We sit down with the founder of MAES London to find out how she came to launch a luxury garment manufacturer and the importance of following your passion
Have you always loved fashion?
I grew up in India, where clothes are a big part of the culture. Both my grandfather and my father were very fashionable. They wore the best Harrington jackets and trench coats, as well as tailored suits. I became aware of the power of good tailoring by seeing my father dress for business meetings. A family friend had a small atelier and her tailors and dressmakers always intrigued me. I was fascinated by how they could transform a beautiful fabric into a 3D form. I think this skilful engineering of clothes is ultimately what drew me towards fashion.
Your earliest memory involving fashion?
It was either receiving a cross stitch embroidery kit or deciding to make my own outfit for my eleventh birthday party (a look I am not sure I want to remember). I fashioned a paisley printed neon orange and white two-piece suit with flared sleeves and bell bottoms for myself. I owned that room when I walked in… or so I thought!
You were born and grew up in India, CAN YOU TELL US HOW THAT IMPACTED YOUR APPROACH TO DESIGN?
India is such a fantastic country to grow up in. The support system of having close family and friends living next to each other means you are never really alone. It is very multicultural and diverse - which translates into lifestyles, values and clothing. You can identify someone’s roots by the way they dress: how they drape a saree, what colour they wear to festive occasions. It exposes you to different people, personalities, beliefs and values - so that you grow up having a really varied outlook towards life.
You studied economics, but also have a degree in fashion...
My family believes in getting a good education and having a strong work ethic. Fashion was not a preferred career choice for them, so they pushed me towards business. To my surprise I actually really enjoyed economics. I was always very entrepreneurial so it felt like the right career path, except ultimately, I knew I wanted to be in a design-led environment. After I graduated with a major in economics, I went against my parents’ wish to get an MBA and instead enrolled in a fashion degree. It turned out to be the best decision I could make.
WHAT LED YOU TO WORKING AT ERDEM IN THEIR LONDON ATELIER?
I had just come back to London from New York. It was an explorative time and I was taking stock of who I was and what I had to offer the world. I’d had a varied career path working as a garment tech and production manager for fashion designers and for a global influencer forging lucrative partnerships, however, I was interested in pursuing a career in the engineering of clothes. When the job at Erdem popped up on LinkedIn I knew I had to apply. The rest is history.
How did you come up with the idea for MAES London?
It was definitely a lightbulb moment. I was working at Erdem and we had just finished our London Fashion Week collection. Possibly in a state of delirium, I woke up my partner at 5am and pitched him the idea for MAES London. To my surprise, he thought it was a brilliant idea and wanted to be a part of it, so much so that he handed in his notice that day! The idea was simple: I wanted to create a garment manufacturing studio that puts samples at the heart of the business, helping luxury fashion designers create beautiful garments and turning their dreams into a reality. A number of people close to me including friends, colleagues and relatives thought I was crazy to leave a stable and secure job that I loved but I never let self-doubt creep in. I found the more I talked about MAES London, the more convinced I was that it was the right move.
EXCITING OR GLAMOROUS ARE NOT GENERALLY WORDS USED TO DESCRIBE THE GARMENT MANUFACTURING INDUSTRY...HOW ARE YOU CHANGING THIS PRECONCEPTION?
It is true that garment manufacturing worldwide has an image problem and we, along with a handful of others in the industry, are trying to address this in the UK at least. Transparency and communication are key. We proudly keep our studio doors open to our clients and encourage them to come see their garments being made in a beautiful space by a skilled team.
What makes MAES London different from other manufacturers?
The way we work with our clients is unique and is more of a partnership than a supplier. Not only do we deliver a beautiful product, but we also offer expert advice and make the process as efficient as possible. Effectively we want to be considered as an extension of their own atelier.
What do you love about the process of making clothes?
I love the collaborative effort. My team is excellent and there would be no MAES London without them. I truly love the orchestration of the work behind the scenes as we all come together to achieve the designer’s vision.
What makes London such an exciting city for fashion?
It was always my dream to work in London. It has the perfect combination of creative talent, top universities, access to resources and multicultural influence. It is also the home to a number of my favourite designers and I am incredibly fortunate to be able to work with many of them as their manufacturing partner.
What’s next for MAES London?
By the end of this year, MAES London will have more than tripled its capacity from 2020. This means we will be on a big recruitment drive for the next few months. As the world opens up again post-pandemic, I would like to publicly push the message of openness and transparency in UK manufacturing. I would also like to speak to students about the many fantastic jobs the industry has to offer.
The one piece of advice you would give to future entrepreneurs?
Dream big, love what you do and do it well.