Parama Ghosh…First and foremost, may I just say, that I love her name. I just love her name and if you pronounce her name in Bengali, which is also my Mother tongue, it’s just so beautiful. (And the meaning of Parama is even more beautiful too… go check it out). So, we are digressing… I first found out about Parama, a couple of years ago, when a few of my friends started posting her creations and started talking about her label on Facebook. I was struck by her creativity, the pure Bengali-ness of it, her adherence and reverence to all things Bangaali and Kolkata, her eye for detail, her approach to the mundane, making it pretty with craftsmanship …Oh, I could go on an on about all that struck me about her label. A lawyer turned designer whose taste is so eclectic and woven into our culture… her label is so elegant and unique that ….okay, I need to stop so that you can continue to read her interview.
Meet my very beautiful and soulful BossGirl today 🙂 Parama Ghosh… Read on…to know more about the poetry called Parama Ghosh 🙂
- Parama, you gave a background in Law having worked for years in law firms. And then, you switched to art and fashion married together in the form of your brand, Parama. Could you share your journey with my readers.
I am a lawyer by my University degree. I worked with some of the most prestigious law firms of the country. While the first few years were exciting, I realised it wasn’t my true calling. Fat salary cheques could make bank accounts happy but my soul was dying. When I started Parama, it was more like a weekend activity because I still had a full-fledged job. However I realised very soon that it would be impossible to sustain both.
I think it was my bravest and boldest step to quit law and start a venture in something I wasn’t formally trained. My husband had quit his job too and started his own independent venture. So it was a big risk.
But things of the heart do wonders and hardly let you down. Parama took baby steps and took shape in a way that left me speechless as a mother.
- Your fashion and signature style is kitschy, quirky, so unique and beautiful. It’s raw and artistic. What is your inspiration?
My inspiration is “Everyday”. I find magnificence in the mundane, inspiration in the ordinary. Things, scenes, fresh flowers and pressed flowers, books, posters on the wall, grille patterns, old jewellery catalogues from long forgotten shops, every day conversations…the list is unending. I started Parama with the sole/soul purpose of telling stories on fabric. I feel the only thing that never dies is a story. And I have chosen fabric as a medium to tell stories of the ordinary. I infuse a lot of colour and words in them and make embroidered versions of those stories. Calcutta, the city that I live in is my biggest inspiration.
- I read somewhere that you have had no formal training in fashion but you are an artiste and artistic too. What was the learning curve like? How did you hone your skills? Do you think not having a formal knowledge was in any way a shortcoming? And do you think it is an absolute must-have to have professional training?
Yes, I am a trained lawyer and had a career of ten years in law. However, my true calling was always art. Like every other Bengali child perhaps, I was also trained in fine arts since I was three. I wanted to pursue it as higher studies as soon as I passed my Higher Secondary exam. However being in a family of lawyers (I am the fourth generation), the desire vanished like camphor. It is quite surprising that a race that lives and feeds on music, art and literature is so often scared to make a career out of it.
I did quite well in law, topping most of the years in the University. So I couldn’t even use it as an excuse to quit. I also worked in the best law firms in the country. However, it always felt like an arranged marriage where the husband was rich and fancy, but failed to feed my soul. It took me a great deal of courage to finally call it off and start afresh with my soul-venture “Parama”. I finally found love.
While things of the heart always grow in its own beautiful pace, surprising you every moment, I will be honest that in phases, I missed formal training in fashion. I had to work extra hard because I had no education in fashion. I am completely self-taught. My learning curve is therefore very different from trained designers. What they have learnt in four years at a design school, I would take ages perhaps!
But, to be fair on myself, I am a fast learner. And a very keen observer. I learn from everything and everyone. From the minutest details of stitching to the finishing, I think I have made a considerable progress from the first piece we made to the present. A famous designer had told me that sometimes not being formally trained has its advantages. “You can be fearless and can think out of the box, without thinking much about the grammar of it.”
Also, years of law have trained me as an entrepreneur. While designing is the backbone of the work that we do, I feel very strongly that a venture does well with the right mix of creativity, design, sense of business and communication. Law taught me the last two.
