October ’13 – Guts n’ Glitter

Suhani Banner

She is just 32 but has already gained recognition from the prestigious World Gold Council, featured in Fortune magazine and even garnered praise from the likes of Jimmy Choo! And we, at RITZ, have always been in awe of the sheer passion and creativity that defines this independent spirit. On that note, jewellery designer Suhani Pittie does more than just scratch the surface in conversation with Vinita Nayar.

Suhani Pittie never planned to become a jewellery designer; she was a gemmologist who turned to jewellery design by chance. But what a chance that has been! Today, this talented young designer from Hyderabad has gained national and international recognition. She has been featured in the illustrious Fortune magazine and been praised by the iconic Jimmy Choo. Her flagship store in Hyderabad has won many awards and Suhani herself has been feted with several awards, catapulting her into the league of India’s top jewellery designers. She has also launched her online store www.suhanipittie.com/shop, another successful venture from this gifted lady. Suhani talks to Ritz about her business, the challenges she faced, her passion for designing and her own style quotient…

IMG_5323 What made you decide to become a jewellery designer? Was this your ambition as a child? Did you have an interest in designing from then?

It was absolutely unplanned! I was teaching gemmology in Kolkata before moving to Hyderabad in 2004. One fine day, I was toying with some old silver. I heated it, and made something for my mum in law and got orders on it from most people who saw it on her. Thereafter, I participated in Bridal Asia. My work got picked up by some leading stores and suddenly I found myself a career!

My first love was gemmology. I was never inclined towards design or jewellery.  I have always enjoyed the technicalities. Even now I love to get into the thick of technicals. Whether its gadgets or cars or even the refractive indexes of gemstones, I am a sucker for detail and love researching and reading up on topics. So gemmology was my first love. I was never interested in ‘drawing’… I never looked at heirlooms or traditional pieces. I would always be toying with the rocks and pebbles in the garden. When I was sven, I saw an amber in a book and got drawn to the world of gems. Of course, I didn’t know then that there was a subject related to it that I could actually study. But somewhere I always felt I wanted to do something with stones and after class 12, I got the chance to study at the Gemological Institute of America. So, design was never planned!

How did you take your dream forward? How was it for you to go the woman entrepreneur way?

After my schooling I went to study at the Gemological Institute of America. Thereafter, I came back to India and started teaching at a gemmology school. Soon after that I started my own school to teach gemmology. This was all at age 20. At 23, I got married and moved to Hyderabad… And like I said earlier, everything was unplanned. When in 2004, within a month of my starting, by God’s grace, things started spiralling forwards very quickly; my husband Stouvant joined me and we floated our company Zorya Fashions.  Nothing was planned. He was looking at something new to do and thought this business looked lucrative. Personally, I always knew I would start my own business. My entire childhood was inspired by dad who is the most hardworking person I know. At 14, he started taking me to his office. So a life without doing anything was never an option. As for entrepreneurship, it’s hard but there is tremendous satisfaction

IMG_5311What were the highs and lows of floating your own business?

The high of course is being able to decide the course of business. And the discoveries that come with it every day. When you see your business grow step by step, it’s rewarding not just to you but the whole team. That feeling is brilliant! The low of course is that every little trouble is yours to handle. Whether its HR, finance, marketing…especially when you start…every blunder is your own and you have to take responsibility for it. Sometimes that can be very hard. But the highs are way above the lows!

What are the challenges you faced?

Oh boy…many! Eight years back there was very little concept of alternative jewellery in the mainstream market. When I was trying to establish my team of workers, every now and then one of them would rebel saying…this was not the kind of jewellery that the market buys… and I was wasting my time. It took many years for them to have faith in what they were making…and nothing comes out right till you believe in it. Now I don’t even have to sketch…they can just read my mind! It’s amazing.

India has all along been a patron of precious jewellery. Suddenly to break into this market of ‘let the jewellery be sound investment’ and creating a market that says ‘let’s have jewellery for pure delight’ needed thorough planning. Fortunately for me., two months after I started work, the first store to pick up my work was ‘Ensemble’ and with that came terrific self confidence.

