Laureate Student Perspectives – Ashita Singal, Pearl Academy– 2018 Global James Mcguire Competition Winner

After graduating with a degree in commerce, Ashita Singal decided to pursue a career in the fashion industry by doing a postgraduate degree in fashion design from Pearl Academy in New Delhi, India. She became concerned with the great amount of textile waste produced by design houses and the unfair treatment and working condition of textile workers. This was the inspiration behind her founding of Paiwand – a startup that upcycles textile waste into raw fabrics and high-end clothing all while providing fair and safe working conditions for weavers and workers.

For its innovative proposal and solid business plan, Paiwand was chosen as the winner of the 2018 edition of the Global James McGuire Business plan competition. This month we catch up with Ashita to talk about her experience in the competition and how winning has helped launch Paiwand as an innovative startup seeking to disrupt the multibillion-dollar Indian fashion industry.

Could you describe Paiwand’s social and business model and why you decided to found the company?

Fashion industry is the second largest polluting industry in the world. Every day the industry discards tons of textile waste that goes into landfills and pollutes the environment. Coming from New Delhi, India, one of the most polluted cities in the world, I chose textiles as a medium to reduce the waste around me. Paiwand is a textile studio which upcycles/recycles textile waste for designers and artisans using handcrafted techniques.

At Paiwand, we source the textile waste from design houses. The waste is then cleaned and assorted as per different fiber types and colors. This saves a lot of cost, water and other resources, as dyeing is not required.  The waste is then cut into strips and is hand-woven by the weavers in India. The handwoven upcycled fabric is then sold back to the design houses so that they create sustainable collections for their clientele. The possibilities to use this fabric remain endless for them.

While studying design at Pearl, I was looking for an ethical business model that could work as a catalyst between designers and artisans. A model, which not only recycles textile waste but also ensures fair wages and provides safe working conditions to the people who work behind the scenes in the fashion industry.

Can you describe your experience at last year’s McGuire Business Plan Competition?

Participating in this competition was an enriching experience for me as well as my mentors. At every stage the business idea was nourished and transformed into a better version. For a student who always dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur, the competition was the best platform that a university could provide. I believe that when participating in such international competitions the feedback and exposure become more important than the final prize.

I was fortunate enough to present my business idea to a team of highly experienced and qualified entrepreneurs. Their feedback and insight certainly comes in handy while dealing in the industry.

Winning the grant has fast tracked the whole process of setting up the Studio. Finances are traditionally the biggest hurdle while launching a new idea. The award has given a great impetus to the whole idea. 

Can you share a little about the progress of Paiwand over the last six months?

I have dedicated the last six months to building up the studio and team. Paiwand has a small team which includes 2 weavers, 3 assorting workers, 1 knitting expert, and a tailor. We have been innovating in textiles since day one. The studio has recently completed its first order where we supplied more than 100 meters of handwoven fabric to a luxury fashion brand based in India. On an average, we recycle 2-3 kgs. of textile scrap every day.

Paiwand recently collaborated with the All India Women’s Education Fund Association for a fashion show to promote wellness after the age of 60 where we showcased our genderless, ageless, and one size garments on the models.

Paiwand was also selected as one of the finalists in textile design for Lexus Design Awards India 2019.

Paiwand has enjoyed the media spotlight in India over the last few months. How has your life changed personally and professionally since last year?

The last few months have been overwhelming. Paiwand has earned a good name in the market as an upcycling solution provider. Professionally the spotlight has helped us in building our network and achieving the targeted goals.

It takes a lot of resources for a new brand to establish itself in the industry. I am happy with the media coverage we have received as it has helped further the brand’s credibility and reach.

How do you think your journey can inspire other student entrepreneurs not just in India but across the Laureate network?

I would advise all the budding student entrepreneurs to research exhaustively before starting an enterprise. It is important to be connected with the industry and receive regular feedback from professionals and faculty members. Worry not where the road takes you, instead, concentrate on the first step. It is better to fail than never try at all.

What role did your Pearl faculty advisors play in the inception and development of Paiwand?

When I joined Pearl Academy, I knew little about textiles and textile waste. The whole journey has transformed me into a better version of myself. I have not only learned design here but most importantly, to be more human. An idea like Paiwand did not strike me overnight. I was exposed to the ugly side of the fashion industry which most of the people choose to ignore. My mentor, Wajahat Rather, played a crucial role in the foundation of Paiwand. As a design student, I had hundreds of creative ideas flowing but there was always self-doubt at the same time. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who have encouraged me and pushed me out of my comfort zone.

It was a huge challenge to develop a professional business plan. At every stage, the plan was rectified and improved. My mentors have been instrumental in helping me to achieve the set targets. I cannot thank my teachers enough for having faith in me and Paiwand. 

Where do you see yourself in five years with this business venture? 

I want to make Paiwand a one place upcycling solution for textile and fashion industry. Through Paiwand, we aim to revive traditional hand crafted processes, which have been lost somewhere with fast moving world. We intent to build a collaborative moment which will transform the social and environment standards in the fashion industry not only in India but globally.