Gayatri Khanna, who has built a successful Mumbai-based embroidery business that does work for some of the biggest couture and fashion houses, has branched out with her own ready-to-wear collection, called Gaya. The designer looks to expand Gaya to the U.S., and is currently showing her fall and holiday lines to U.S. retailers.
When the global pandemic paused most production for many high-end fashion brands around the world, Khanna saw an opportunity to take her embroidery company’s experience, talent, knowledge of the market and sustainable manufacturing production to launch her own line.
Milaaya Embroideries, an embroidery house in India known for its hand-beading expertise, works with fashion brands such as Max Mara, Pinko, Versace, Marchesa, Ralph & Russo, Dolce & Gabbana, Marni, Azzaro, Saint Laurent, Chloé, Givenchy and Julien Macdonald, among others, within Kering, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Compagnie Financière Richemont. It owns an 18,000-square-foot vertically integrated factory in Mumbai equipped with a full design and sampling team, a stitching atelier, embroidery atelier, CAD department, quality control department, shipping and packaging and an in-house raw materials store.
Khanna, creative director of Gaya, figured her embroidery house, which employs 450 people and has been in business 23 years, had all the resources to pivot from a third-party resource to build a stand-alone brand.
“We try to keep everything very vertical and sustainable. All the luxury brands we work with over the past 20 years are very particular, especially the Kering brands and LVMH brands,” she said. She started the embroidery with a few clients, and the business snowballed. Today, they have marketing offices in Paris, Milan, New York and London.
Khanna began shipping the Gaya collection in late 2020 and since that time has sold merchandise via her own online store and various e-tailers and retail stores in India, including Pernia’s Pop Up Shop, Nykasa Fashion, Aza Fashion, The Fashion Edit, Agashe and at select boutiques in Dubai and Singapore.
In an interview, she said her dream accounts in the U.S. would be Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s, as well as specialty stores such as Intermix.
Gaya is designed in Europe and handcrafted in India. It blends European influence with the arts and crafts of India. The line is inspired by Khanna’s travels, nature and the culture of India.
Born in Mumbai, Khanna graduated from Babson College in Boston and spent the early part of her career working at Saks Fifth Avenue, first as an intern and then in the buying department. She explained that she always wanted to have a brand. In 2006, she had a brand in India called Gayatri. At that time, Western wear wasn’t popular and there was no internet. “It didn’t take off, because Western wear didn’t take off,” she said. She said she would have had to do heavy Indian clothing, and that wasn’t her aesthetic, so she focused on Milaaya.
“This was the right time to launch our brand. Our specialty is in embroideries and also print design,” she said.
During the pandemic, they started with embroidered masks, making 2,000 to 3,000 masks a week to give to the poor in India. From there, they moved into rtw. But the American stores contacted at that time said they weren’t considering new lines because of the pandemic. She decided that 2022 would be a better time to launch the new brand in the U.S.
The collection, which focuses on embroidery, prints and specialty fabrics, is comprised of dresses and blouses. Retail prices range from $175 to $1,950.
Both the fall and holiday collections have 20 styles each. The collection features such fabrics as viscose and silks.
The fall collection is a celebration of nature and is inspired by natural elements and warmer colors. The feminine contemporary collection features micro-floral prints and intricate embellishments and embroideries, a signature of Gaya. There are blouses, mini and maxi dress styles and delicate 3D floral embroidery that takes five skilled artisans 35 hours to layer fabric flowers, bead and thread work. The collection also features lace detailing and hand-beading on luxe jacquards.
Asked to describe her aesthetic, Khanna said, “It’s clean lines. It’s completely Western wear. Simple embroideries, something that’s effective to look at and is chic and classy. In terms of prints, there are fun colors, it makes you look lively and vivacious.”
She will ship from Mumbai directly to U.S. stores.
She explained that her customer is a strong woman on the go, likes to be fashionable and wants to keep her clothing expenditures not too high. “It looks luxe, but it’s affordable. Someone who definitely wants to look feminine but wants to make a mark for herself,” she said. She believes the woman could wear the clothing to events like brunch or going out at night. The dresses could be occasion wear, as well. “The beauty of these is you can dress them up or you keep them casual, depending on how you style them. You can even go to a wedding. We have some demure ones so you can go on a nice date,” she said.
Asked what categories she’s eventually interested in introducing, Khanna said, “This seems to be what we know right now. We actually would love to make a fashion house and eventually go into different products and categories. We want to take it one step at a time, and really dive into these two categories and sell them well and then we’ll look at a new one, maybe more resort-y. We’ll have to see how that goes because it’s a new brand.”
The collection is being shown at Milaaya’s New York office at 147 West 35th Street in New York.
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