Mathili Nath talks with You & I
How did your career begin?
I’ve had a passion for fashion design since I was young but never really pursued it until I moved to New Delhi after getting married. It was during a lull that I suddenly got an assignment through a family friend for ten garments, and things just took off from there. Eight years ago, when my children started college, I found more time for myself. That was when I took another step forward and went on to retail my products at several stores across the country. Today, my garments are available in Chennai, Bengaluru, Jaipur, Raipur, Surat, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Kolkata.
Do you have any formal training?
Not really. I did attend a two-month course in creative fashion presentation at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi, but I don’t think that counts as formal training! I’ve always been good at needle work, so that formed the base. Meeting designers and experimenting with fabrics and textures also sharpened my skills. I started with one master and two machines, and went on to grow steadily in numbers.
Did you face any scepticism about your career choice?
At first, I had to really convince my parents, but after they saw that I was good at what I did, they encouraged me. From modelling my earlier designs to critiquing my work and sharing ideas, they supported me all along. Even today, they’re my biggest admirers and critics. My uncle, who runs a clothing store in Delhi, put me in touch with handloom weavers and karigars, who became such important parts of my design process.
My in-laws have also pushed me to become what I am. My husband, who runs a jewellery store, has come on board to oversee the entire process. He helped me place down the infrastructure and put me in touch with people.
Tell us a bit about your designs.
They’re ethnic, mostly Indian or Indo-Western outfits ranging from shirts and tunics to kurta sets and lehengas, as well as sarees and an entire semiformal line. There’s a lot of emphasis on weaves, textures and embroidery. I absolutely love Indian wear, which I see as the culturally richest in the world. I try to incorporate it into all my designs.
What do you love most about your job? How do you find inspiration?
It’s the rush from creating something that didn’t exist before, as well as working with new fabrics and the uncertainty around a design’s success. But I don’t like playing it safe. You take big risks in this field, and it’s always been double or nothing for me. Inspiration doesn’t keep a clock. I could be on vacation or wake up from a dream and putting something down. Inspiration is all around.
What sort of challenges do you face?
Labour! The most common problem that every designer has had to face is negotiating with workers, and getting them to follow precise instructions about getting the right fit and reworking on your designs. And there is so much competition! Well-known designers under the same roof, whose clothes sell in the blink of an eye, mean you have to figure out what’s not working and consider feedback from stakeholders.
Do you have any advice for budding designers?
This field isn’t as easy it used to be. There are plenty of things to consider, including the fit and feel of the fabric, how to treat it, and what to pair it with. You also have to bear in mind the average physique because of the obesity problem in India. But today’s generation is definitely smarter and more tech savvy, so I’m sure they’ll do just fine. My only advice would be to focus on our culture and improve on what’s already been done.
Describe your sense of style.
It’s very feminine and simple.
Name a designer whose clothes you love to wear.
Anamika Khanna! I absolutely adore her designs and hope to have a label like hers someday.
What do you do away from work?
Spending time with my family is my topmost priority! Apart from that, I take care of chores and accounts, design stuff for my sons, and read thrillers and fashion magazines. Sometimes, I grab a cup of coffee with my friends. – as told to Niharika