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Getting down to the Brass Tacks of clothing

Mahima A Jain
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For a great fit: Anaka Narayanan, owner of Brass Tacks. Bijoy Ghosh
For a great fit: Anaka Narayanan, owner of Brass Tacks. Bijoy Ghosh

Chennai-based Anaka Narayanan has created a niche for fit and fabric

What do you do if you do not like the fit or the fabric of the clothes you are wearing?

Most people would find a store that delivers what they want, but Anaka Narayanan from Chennai started her own label so she could make garments on her own terms.

Getting down to brass tacks – or getting down to the fundamentals of a business – is what defines Anaka’s Chennai-based label Brass Tacks.

This is Anaka’s seventh year but the primary principles remain the same: fit and fabric.

Narayanan, an economics graduate from Reed College in the US, says she never knew she wanted to become a designer or an entrepreneur.

When Anaka started earning and spending money on clothes, she began paying more attention to the finer details.She says that is when she realised she preferred Indian handloom textiles. She gave up her job at an economic analysis firm in New York, interned with two designers in the US and returned home. Her plan was to work with a designer whose sensibilities matched hers. But on the advice of her mentor she started her own label: Brass Tacks.

Basics 101

“I spent a few months working out of my parents’ living room, hired a tailor, started making samples and got people to try them on,” she says. Anaka made samples out of muslin as she wanted to understand different body types.

She says she soon learnt that the size chart that most design students work with is typically meant for Caucasian women and doesn’t work for Indians.

“So I made my own size chart based on research and fittings with over a hundred women,” she explains. Fabric is a key factor at Brass Tacks, and Anaka primarily uses Indian handloom textiles.

She has designed 26 collections (four each year) with fabrics such as ikat, ajrak, shibori, mud-resist prints, discharge prints, lehriya and, khadi. Tara Rachel Thomas, a customer at Brass Tacks, says what she loves is the attention to detail in the creation of every piece. “The precise placement of darts, tucks and folds creates a great fit, and the unique feature of providing a range of sizes and fits is a big positive,” she says.

Another customer, who has been “faithful” to Brass Tacks for almost four years now, says the best things about the garments are the silhouette and the fabric.

Reach

Anaka says she started with “two machines that were ₹20,000 each; no rent for the first five months because it was in my parent’s home; and the salaries of the tailor, which at that time was ₹6,000 a month, and a pattern-maker at ₹14,000 a month.”

Today, Anaka employs nine tailors, one pattern-maker, a production manager, three sewing helpers, an ironing lady, a quality checker, an online store manager, an office administrator, four sales staff and two housekeeping staff. “I have one store in Chennai, and I retail through Yellow Button in Bangalore. I also have an online store and we have done several exhibitions,” she says and adds that Brass Tacks has seen a turnover of ₹60-70 lakh in the last couple of years, but this year it is likely to reach ₹1.2 crore with the online store and exhibitions.

Brand

Anaka says she is not interested in mass producing. “I would be happy if I have 15-20 stores by the time I retire,” she says.

For Anaka, brands such as Fab India and Anokhi have done a lot by promoting and refining a sense of the aesthetic, which businesses like Brass Tacks rely on. According to her, Brass Tacks is not the middle ground between Indian brands such as Fab India and global players such as Zara or Mango.

“I think Brass Tacks is on another plane. It forms the third corner of the triangle. I would not say it is just the marriage of the two,” she says.

(This article was published on April 7, 2014)
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