An interview with Swantana Paradkar

Swantana Paradkar

Swantana Paradkar is a customer advisor for a Japanese casual wear designer, manufacturer and retailer. We had some time to chat with her about all things fashion.

“In school, while the teachers stood in front of the class teaching us about Newton’s Law of motion, statistics and algebra (all of which were important at the time,) I seemed more interested in sketching, garments and arts. 

In high school I would watch the clock constantly, hoping the time for arts period would arrive soon. All the sketching led me to wonder what those designs would look like when transformed from paper to reality. That’s how I went on to study fashion design and textiles for my Bachelor’s degree in Singapore. 

My internship at a fashion house and experience of making a runway collection, start to finish, taught me that to make a collection successful, the first step is understanding who you are making it for and answering the question ‘Why should someone buy what you make?’. 

Hence, I came to the UK to do a masters degree in fashion marketing and branding. My current role as a customer advisor gives me first-hand experience and knowledge of what customers expect and I’m able to study how they make their purchase decisions. I consider this a very good and steady start to my career in fashion that would lead to officially launching my brand in the future.”

“I have always believed that fashion was not only to make women more beautiful, but also to reassure them, give them confidence.” – Yves Saint Laurent

As with most industries, digital has changed the landscape of fashion in the way that design houses, retailers and manufacturers now have to be digital-first to succeed. Although traditional ‘shopping’ still occurs, the internet has provided customers with fashion at the tip of their fingertips whenever they want it.

Big data is hugely important when looking at how customers interact with brands. As Swantana has pointed out, getting an insider view into how the purchase process is navigated is essential in understanding buyer behaviour and intent.

Women in Fashion

“Women are immediately associated with the terms ‘presentable, fashionable and sophisticated’ when it comes to fashion.

It’s not just physical actions that could make a difference in providing a better gender balance in the industry, but also changing the way people think. Expectations of women or men succeeding in board level positions or any position in that matter should not be compared by gender, rather by every individual’s capabilities.”

Swantana believes that the genders are equally skilled and equally matched when it comes to being qualified to provide fashion for the consumer. So, to correct the gender imbalance in top or leadership roles, women simply need the chance to be given a platform to succeed. 

“I think the end products and services available are more important to the consumer rather than who runs the company. Honestly, everybody thinks differently so it’s hard to point out whether it affects the end customer. If the products are to their liking, the topic doesn’t arise but if not, then it could be another situation.”

Just like us, Swantana was surprised to find that the fashion industry is male-dominated when provided with our research and statistics. “Absolutely surprised. My thinking so far was quite the opposite.”

The Body Positivity Movement

“Every individual’s body is different and needs to be given equal choice and respect. While there is immense respect for those who work hard to stay fit and have a good height, why should people confident in their size, personality and colour be categorised differently? 

Being curvy shouldn’t have to be ‘in’ to be recognised. Every individual has the choice to dress in a way that represents their personality and there need to be equal choices for all. Fashion is not a generic concept that applies the same way to all, it’s so vast that there is something new to know about it every day.”

Fashion is a fast-moving industry, just like digital. To stay ahead of the curve, to remain on-trend and to cater to the public, it needs to keep up with the wants and needs of its customers.

Take the body positivity movement for example. Over the last 5-10 years, it has risen to become a campaign that many women have embraced and begun to champion. Supermodel Ashley Graham represented curvier women on the catwalk and influencers such as Megan Jayne Crabbe (bodyposipanda on Instagram) and Jesy from Little Mix have encouraged women to love themselves, just as they are, in a society that tells you not to.

“I think it is a great movement that inspires people to be comfortable with who they are and how they are. Many people are not comfortable in their skin and are affected mentally by views of society. This movement helps them deal and gain confidence as they are by challenging those very views.”

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” – Coco Chanel

Swantana agrees that currently, the fashion industry is not representing what its audience looks like.

“I don’t think women feel that they are represented well in fashion. While brands like Dior and Asos are taking steps to better represent women, I believe there is still a lot of progress to be made for the fashion industry as a whole.

There are a variety of body shapes, heights, colours and personalities in the world. Portraying only one image generalises its audience, which is far from reality. 

For me personally, I have noticed a vast difference in a variety of products in the petite section and the usual collections. I have very rarely on occasion found pieces in the petite section that represent my personality and are a great fit. 

The fashion industry portrays a tall, fit, successful and glamorous image, and while fashion is easily associated with ‘glamourous’, the collection campaigns are far from relatable to every individual in the audience.”

We asked Swantana what female-led brands she liked most and why:

“My favourite one at the moment is Dior headed by Maria Grazia Chiuri. The first female artistic director at the fashion house. She has maintained Dior’s link to sophistication whilst giving it a new point of view. Through Dior’s platform, she strongly expresses her views about how important it is that fashion reflects female rights. She has given the brand a younger look by targeting millennials. Especially those who believe in individualism and expression of self.”

Breaking into the industry

The world of fashion is notoriously hard to break into. We’ve all seen ‘The Devil Wears Prada!’ Unfortunately, it is an industry where nepotism rules. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know… etc etc.

Advice from fashion professionals is to build a network of connections, which is where the beauty of LinkedIn, networking events and Fashion Week can come into play. Alongside a beautifully laid out portfolio, getting as much hands-on experience as you can and rubbing shoulders with notable people within the industry, you can make yourself known among the fashion community.

“I believe the hardest thing is finding a company that is willing to bet on your hard work and passion when you hold no experience. Before entering the industry I had only an internship on my CV, so it was hard to find a company willing to take the chance and give me my first opportunity.

I think once you start a position, every individual’s achievement is based on their hard work and merit. Rather than having to prove myself more than my male counterparts, I have to work hard to prove I can be as good as those with more experience and knowledge regardless of gender.”

“Too much good taste can be very boring. Independent style, on the other hand, can be very inspiring.” – Diana Vreeland

Innovation in the fashion industry

“My favourite thing about the fashion industry is its passion for innovation. Fashion is constantly evolving, with the invention of new fabrics, 3D printing and the use of mixed media. It excites me to wonder what’s next. 

In the years to come, I see more representation of female rights and more consideration and representation of certain groups of people. Fashion trends I see coming in 2020 would be a continuation of Old is New. I see the return of psychedelic patterns and flared silhouettes combined with modern takes on deconstructed outfits.”

You can find Swanatana on Instagram:

@swantana

@swanvp

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