Four and a half years ago, you couldn't have told Samant Chauhan apart from any small town boy His hometown of Bhagalpur in Bihar, after all, is not exactly a centre of cool.
Now Chauhan looks like a designer with a capital D. His time in Delhi, first as a PG student of knitwear design and technology at NIFT, and then as a designer on his own, has turned him into a czar of cool. He wears a colourful striped jacket over a fitted printed T-shirt, talks casually about European firms he works with, and hangs out with a trendy crowd from NIFT.
But then Chauhan, the son of a Railways employee, had always aspired to the world of glamour. Though he got into the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, he preferred to head to Delhi for a place at NIFT.
NIFT offered him good placement, but he couldn't take things easy Hard work was involved, for the simple reason that competition is cutthroat. "Coming from a completely non-fashion background, I had to start from scratch," says Chauhan. "I slogged. I did projects for export and fashion houses to eke out a living."
His breakthrough came when NIFT selected his collection for the Singapore Fashion Week. There, Chauhan won the first runner-up award at the Asian Young Designer Contest. That gave him prize money of US $5,000 that he could use as a financial base to achieve his ambition: his own label.
The award also got him the opportunity to participate in the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week, because the FDCI offered him a three-year membership free of charge. "This was such a help," says Chauhan. "Running a business is not easy. There is expenditure at every step from the rent for the workshop to the salaries of the labour and I have no family business assets. So every penny saved counts."
Financial concerns under control, Chauhan concentrated on creating a line of clothes based on the use of fabric. "I don't source fabrics and then cut and stitch," he says. "I begin from the beginning, weaving and developing fabrics for the garments that I design. Buyers tend to believe that embroidery differentiates designer wear from regular wear. But I prefer to emphasise the weave and texture of the fabric I use rather than use embroidery".
That's why Chauhan believes his real market lies in the west, not India and Bhagalpur is out of the question. "When people in urban India can't understand why a simple, printed T-shirt is priced high, how can I expect people in Bhagalpur to understand?" asks Chauhan.