Ashdeen Lilaowala – Designer Extraordinaire

Classy Consummation Of Art, Culture And High-Fashion –

By Razvin Namdarian

Ashdeen Lilaowala is known for having taken the Parsi Gara and brought it into the realm of high fashion. Founder of eponymous fashion label, ‘Ashdeen’, he is a role model and inspiration to many youth in the community. Celebrating over a decade of success, the label ‘Ashdeen’, which has been wowing Delhi and Mumbai with its unique fashion-lines, is now also be available in Hyderabad, at the luxury designer store – ‘Anahita’.

Ask him who came first, the designer or the entrepreneur, and Ashdeen assuredly says, “It was always design first for me. I wanted to do something creative, something that was exciting for me. I didn’t possess the entrepreneurial bug from day one. Initially, I worked with other designers and organizations, picked things up along the way – like people-management skills, honouring deadlines and other aspects of entrepreneurship.”

Being Your Own Boss…

Dispelling any romantic notions about the road to entrepreneurship, Ashdeen shares, “It’s not that you’re the boss and everything will automatically work smoothly for you. When I started out, I was pretty clear that I would get the basics organized, and all the production, delivery and other nitty-gritties of business, in place. I firmly believe that only if you have strong pillars, will you have a strong product.” Starting a business is a risk, as Ashdeen avers, “I didn’t just jump in and then see what happens. There was a risk involved, but it was a calculated risk.”

Building The Brand…

Today, his name immediately conjures up images of beautifully designed graceful Parsi gara sarees. But Ashdeen confesses, “I didn’t leave college with the thought I’m going to do sarees and Parsi embroidery – it took time to find my niche. But the fact that I was culturally attached to it, made it my forte.”

An important aspect of brand building is creating a market for your products. Ashdeen feels that a lacuna in design schools is that, “in college you’re taught only design, but not the commerce part of how to create a market and niche for your brand.” He was fortunate that his father was a marketing wiz and so, “I was not a complete novice to the idea of business.”

Over a decade ago when the lable ‘Ashdeen’ was launched, Facebook was the prime, social media platform. “We started marketing on Facebook, where we not only got good sales from across the country and abroad, but it also gave us a chance to study and enter the markets.” He elevated the Parsi gara saree from a garment that was limited to one community into one that is coveted by innumerable ladies, irrespective of their religion, age or size. He achieved this by creating visual narratives through professionally curated photoshoots that spelt out a positive storyline.  The result, “Today, more than 80% of our clients are non-Parsis who appreciate the quality and the craftsmanship of our designs.”

Behind The Design…

Designing is one aspect of business. “Of course, to get your design translated into the product, in the exact way you have envisioned it, requires you to maintain the craftsmanship and get the best ‘karigars’ (artisans), by paying them the right value for their work.”

Ashdeen has gone way beyond the traditional designs of the Parsi Gara, he also experiments with different materials, weaves and embroidery styles. For instance, the Japanese cranes have become his signature leitmotif. “Every season, we push ourselves to experiment. We’ve collaborated with other brands as well, like the one we had with the brand ‘Kanakavalli’ for embroidery on Kanjivaram sarees. We’ve experimented on Banarasi silk sarees as well and even taken Parsi style embroidery into the realm of weaving! In the pipeline, is a collaboration for a new line of carpets with ‘Obeetee’ carpets!” explains Ashdeen, who is also reckoned as one of the very few designers to have lehengas with Parsi embroidery.

The Road Ahead…

Ashdeen understands that success is not about bringing your business to a point where it functions on auto-pilot, as that would lead to stagnation. One has to constantly innovate and push the envelope in terms of design and products. “The aim is to explore the aesthetics of Parsi Gara and take it further, that’s what makes it relevant,” he adds.

One of Ashdeen’s dream projects is to educate people in this craft. “I would love for more people to explore this craft and find a career in design. Today’s youth are very clued in, the only advice I would give them is to take advice from everyone but do what you truly believe in. It’s your journey and it’s not going to be an overnight success!”

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