For fashion designers in India — arguably across the world — having celebrities wear their garments is a real achievement. In the case of Mumbai-based designer Vaishali Shadangule, her designs have been spotted on the likes of Vidya Balan, Sona Mohapatra and a host of Bollywood’s best-dressed. Yet, this textile-loving designer’s real accomplishment lies in her journey from a small town in Madhya Pradesh to one of the most glamorous industries in the world.
Not many know that the founder of the Vaishali S fashion label ran away from home at 18 and carved her own path to success as a designer.
Born in Madhya Pradesh, Vaishali says that like many teenagers, she yearned to find purpose in life, an interest of work that could engage and keep her happy enough throughout life. Yet, there were many challenges that made it difficult for the young girl to pursue her aspirations.
Living in a community still rooted in patriarchy, Vaishali realised that for girls, marriage was often a priority over education and career. Fearful at the prospect of being married, she left home and boarded the first train that arrived on the platform, which took her to Bhopal. She was just 18 and had neither money nor belongings.
“There were not very bright prospects but I feel my inner strength and people around me, my friends helped me to make it happen,” says the designer. It was in fact a friend who came to her rescue and found her a job as an office assistant.
Pursuing fashion was still an ambitious dream, when Vaishali reached Mumbai in 1999 and found work in an export house. Already in a financial crisis, her halting English and unfamiliarity with the fashion circles made her challenges worse. But a job as a fitness instructor in a local gym offered hope — Vaishali’s fashion ideas were lapped up by clients and she began her stint as a designing.
Working with textiles was Vaishali’s forte from the beginning, when she took a loan and set up her small business with tailors, making Chanderi corsets.
Though she had left her home, this designer hadn’t forgotten her roots. “Madhya Pradesh is a rich state in terms of traditional Indian arts and crafts — knowing textiles was very much a part of life.” She found her forte in combining local textiles, like Chanderi, and motifs with contemporary cuts and detailing.
Her distinct sensibilities found many fans, and the Vaishali S label gradually moved from her small store to a multi-storeyed boutique. Vaishali also followed her achievements with a degree from Delhi’s Pearl Academy, leaving her 2-year-old daughter in her husband’s care to complete the two-year degree.
“To me, incorporating Indian textiles in design came as a natural approach,” she says. “When I finished my formal education in fashion, I had a clear vision about the possibility of modernizing the traditional textiles for contemporary fashion.”
In 2011, the Vaishali S label was unveiled at Mumbai’s Lakme Fashion Week, a collection resplendent with handloom prints. Since then, the designer has been a regular at fashion weeks across the country, standing out with her fusion designs and unabashed love for Indian craftsmanship.
Since 2016, Vaishali has taken her label to international shores, presenting her collections at the New York Fashion Week.
“Showcasing first time at fashion weeks in Delhi and Mumbai were happy and satisfying moments for me as a designer. Similarly, receiving appreciation in New York from people of various countries is very valuable to me,” says Vaishali, who has unveiled two collections in USA so far.
High fashion is often tagged as frivolous and out of reach for the masses. But Vaishali, who works extensively with Paithani, Chanderi, Mekhla and more recently Khand fabrics, thinks of it as a sustained means of development.
Fashion is now a very essential market of modern India,” she says. “If we could develop a segment for handwoven textiles, it can save karigars from switching to other professions and sustain on their traditional crafts. It will be a great initiative towards acknowledging our traditional cultures and reviving it too.”
Vaishali is now focused on developing her supply chain and production model in India while expanding on her label’s burgeoning global presence. Her work means constant travel, but it remains her favourite hobby apart from Indian classical music which she listens to everyday.
In a swiftly changing industry, Vaishali has emerged on her own terms. “I just followed my gut feelings and whatever difficulties came my way I dealt with it with consistent determination, focus and honesty,” she says.
It may have taken her close to two decades, but this designer has found her footing on the basis of sheer hard work and determination. As she says, “I think one should not underestimate or ignore their inner voice — that is where the key of successful life is hidden.”