Masaba – A person, brand and an inspiration

Even on a day off, Masaba Gupta Manthena doesn’t like to take a day off. She was under the weather on the day we were to speak with her and initially canceled the meeting. But later agreed to chat over the phone with as she had time to spare. She certainly represents the rare breed of designers/entrepreneurs who cannot sit around while there’s work to be done!
For those who came in late – here’s a little primer from her website –
Masaba is a diffusion line label under Masaba Gupta. Masaba graduated from SNDT women’s university in 2009 with a diploma in Apparel Manufacture and Design. 

The label made its fashion week debut at Lakme Fashion week, titled Gen next 2009. The strength of the label lies in the ability to marry traditional, Indian sensibilities and aesthetics while keeping the modern context alive.
masaba-gupta-collection-1ILP: You have a very flamboyant style. Lots of color, vibrancy and you are known for your quirky prints. Who is your ideal customer?
Masaba: i don’t really design for a particular type of customer. But over the years we’ve seen customers who typically buy from Zara, H&M & the like, buy our products. Even women who wear traditional kanjivaram sarees, buy from us – so I don’t like to put it in a box. I would say our customers enjoy standing out a bit, but not too much – the outfit shouldn’t be gaudy or sticking out. She should be an ‘opinionated’ dresser. The label has become synonymous with color. Customers tell us, people actually come up to them and ask if we are wearing Masaba. We enjoy that.
ILP: One of your last collections with Satya Paul in 2014 was a collaboration with Disney. How did that come about and how did it fair?
Masaba: It was my last collection for Satya Paul, and the marketing team was in discussion with Disney. Satya Paul is associated with elder women. My job was to get in younger customers. Disney was also keen to come on board. The idea of putting Mickey and Minnie on a saree seemed like a lot of fun. We did a whole range of products – we did shirts, sarees, tunics, ties for men. So it did extremely well. Some were anchor products to drive people to the store and see what’s going on. They were more Instagram friendly. But considering we were selling to 30-35 Satya Paul stores with an 80% sell through – the collection got a great response. The sarees were done interestingly, for example just Minnie’s ears across the saree with polka dots. We didn’t want it to look too gimmicky or kiddie. But our younger customers were happy they could shop with their mums and get them some fun Disney fan wear.
ILP: Besides licensing third-party brands to add spice to the “House of Masaba” label – you have licensed your brand to many collaborations like Titan raga, a lipstick line with Lakme, capsule athleisure line with Koovs even a branded line of flavored water with Himalayan. What are the checkboxes for you before licensing your brand and signing on the dotted line?
masaba-gupta-collection-2Masaba: Himalayan was a sponsor at Fashion Week, so I did a line of fashion wear themed around the fruit. It was not a licensing deal. I enjoyed doing Titan Raga very much. Brands come and say we are losing out on younger clientele. They have budgets but are not able to connect
with the youth. Another example was Fiama DI Wills shower gel, the printed packaging was signed off by me. In retrospect, I feel we licensed the brand to way too many people. I was young and flattered to have brands approach us. My advice to youngsters is to watch their step and know your DNA. I’m actually a fashion designer for clothes. I Took on Titan Raga and didn’t do anything else for some time because I wanted the products to have their moment. Collaborations can only be successful if the brand and the designer are on the same page. Also, they can’t be packaged and promoted the old way. Now we (House of Masaba) have put a stop on all collaborations for the entire year, want to be more focused on clothing. I want to stick to my strengths. Koovs was great. It’s great when the brand has distribution, reach and marketing muscle to offer you. Looking back though I would not have done some of them. E.g. I designed a car once but it didn’t really do anything for anybody. Brands don’t understand that temporary bursts of PR don’t make sense. There has to be a larger vision and symbiosis for all concerned parties.
ILP: What’s your take on Indian companies leveraging the power of brand licensing to jumpstart their business or enter new markets?
Masaba: You have to be really selfish about who you lend your name to. Example Manish Arora has done some great brand associations with Adidas, Mac etc. Even his stuff is so colorful.