- Why blouses? How did you realise you had a market for custom designed blouses?
I have worn mismatched blouses all my life. I was a fabric hoarder, collecting interesting scraps of fabric. Many of my blouses would have sleeves and body from different fabric. I used to make blouses for myself from gamchas (towels), upholstery left overs and even from torn curtains and bed linens. Like a true East Bengali (Bangal), I would leave no piece of cloth unused. I loved experimenting with blouses as a part of my personal style.
I always felt translating a design on a blouse was more challenging. Saree is a bigger canvas while the blouse, to be precise, its back, is a much smaller space. I found that fascinating. I think my blouses carry stories in a similar way that T-shirts did for years, though the pattern of story-telling is very different. The kind of stories that I tell, are stories of ordinary things…things that don’t overwhelm you, but leave a deep mark.
While I cannot claim to have “invented” back embroidered blouses, I can however quite confidently, say that the kind of embroidered stories that we started telling were completely new and fresh. We embroidered ordinary flowers, old forgotten songs and sparsely-watched movie posters on blouses. I hadn’t seen them on blouses before.
Honestly, we had no yardstick to follow if it would work. Any new idea comes with the risk of failure. But it also comes with its pluses: First movers have no competition when they begin and can gain an edge over the later entrants in that market in terms of novelty. I had read something amazing: “Be first or be better.”
Making ready-to-wear blouses also came from my own personal necessity. Between finding God and finding a good tailor, I always felt the latter was way more difficult. I think we eased that age-old problem to some extent, in our own way. And it was heartily accepted. Touchwood!
- What I really love about your brand is that you work with local artisans, local textiles and dive deep into what’s essentially Bengal. How do you make it relevant for your target audiences?
Like I have said, humans relate to stories, irrespective of what the region or language is. And people are intrigued about indigenous crafts, textiles and their stories. A lot of people had told me, “Your stories are so Calcutta, so Bengal. Do you think it lacks appeal to the larger audience?” My answer is always in the negative.
I met Sudha as a client in my first Bangalore exhibition, three years back. She always told me that Calcutta intrigues her through my work and words. She even bought the Calcutta skyline blouse without being in the city ever. Beginning of this year, she made a trip to my city just to roam around with me. I feel there lies the happiness in doing what I do. Irrespective of not knowing the language, having no connections with Bengal, she made a trip to Calcutta just to see how a city can inspire its people so deeply.
There are many clients who have said they want to learn Bengali just to understand the nuances of the language and the underlying inspirations of many of the designs we do. A client watched Debi by Ray with sub-titles after buying the Debi Blouse and told me how it changed how she looked at things. Same happened with Nayak.
I feel emotions are universal. It transcends language and region.
As far as Bengalis are concerned, I think they love to see Calcutta and its everyday stories through the clothes we make.
- In a world where dresses are fast becoming the fashion choice for many, and saree getting cornered to becoming a wedding day or traditional day attire, how do you think saree wearing can be revived into a confident attire?
I would disagree. I feel there is a huge resurgence of sarees as an everyday wear. For many, saree is like second skin. I see women in sarees doing Yoga, pub-hopping, running Marathons, trekking and of course wearing it on a daily basis to work.
I think the more sarees you wear, you get comfortable in it. It is the most non-judgmental attire and comes with no sizes. In a world where almost everything outgrows you in seconds, isn’t it wonderful to find that one garment where you don’t outgrow each other?
The 100 Saree Pact by Anju Maudgal Kadam and Ally Matthan was an immensely successful initiative to bring the saree back as an everyday wear for many women who would otherwise not venture into it for the lack of confidence and comfort.
7. In the scenario of the Great Lockdown of 2020, businesses are curling in and unable to support their artistes and artisans and their staff. I read one of your posts, where you resumed your work with your artistes as it only made sense for them to continue to work to earn their livelihood. It was so inspiring and so positive. What do you think small and local businesses can do in this period of uncertainty to keep their support staff at work, and keep the businesses running? What is your understanding of how things are going to pick up?
Times are tough. The lockdown coupled with Amphan cyclone hit the artisans real bad. When we started taking baby steps to resume work, there was prolonged power cut.