Besides that it (Hyderabad) was a new city for me…a new language…a new culture…a new search for raw materials…for people….in fact, it was a new business model (I was actually a gemmology instructor in Calcutta and had started my own school)but it’s all been good. I would change nothing about it!

How is your online business doing? What is your dream with regard to it?

Our online venture is a very massive step toward business expansion and by Gods grace, it has taken off very well. Our aim is to reach out to every town in the country. We get so many requests and orders from towns that are not the metros. We want to reach out! With very good prices and cash on delivery option, I’m sure we would be able to capture a very large client base. And by God’s grace we have had a good beginning! We are getting orders from all over the country…places like Varkala, Wayanad etc. It’s exciting to see how even the B towns are loving our work.

IMG_5230What do you love most about designing?

My designs reflect my love for metal, my mood, my surroundings. The old city, the Charminar, a 200 year old haveli, the dancers on the streets, the women with their ringing anklets, the bangle maker…the local kumhaar (potter)…..the by-lanes…old photographs…tall buildings…brass…steel…history…books. So I guess what I love about designing is that it’s an expression of emotion. I think that’s a fantastic opportunity -to be able to express so vividly what you are feeling at that moment and the freedom and liberation that comes with it.

What makes you tick in terms of design aesthetics?

I do what comes to my heart honestly. That honesty reflects in my design. I guess people relate to that. Plus I’m a diehard Indian. However modern the styling might be, the jewellery always has an Indian DNA. So you can trace it to a history…a source. There is an identity that sets it apart because of a very strong Indian lifeline. I am besotted by our country. I’m besotted by its diversity…by its languages…by its history…by our freedom struggle…by our colours…by the fact that the landscape differs every 100 miles. I’m in love with India though I think love is an understatement for what I feel. We have such a firm cultural past and now such a radically different cultural present, it’s amazing – the juxtaposition in our lives today! I think we truly should take pride in what the country has given us – such a solid identity and such a solid DNA.

That apart, the fact that I do not adhere to a set of rules. I am a non conformist. My canvas can be anything. It’s inhibited and unlimited. Hence the work is a mix of simple and serious, old and new. There’s a madness for candid combinations to create unexpected contradictions.

IMG_5029What are the influences in terms of designing? What inspires you?

Emotions,movements and expressions. It begins with the first impression which is initially vivid then intense and then gets slowly ingrained into the unconscious. I like to collect these feelings, memories, connections and observations. Raw, colourful, sensuous…ancients custom…merging and blending with new forces…that inspires me.

Each collection brings with it a mood, a feeling, an emotion. This time, for example, was about the free spirit about the naivety of the heart … about pure love. Earlier it was a stronger mood — about cultures… about strength; it had within it depictions of Shiva or Islam… of tribes… and temples. Another collection was inspired by a jatra dancer who I saw in Begum Bazaar. Another time it was the history of the nizams. This time it was a story of tribal lifestyle. I do not follow trends. I follow my heart, my thoughts… maybe that’s why the collections come out so varied! My work is an unexpected combination of contradictory elements. Fiercely individual and fiercely honest

How did it feel to be featured in Fortune magazine? And to gain recognition from the World Gold Council? Even Jimmy Choo has praised you.

I don’t think I have achieved much yet. But yes it’s all very encouraging. The biggest industry body coming forth and patting you on the back and putting you in the top ten in the world … surely feels like you are doing something right! It’s a high…but it’s also a good high … one that keeps you on your toes … and keeps pushing you to get better. Fortune magazine analysed and talked about our business. So I’m really happy to know that not just the brand but even the business is getting the right kind of appreciation. I met Mr Choo at a very private small dinner. He touched my necklace and said those kind words. We chatted for very long about it. I think I did not breathe for the entire conversation. I think I died and came back!

A very exciting event was when we were chosen to showcase for the British Royalty by the Birtish Council…it brought with it a trust factor. Because a very important body had trusted us to do a very, very important show for some very, very important people. That trust has gone along hand in hand with us every time. It’s like you can’t let anyone down. You HAVE to be darn good everyday! That experience, that solid belief gives me a very firm ground to work on.

IMG_4999How does it feel to have gained so much success and recognition at such a young age?