masaba-gupta-collection-4ILP: Are you planning any collaborations with international brands in the near future?
Yes & No. We have a very big deal in the works with one of the biggest shows on Netflix. I will probably do something completely different – e.g. shoes etc. I am open to collaborating with other designers & artists, not just brands. Don’t want to do anything short term.  I want to do things that have some LIFE!
ILP: You seem to have a strong presence online with your own e-commerce store ( How is that fairing? Is it targeted at the Indian audience or International NRI?
Masaba: A lot of our online sales come from tier 2 tier 3 cities, also NRI’s when they visit India. But otherwise its mostly people who don’t have access to our stores which are only in bigger cities. And also through WhatsApp. We have a dedicated WhatsApp channel manned 24/7. People take a picture of the outfit and send it and place an order. People want to engage in conversations. I would say in terms of orders coming in first – Offline, then WhatsApp and then online. Maybe its because we haven’t advertised our online store. We have a scattered presence across online destinations like Pernia’s pop-up shop etc and have not done any specific advertising for our online yet…
ILP: Where do you draw your inspiration from for your various collections?
Masaba: It always been so different and varied. A place I’ve traveled to, a person I meet, a movie I’ve seen, something gifted to me. Now, it’s all about data. Some colors that customers like, which particular style is doing well? We’ve become more data-centric. A while back I started painting and that became another source of inspiration. Inspiration comes from very varied places.
ILP: Your favorite Muse?
Masaba: My mother. She’s so critical of me, and you need honesty.
ILP: What is your aspiration for brand ‘House of Masaba’?
Masaba: We are in a very tricky space right now – we’ve opened 3 stores in last month. Some in malls as a shop in shops, some in cafes. We are focussing on diffusion wear – the bridge to luxury, it’s not pret and not luxury – so it’s not burning a hole in your pocket. It’s Impactful wear. You can wear it throughout the day. People can also wear it again and again. Repeatability has gone down in fashion and we wanted to address that gap. Another focus for us is weddings, people want to look good but the clothes should not be too expensive. Also, they shouldn’t be too heavy and embroidered and wear you down. We hope to be a festive brand by end of the year.
ILP: What advice would you give to younger fashion designers who are just entering the industry?
Masaba: That, it’s not as fun as it looks unless you are working from your home and supplying to 1-2 stores. The business of fashion is very hard just like any other business. Do you want to be in fashion as a hobby or the business or just want to attend page 3 parties and see your pictures splashed all over? If you’re in it for the business aspect then put your head down and work.  You need to know whom you are catering to. Be individualistic. I see a lot of new designers tending to ape current trends. When I started I thought I want to do it as a hobby – but now my whole viewpoint on fashion has changed.
ILP: Given your lineage, the daughter of 2 huge celebrities, has that helped or hindered you?
Masaba: It helped me in the beginning for sure, I always thought – why was there more attention given to me vs the other 6 designers. Everyone wanted to know – what is she going to do? Some people come to try and put you down, to see how bad you can do and goof up. I made my debut about 7 years ago when everyone wanted to be a fashion designer. People want to know my story, again and again, they find it an intriguing journey. People are interested in the story and success of my label. The only drawback is when people think you’re over-rated. It’s a double-edged sword. But I feel privileged.
ILP: Now that you’ve set up and run your own label, what’s a day like in Masaba’s life?
Masaba: I’m usually up at 7 am, I workout with my trainer or run, eat breakfast, do phone calls, check email etc and then off to work by 10-10:30 till 6:30-7.  I come back and have dinner 7:30 pm, spend some time on social media – review our brand and creative work (lighter stuff), follow up on events if I’m involved in any etc.I am off to bed by 11-11:30. I don’t really catch up with people during the week as I don’t like to upset my schedule. I am a complete workaholic! Even now I’ve been down with the flu for the past 3 days and I can’t wait to get back!

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