clients the perfect shopping experience and environment. At the same time, costs of production have gone up in India where she manufactures and sources, forcing upward pressure on pricing. As a result, Swati is looking for investors.
In addition to SWATI Couture, Swati is an abstract and minimalist artist. She also helps out her son’s school and occasionally works with small businesses on their marketing campaigns. Swati says he loves watching Bollywood movies, cooking, entertaining and home improvement. But first and foremost, Swati adores being a mom.
I really enjoyed meeting Swati. She is a lovely woman and has such a soulful yet exuberant personality. When she talks, she is poetic. I leave you with a quote from Swati. Be sure to check her out at the links below.
“I gain a pint of blood when my clients share their experience and send wonderful notes. No chakra meditation can churn the heart of a woman like my clothing has for many, no aphrodisiac can do what my clothing has done for many. I make semiformal and special occasion wear clothing. Those few moments of transformation lead to more and more positive connections and I know I have done my job in making a difference in making someone look and feel good.”