Ten years ago, Suman Bajaj left a successful career, family and friends in the UK to start a new life in India.
Instead of being daunted by the prospect of venturing into the unknown, the Londoner embraced the challenge of beginning a new life in Delhi, which has included launching a fashion label and starting a family.
Suman told Eastern Eye about the challenges she faced in relocating to another country, along with giving fashion tips and sharing some of her eye-catching collections.
“In a few months, I celebrate a 10-year affair with Delhi. As with all great romances, ours is a love-hate relationship. Delhi is an incredible, and at times, frustrating city. Indians have a maddening habit of being more manana (tomorrow) in their attitude than the Spanish and yet their passion makes them infuriatingly contradictory. Today there is not a lot one can’t find in Delhi, but it was not always that way.
“It is amazing how much we take for granted in the UK. Ten years ago, finding basics like shower gel and margarine was a challenge. And try waking up at 4am to fill your water tank only to find there is no power.
“So why did I move here? In all honesty, I can’t pinpoint what it was that had me moving to a city I seldom visited. I recall being incredibly lonely at the time and feeling as if I had nothing to lose. I was sick of pretending I had my life sussed, when I clearly didn’t.
“One cold Monday, I impulsively told a friend, ‘I’m selling my London apartment and moving to India.’ True to my word, I did. I had no job and nowhere to stay, yet my gut told me it was the right thing do.
“So here I was, in a city I knew nothing about, convincing myself I had to make this work. Help had come from the most unlikely friendships, but it was mostly my own adamant arrogance not to fail that pushed me to grow in an alien environment.
“When I think back, I surprise myself with how resilient I was. It is amazing how resourceful humans are when they need to be. Funny thing is, I don’t recall ever feeling sad or sorry for myself. In fact, moving to India made me see how much I had taken for granted.
“The mass population of Indians live below the poverty line – that bread you binned because it was past its sell-by date is a feast for a homeless family here. Moving to
India opened my eyes and for the fist time in my life, I realised how blessed I truly am.
‘The moment I gave up on expecting anything from anyone and began trusting in myself, the universe showered my efforts with success. I found somewhere to live and started to learn about everyday life in a new city, from paying bills to finding out about starting a new business.
“I also met my husband, a man who believes I can walk on water. I have built solid friendships and today run my dream fashion business which I built from the ground up. That, too, the universe had gifted me.
“Soon after arriving in Delhi, I discovered Indian city slickers had abandoned the sari, instead choosing to opt for unflattering gowns. I felt compelled to use my experience to bring the sari back and six months later, the Suman Bajaj easy drape sari label was born.
“I created a one-size-fits-all easy drape, making the sari comfortable and alluring to wear. My collection includes pockets, as featured in Vogue, a slim sari that can be worn in three ways and the best part is they all drape in less than 20 seconds.
“I started from my rental with one tailor, spending a large chunk of my savings on materials. Going with my gut, I decided to design a niche line of saris that had the simplicity of a gown and the grace of a sari. My philosophy for fashion is looking good should come from within and not from your wallet.
“I now retail from luxury multi-brand boutiques all over the world. In the UK, you can find me at Risa by RCKC in Wembley, London, which is poetically on the same Ealing Road where I started my education in saris.
“Dressing a celebrity is every designer’s dream and Madhuri Dixit was mine. I have dressed quite a few, but to be honest, I get more of a thrill draping everyday women who like myself had forgotten they are beautiful, brave and exceptional. These women are my inspiration.
“I watch how a woman’s face lights up, unable to believe how good she looks in my drapes. I love fashion because it has the power to empower. I understand it to be more than a trend, it is an expression as telling as a biography.
“I am excited about 2017 as it is all about going back to basics and celebrating man over machine. It is about working with handlooms and turning to age-old fabric-making techniques that may take longer to create, but tell the stories of the amazingly talented artisans creating art in their own homes, making design feel a lot less throwaway.
“Asian women are curvy and tend to carry their weight from the hips up, making them the perfect candidate for a sari. And yet we are all different, so when choosing a fabric, think about how the fabric and colour will work on you.
“If you have short legs, wear your sari high-waisted, sticking to a single colour that elongates you. If you are worried about a soft tummy, opt for opaque or printed fabrics to hide the issue. Wear a corseted blouse that not only covers the belly but also pulls it in.
“Our saris typically flare from below the knees, balancing the body into the perfect hourglass shape. Correcting your sari mistakes is simple and can make your draping experience a real comfy hit.
“Make sure your petticoat is tied super tight so it holds your sari perfectly. Avoid safety pins as they rip the fabric and instead try a cool belt or reusable Velcro tabs. Pad your blouse and ditch the unsightly bra straps
“Wearing a plain but elegant wedged heel will help you walk more gracefully and aid in avoiding getting your heels caught in the fabric.
“And if any of you are bold enough to give Delhi a try, start saving because this city is more expensive than London. Even though I came here impulsively, I don’t advise it. Have a plan. If you are coming here for work, get a watertight contract and never take anyone at their word.
“Also bring your dancing shoes because the party never stops!”