We are taking each day at a time. In such unprecedented times, one cannot rush things. One cannot produce mindlessly because people won’t consume mindlessly either. I personally feel these slow times are the best times to improve upon your work. Speaking for myself, we are utilising this no-rush time to work on finer details, to plan things better, to improve on quality over quantity. I am making substantial changes in the kind of finish our products would have. I am also working on stories that were long pending to be translated into wearable art. This involves weavers, artisans, embroiderers and my stitching unit, all rolled into one. The volume might not be huge but the people are having to have work. While I am not sure how new things would work, I feel one has to keep going on. Things will only get better.
8. Who are your biggest inspiration? How has your family supported you in this journey?
- My maternal grandmother who raised me as much as my mom did. She was fierce, independent, fiercely independent. She was fashionable, smart, and extremely progressive for her age, was an independent traveller and had a great flair for writing (She used to translate Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri in Bengali). And she was fearless in everything she did. She often told my mom, that I should have been her daughter
- Shahrukh Khan.
- The film, “The Devil wears Prada”.
- Jules Ostin in “The Intern” played by Anne Hathaway. Her character will always be one of the closest to my heart. The scene where she orders stuff from her own company to check how the packaging is done by her employees and goes back to the packaging and delivery unit after having received the product, will stay with me forever. What an inspiring scene that was.
As for my family members, I think I would say the same thing as I would, in my Oscar speech. I couldn’t have done anything without them. And jokes aside, I mean it. My mother and my father-in-law never said a word when I wanted to give up my well paying career in law. My father who was dead against my decision, held my hand and my soul whenever in doubt. During the lull months of lockdown, he said, “Pay cut is the last thing you’ll ever do. Take money from me if you need”. My younger brother, for being the wiser one between the two siblings and for always silently supporting me in everything I do.
And my husband, for the food he cooks. He knows I hate cooking as much as I love my job (My cooking skills = Katrina Kaif’s acting skills). He cooks when people visit. He cooks when I come back to the city after hectic work travels. He cooks when I am low. My mother never cooked. I never had answers if people asked what is the favourite dish cooked by your mom. Now I have answers for favourite home-cooked dishes. Thanks to him.
9.What do you do to stay focussed, disciplined? What does a regular day in your life look like? What’s your routine?
I am extremely hard working when it comes to Parama. I don’t have Monday morning blues nor do I feel tired when it comes to work. My work has been a mix of working from the studio and travels. I loved my work travels. I loved interacting with clients and being told, “God, you are like Raj Kumar Rao in Stree!” I could tell women what size they would fit into, just by looking at them.
While I try to be disciplined when it comes to work, I have also bunked office for the sheer joy of it. When I was employed under someone, taking a day off was way easier. Now, being the boss, there is no escape. In these five years, there was one day when I didn’t go to work and roamed all over Calcutta, all alone. I ate gravy chow and watched sunset by the Ahiritola Ghat. I think impromptu breaks work like magic.
The lockdown has helped me to streamline things. We now go to work early and leave early. I have enough time to read, write and do things I love. I have taken a break from the speed at which work happened before Covid. As much as I found peace in that speed, I feel happy at this slow pace too.
10. Do you have a word of advice or learnings that you would like to share with my readers, anyone out there who wishes to start a business or venture into going on their own?
For new entrepreneurs, I shall say the following:
- Start small. Think BIG.
- Be original. Don’t start anything because everyone is doing it or it sells. Nurture your original ideas.
- Be ready to take risks. Be all the more ready if taking those risks, fail.
- Manage finances and sleep cycles well. You’ll thank me later.
- Read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. My ex-boss gifted me this book and it changed me. It will change you too, I promise. It works on me like Boroline does on wounds.
- Always remember: “The only thing worse than starting something and failing, is NOT starting something”.
Last but not the least, the only thing irreplaceable in your venture is honesty. The rest will fall into place.
11. What’s your mantra, Parama?
“বিপদে মোরে রক্ষা করো এ নহে মোর প্রার্থনা–
বিপদে আমি না যেন করি ভয়।”
It is strange how school prayer songs have the most everlasting effects on us, throughout our lives.