I have hardly done or achieved anything. I’m on step one of a million-step ladder. But it’s very humbling to know and see how much everyone loves our work. Establishing the brand name was never the initial intention. The intention was always to do good work, to give the market an alternative thought process when it came to jewellery. I’m a very small contributor to the very large jewellery market. But the intention was always to be a significant one. The journey has been such a learning curve.

Where did you grow up and go to school?

I had a very ‘Calcutta’ upbringing, complete with playing football on the street! I was always very athletic! My mom would have a hard time puling me back into the house! But I was decent at studies as well. I was the headgirl of the school and was majorly into quiz,speeches,elocution,dance,music..everything!I don’t think I was ever out of things to do!

Some childhood memories of growing up with your sister, Anamika Khanna.

Ana is 10 years older to me. So she is almost like my mom. I was very young when she got married. But I remember her doing all my art and biology homework because she was so darn good at drawing. I remember her first show..I wasn’t allowed inside because I was underage. I still remember it was called the Shoowa collection. The next day her picture came in the paper. I  remember cutting it and putting it in my cupboard next to a picture of Jonty Rhodes. That’s how young I was when I started admiring her. From big sis she was slowly becoming this big designer…all through hard work and talent. I’ve seen her go through the grind and I respect her for all her courage.

I’m so proud of her and so in awe of her. She is really really amazing at what she does. Its inspiring. Anamika is probably the only person I know who eats..sleeps and dreams design and works extremely hard at making it all happen. We all know what a terrific artist she is..but its inspiring to see her always strive to do better and never say ‘this is it’. She is always working on making herself ever better!that to me is the sign of a true achiever!

IMG_4947How were you and your sister as kids? Did u guys ever play dress up?

When it’s a 10 year age difference, you don’t play dress up. You just listen to big sister and do as she says!

You wear only your sister’s clothes. Comment on that please. Does your sister give u any fashion inputs to you or vice versa?

I do wear others as well. In fact I wear a lot of old vintage clothes as well.but yes my wardrobe has a very large section of Anamika Khanna. What to do. She is my favourite! No, she doesn’t really give me fashion inputs. That’s an interesting thing about her. She lets you be. But she does advice me to look more after myself.. whether its my hair or my skin.

How would you define success?

To realize your purpose in life, to get out of all comfort zones and work tirelessly towards your goal. If every day you are an inch closer to where you want to be, its success according to me.

What are you working on now?

We have just finished samples for the Diwali collection. I’m working on designs for New Year now. Both jewellery and giftware!

What is a typical day like for you?

6.30 am to 8am is workout time whether it’s just running or running and then some weight training. At 9.25am, we leave for office and get back at 8.45pm. Then its coffee, anagram, Uno, video games or just tonnes and tonnes of reading.

IMG_4893What habits have helped you succeed?

A realization that there is no shortcut to success. It’s all about discipline and hard work. You have just one shot at life. You have to give it all you got!

Who are your role models for success? 

My dad. Because I know of no other human being who works this hard and yet at the end of the day never says he is tired. My sister because she, in spite of being a leader in the industry is always striving to make herself better,  and my mom-in-law because she is the most loving and giving human being I know!

What is your attitude when faced with challenges? How do you overcome them?

I don’t panic. I just switch on some Bollywood music and work out on paper, a flowchart to solve it. Music works like magic

How do you unwind after a long day?

Photography. Dancing…all the time and when my body tires out. Reading – I am  history buff. So I read books on world leaders, on independence, on economics and political history of countries. I am also a self proclaimed movie critic and the biggest Harry Potter fan there ever has been! And of course, there’s the xbox in our life! And anagram! Or organizing my sticker collection.

You live in Hyderabad. Has that inhibited your growth in anyway, as most people in the fashion field prefer Bombay or Delhi. 

Not at all. On the contrary, it’s so nice being in this historic city away from all of the fashion noise. I do my own thing. I have a life after 9pm. I’m not stuck in traffic or on the road trying to make it home. I think Hyderabad, with its cultural background and history, has really given me an eye to appreciate beauty.

IMG_4871Any pointers to our readers on jewellery and how it can enhance a look?

Treat jewellery like the main feature of your dressing and see how the entire wardrobe becomes new.