While rushing around India during our last trip, we talked with our fabulous tailor and designer Aanchal Gupta. We have worked with Aanchal since the beginning of our SariKNOTsari adventure. When I first met Aanchal, her story and talent blew me away! Today I wanted you to meet my brilliant friend Aanchal as she shares how she followed her dreams and carved her path in the fashion industry by playing by her own rules.
Aanchal has been playing by her own rules since she was young. Originally, Aanchal was given the name Tripta as the family's astrologer told her mother that Aanchal needed a name that started with a T sound. (It is common practice in India to have an astrologer tell the family what sound the child’s name should start with to ensure a good life based on the child’s zodiac sign.) Thus, Aanchal went by the name Tripta until age five, when she decided to change it after playing with her uncle where he would tell her to “come here" or"go away” which translates to “aa” and “chaal” in Hindi. During this game, Aanchal decided to change her name; she confidently went up to her mom and said, “I will now be going by the name Aanchal.” Clearly Aanchal was destined to take charge of her life and play by her rules!
While discussing the story of her name, we soon discovered that the meaning of the word Aanchal refers to the palloo of the sari, the most beautiful part of the sari that goes over the shoulder. It's almost like when she named herself, she prophesied that she was destined to be re-designer of saris. Still, we couldn’t believe the coincidence of being named after the very fabric that brought us two together.
Aanchal and I were connected through a friend who had helped my family and I plan our initial trip to India. We met at the Taj Hotel, the same hotel we had this interview, and she brought pieces that would have been considered "rave wear" in Canada--disco-style pieces with bright colours, unique tassels and detailing. I saw how beautiful her work and how talented a designer she was. I told her I would love to work with her, but the brand I had in mind would be more simple everyday wear, highlighting the beauty of the fabric through the simplicity of the designs. Look how far we have come! That small idea became sariKNOTsari as you know it today!
While we were in India, we noticed how Indian society limits women through dictating what would be considered an acceptable path to pursue, such as guiding women into more traditional housewife roles rather than an entrepreneurial path. While these social roles are constantly changing and evolving, women face a lot of opposition when pursuing unconventional roles or jobs. There are these same expectations for women in Canada as we are still breaking down walls to have women lead and pursue their passions without facing gendered barriers. As we become more mature and get older, we start wanting to push up against these barriers and expectations as we recognize how limiting they can be.
Aanchal shared that she couldn’t wear jeans as a young girl because her father thought it was not a “nice” fashion choice. Because Aanchal loved and respected her father, she followed his wishes; however, with age, she realized that in allowing him to have a say in her fashion choices, she followed his wants rather than her own. This is such a common experience among women, especially during girlhood, of often changing your desires to fit those of others. While reflecting on this feeling, Aanchal found that, with fashion as her primary outlet, she has made many choices throughout her life that have left her with a sense of “I know society wants this of me, but this is what I want for me.”
Aanchal was the first in her family to enter the world and start working. Within her whole family, even extended relatives, no girls had left home to work and instead stayed in the house to support the family and help with domestic tasks; however, Aanchal fought to enter the world of work.
Aanchal told her father that she dreamed of going out into the world and working for herself as she already felt limited by the roles placed on her at a young age. She had to fight for her dream as her father was hesitant--he wanted to protect her. However, she was fortunate as her father recognized her potential and saw her true talent, eventually agreeing to let her go out into the world and work on the things she wanted to.
Aanchal decided to join the Fashion Institute and had a fashion show in 2001. For the fashion show, Aanchal was competing against designers from all over Dehli and Gurgaon to create a 60’s era design. Fashion, textiles, and sewing were all in Aanchal’s blood, as both her father and her grandmother loved to stitch garments as a pastime. Aanchal shared that she has become a great seamstress because, along with the courses, her grandmother would help her with her craft, sharing small tips that would make all the difference. For her piece for the fashion show, Aanchal was inspired by a Bollywood actress from the 1960s named Mumtaz. Mumtaz would always be wearing gorgeous styled saris, so Aanchal decided to create a 60’s styled sari design inspired by Mumtaz out of recycled fabrics and saris. Crazy to think that down the road, recycled saris would bring us together!
Aanchal presented her sari creation and won first prize in Delhi and Gurgaon, a tailoring and textile capital! Aanchal was so proud of herself (as she should be!) and shared that she felt she had to show her father that he didn’t make the wrong decision in believing in her and letting her go out into the fashion world. Fashion helped inspire Aanchal to play by her rules and create her destiny through her passion for design.
Aanchal has played by her own rules in the fashion world, but she shared that she has also carried this belief into her family life. When Aanchal thought about getting married, she knew that her dream was to continue working at her passion rather than step away to focus on her family as a housewife. Because Aanchal was already pursuing an unconventional career path, her father wanted her to have an arranged introduction when it came to marriage. There are two kinds of marriages in India: a love marriage in which a boy and girl meet and decide to get married because they have fallen in love. Or there is an arranged introduction where the families may say that your daughter and their son would make a great match, so they arrange an introduction. If the two are interested, they will be encouraged to marry, but if there is no connection, they will not go through with it. Having an arranged introduction comforts the families, especially the parents, as they know the partner and their families and thus have more confidence that their children will be cared for as they start their lives with their partners.
Aanchal’s father wanted her to have an arranged introduction to protect her from the possible struggle of finding a partner or family that accepts her life path. In India, a woman's reputation is very important. Aanchal’s father feared that, since she was the first girl to start working for herself, others would say, “Who would want to marry this girl” and Aanchal wouldn’t have the same opportunities for marriage, which would affect her future. To better understand this perspective on reputation, Priya shared a saying a friend’s father used to say when she was growing up, “if you go into a bar for a glass of milk, it doesn’t matter what you ordered, all anyone thinks is you went into a bar”, the moral being that even if you behave with righteousness, if you give people any opportunity to misinterpret your behaviour, they will. In Indian families, protecting one's reputation by being above reproach is paramount.
Despite her father’s wishes, Aanchal followed her heart and had a love marriage with her husband, Sanjay. Aanchal shared that, although her father did not support her decision, she knew it was best for herself, and in that way, she was playing by her own rules, not letting the fear of family or personal reputation hold her back. Although Aanchal does not primarily take on the role of the housewife, she succeeds in that too! She is a fantastic cook and can pursue her dreams in fashion while being an incredible mom to her family!
Before we parted ways so we could catch our flight back to Canada, we asked Aanchal whether she had any advice for women after learning so much from her journey. Aanchal shared that one of the main lessons to learn was not to depend on others to accomplish what you want. Women should be able to work, make decisions, and rely on themselves while working to achieve their dreams. Aanchal goes on to say that it is also important to pursue life not with an ego but with kindness, as though saying this is who I am, and I want to make sure that I am safe, happy, and can care for myself and those I love. Aanchal has such a down-to-earth personality, and her perspective on the world inspires us to keep following our hearts and desires rather than ignoring them for the plans others may have for us. We are so grateful to have such a talented woman be a part of our team and so happy that she had time to let all of us get to know her better! Aanchal is a woman who plays by her own rules in all facets of life!
Watch The Interview Here: