Sana Rezwan is the Co-Founder and Creative Director of Indelust.com, the curated online luxury lifestyle boutique for independent and ethical fashion, art and design from the Indian Sub-continent.
Since 2007, Sana has served as the Chief Executive Officer and Creative Director of 23 Carat, a creative consulting agency for the fashion industry in India and New York.
In 2011, Sana founded MAISON, a luxury women's concept store with a pop-up cinema and art gallery in Bangalore, India, where she brought international luxury brands to the forefront of Indian fashion including Givenchy, Saint Laurent, Chloe, Thakoon, Giuseppe Zanotti, Carven, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Acne and Joseph.
Sana previously worked in the PR, Marketing and Buying Departments of respected luxury brands such as Giorgio Armani, Stella McCartney, Jasmine Di Milo and Liberty in London until 2010.
Sana has also worked as a Consulting Fashion Director for emerging designer Charles Harbison in addition to contributing to VOGUE India, Hello! India and ELLE India as a freelance contributor.
Sana currently resides in New York City and is part of the Creative Advisory Council of the NEST Guild, a New York-based, non-profit organization that is dedicated to building and reviving artisan traditions and businesses in developing countries. Additionally, Sana currently sits on the Advisory Board for India and served on Assocham India's 3rd Annual India Luxury Summit panel in October 2015.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I remember wanting to run my own business ever since I was a little girl. I think to be a successful entrepreneur you have to be a good leader, so in that sense, I was fortunate to have been brought up in a family of entrepreneurs that valued independent thinking and encouraged me to take risks.
I have always been creatively inclined so I was naturally drawn to fashion because it combined my artistic and commercial interests. But fashion is a tough business in every sense - from getting a job to understanding production cycles to sales and marketing, etc. I knew I would have to leave India to get the right education and work experience that would allow me to one day start my own business. I have had some great teachers and bosses that guided me along the way, so I feel strongly that as a leader it is my responsibility to provide education and mentorship opportunities to people on my team.
Over the past twelve years, I've lived and worked in London, India and now New York. Living across all these different time zones and cultures has made me more flexible and, I like to think, more innovative as a leader. For example, the US and Europe are mature luxury markets where people are super talented and experienced in very niche areas. You have to give these types of professionals enough autonomy to create in order to effectively leverage off of their experience and differentiate your brand in a hyper competitive market. In countries like India, luxury is still an evolving concept - very exciting, huge potential, but still nascent. These types of markets call for a different type of leader - more hands-on in terms of establishing systems and working with people on execution. When I started my store, I personally developed the functional capabilities of each member of my team, from Store Management to Merchandising to Public Relations and E-commerce Management.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Indelust?
I started my career in London, one of the most competitive and challenging fashion cities in the world. I worked with some of the top brands and design houses like Stella McCartney, Giorgio Armani and Liberty.
But it was always my intention to take what I learned abroad and apply it back home in India. While my interest in the creative world definitely inspired me to start my businesses, they really came about as a response to a market problem: the difficulty international luxury brands faced when entering the Indian market. I set up 23 Carat to assist luxury brands like Givenchy and Emilio Pucci expand into India. I later used 23 Carat as a platform to launch Maison, a high-end women's fashion concept store that carried international luxury brands in Bangalore, and across India through its e-commerce site.
When I decided to close Maison and move to New York, I saw the reverse problem, in a sense, which was the lack of access Indian designers had to the rest of the world. Having been part of the international luxury fashion industry for so many years, I was drawn to India's rich history in craft and handmade goods. I felt it was important to create a platform that showcased our tradition in today's perspective. Given all the ethical issues surrounding high fashion (think Rana Plaza), I also wanted to make sure that whatever we did would have some positive social impact. That is how Indelust was born.
Indelust works in two ways: 1) we ethically source fashion, art and home from emerging designers that make a positive social impact or are reviewed by NEST, our non-profit NGO partner; and 2) we work with artisan groups from economically disadvantaged communities to help them reclaim their livelihoods. There are so many handcrafting traditions that have been around for centuries but are now close to extinction. The few clusters that do exist today are a testament to our heritage in the Indian Sub-Continent and that is why we chose to help revive and support them.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Indelust?
We face a fair amount of logistical challenges given the time difference and distance between New York, where I live, and Bangalore, where we are headquartered. This means daily 5am conference calls so I can speak to each member of my team, and traveling to India 5-6 times a year for three weeks at a time. But all of this is so worth it - I get to visit my family in India often, while continuing to live in a city that inspires me every day.
In theory, everyone is for ethically sourced goods; however, when it comes time to make the purchase, not everyone will take the time to find a company that ensures product supply chain transparency, or one that sources from a local artisan rather than a factory that manufactures 1,000 shirts per minute. Our main challenge is to reach the customer that wants a beautiful product and cares about where it comes from. We then need to provide the right user experience to connect the customer to the story behind each product.
What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
My advice is to make sure you are passionate about what you do and understand the sacrifices that are inherent to running your own business. I know it's a cliché, but I think having your own business is like having a child - you are always on. I don't think I've managed to switch off completely for more than 3 days over the past 2 years we have been working on Indelust. In fact, I remember working through my wedding and honeymoon! Some days you don't have the right answers, or, even worse, you don't even know the right questions to ask! But you still have to keep moving on and believe in what you are doing. Eventually things fall into place or you figure a way around the problem.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Because I am my own boss, there aren't any defined work hours. However busy or long my day is, though, I make sure to take an hour of "me time." This could be working out, cooking or just meeting a friend. Aside from that I love to spend every opportunity I have with my amazing husband. And that is as balanced as things can get for me right now.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Women in India in general suffer from gender discrimination; they struggle to get employed and their safety is always in question, which was highlighted by the 2012 New Delhi rape incident. There are few repercussions for those who mistreat women in the workplace, whether it is sexual harassment, abuse, forced overtime and so on. There are several political parties that promise women empowerment as part of their campaigns but none have spelt out how they plan to make these changes.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship was a completely new concept for me, and I was only introduced to it once I moved to New York a few years ago. During my first few months of being in the city, a friend of mine connected me to Liz Bacelar, the founder of Fashion Decoded. She instantly took me on as her mentee. She challenged me to think differently, helped me turn an idea into a real business and provided guidance when I was lost. Liz has been more than just a mentor to me; she is my role model and more importantly a great friend who I have tremendous respect for.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Aside from Liz, I admire Sofia Amoruso. She is the model millionaire millennial that made it big in fashion tech. She is young, strong and leads with confidence and has a positive attitude. Many women, young or old aspire to be like her.
What do you want Indelust to accomplish in the next year?
We hope to add another 30 emerging and established designers as well as artisans to our brand mix. We also plan to expand into the children and baby category. From a big picture perspective we are working to build awareness about ethical sourcing and to establish a devoted following of customers worldwide who appreciate unique and handcrafted products.