Cut out for couture

ANITHA K. MOOSATH | Updated on December 31, 2011


Chic is the word at clothing store Vinegar, in Mumbai, set up by ISB graduate Varsha Bhawnani after she chose to leave the corporate world and get into a line close to her heart — couture. On offer here is an haute range for the cosmopolitan woman, patterns bordering on minimalism with a shade of exclusivity and elegance.

“I landed a plush job after my studies. But it was quite boring. I knew I was cut out for something more creative. Also, I didn't want to work under anyone,” says 30-year-old Varsha.

Weighing her options, she initially thought of a restaurant business but finally settled on garment export. Vinegar Exports was launched in Mumbai in 2005. “We were not blindly exporting stuff. We did a lot of research on international trends, and came out with peppy designs, mostly western patterns with a tinge of Indianness. We also worked on suggestions made by buyers,” she says. With a presence in the US and European markets, the venture broke even in three years, and Varsha ploughed the profits into retail.

An in-house design team gives a contemporary twist to the Vinegar collection. Apart from skirts, blouses, shirts, pants and jackets, on offer is the Varsha Bhawnani evening wear and red-carpet wear labels.

The store aims to be more than just a shop for trendy dresses, positioning itself as a combination of a fashion boutique and makeover studio “for the woman you are and the woman you want to be”.

“Many find it hard to break the stereotype image they have created for themselves over the years. They want to look different, but are bogged down by inhibitions. Some are just bored with the way they look. We basically guide them, and help them shed ‘the slim, tall and fair equals beautiful' logic,” says Varsha.

Her clientele includes actors, lawyers, bankers, software professionals, housewives, brides-to-be among others. And age no bar. There are teenagers as well as 50-plus women seeking makeovers.

“We find out what kind of image change they want, make them try different outfits and help in choosing what suits them best. It's important to wear clothes with the right fit. It can work wonders for your confidence,” she adds.

With tie-ups with hairstylists, beauty experts and fitness trainers the store goes beyond mere wardrobe suggestions.

And the cost ranges from Rs 30,000 to over Rs 1 lakh.

Conceding that there are challenges involved when it comes to running a business as a woman, Varsha believes the solution is to keep your concepts clear, go slow and take the plunge at the right hour. And this has certainly paid off for her.

Starting with an investment of around Rs 10-15 lakh, and five machines, her turnover grew toRs 2 crore in two years, with 40-45 per cent annual growth since then. Now, her venture boasts two factories, 200 machines, and a 15-strong design team. And the store has a branch in Bangalore.

Eager to branch out internationally, Varsha plans to open her flagship store in Spain in a few months. She also wants to start an image consultancy in Delhi and Bangalore. A dedicated line of clothes and wardrobe consultancy for men are also on the cards.

“I want Vinegar to grow into a one-stop style hub, with our own line of accessories, jewellery, shoes and handbags. I would also like to set up a training school for stylists,” she says.

Believing in the power of clothing to change the way you look, as also the way others see you, Varsha's style mantra is: Wear what fits your persona.

Published on November 24, 2011

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