Two sisters, a passion for Indian weaves, and a social-media success story

Young, peppy and fuss-free, and yet rooted in India's textile heritage, fashion label Suta's success is driven by digital marketing and a design strategy built on the aspirations and lifestyles of the youth.

For Mumbai sisters Sujata and Taniya Biswas, giving up corporate careers and diving headlong into an e-commerce fashion brand built on artisanal heritage was a matter of passion. In a matter of a few years, their background in business and technology, powered by their personal branding on social media, has helped make their fashion label Suta into a runaway success story.

It’s a classic case study of inclusive growth, and an example of how creative design and digital marketing can be used to preserve traditional crafts, empower artisans and weavers in rural India, while also generating healthy revenues for those who persevere.  

The elder of the two Biswas sisters, Sujata, 36, is an alumnus of CET Bhubaneshwar and IIFT Delhi. She worked for seven years with Essar Group, Jindal Group and IIT Bombay before co-founding Suta with her sister.

The younger sibling Taniya, 35, has an engineering degree in ceramics from National Institute of Technology, Rourkela, and an MBA from IIM, Lucknow. She had worked with IBM, Tata Refractories, and Seed Fund’s investee firm in the past.

L-R: Sister duo Sujata and Taniya Biswas

Their label of love called Suta – a combination of the first two letters of both their names – was launched in 2016 with only two employees and one weaver. Today, the organisation has grown to encompass 170 employees and 17,000 artisans, of which 60 percent are women.

Marketed largely through digital platforms and through their 5 lakh-strong audience on Instagram, Suta saris, blouses and separates have a minimalistic, hassle-free appeal especially for younger customers who are attracted to India’s rich textile heritage but lack the budgets or time to invest in elaborate garments.

eShe caught up with Sujata and Taniya about their unique brand and their business journey so far.

Sujata and Taniya Biswas launched their fashion label Suta in 2016

What was the tipping point that prompted you to leave corporate careers and become entrepreneurs together?

We have always been very creative at heart. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when we discovered that we wanted to be entrepreneurs – it was a desire that grew and evolved within us.

Whenever we travelled to Kolkata and met with various weavers in the neighbouring villages, we were mesmerised by their sheer genius and the love they poured into every creation. After several meetings with weavers, it became apparent that this was our calling.

Our creative inclinations, experiments with photography, discussions over chai, and visits to weaving clusters, all played a role in steering us towards entrepreneurship, underpinned by our heartfelt desire to find meaning, create impact and make a tangible difference to the world around us.

Taniya, 35, and Sujata, 36, modeling saris from their fashion label Suta

What was your original vision for the brand and has it changed with time and customer feedback?

Drawing on our own learning from the corporate world and our personal shopping experiences, we realised that people typically wore saris on special occasions. These saris were mostly borrowed and it was difficult to find casual saris that could be worn on a daily basis. We perceived a market opportunity for contemporary, comfortable and affordable saris.

We also interviewed youngsters and found that many of them perceived wearing saris as cumbersome due to the additional associated tasks, such as stitching the fall and the blouse. So, we came up with the idea of creating a comprehensive solution in the form of a one-stop destination for all sari needs, to make the experience hassle-free.

During its early days, we participated in a number of exhibitions across major Indian cities, including Mumbai and Delhi. At most of these exhibitions, all the products would sell out. These exhibitions also provided additional insights into the profiles of Suta customers and confirmed that the Suta woman stood out subtly from the rest, without being too loud in her aesthetic. Simple, minimalistic and comfort-focused designs appealed to her.

When Suta entered the market, it became a pioneer in selling saris that were perceived as contemporary, and was instrumental in making them an everyday style statement. This commitment to our artisans and to making their craft more accessible to increasingly larger audiences has been the driving force guiding every Suta product and collection.

Over the years, we have diversified into different crafts, fabrics, weaves and product categories. We also retail internationally.

L-R: Taniya and Sujata Biswas in looks from Suta’s collection ‘Once in a Blue Moon’

How do you go about designing your saris? What are the brand values and clothing trends you keep in mind?

Our design philosophy balances popular and seasonal trends with crafts that we are passionate about. We engage with artisan clusters from across the country, bringing their craft to the fore through our curated designs. We’ve always strived for our design and production processes to be inclusive – such that we can work with even the smallest weavers in the most remote villages.

For us, what matters more than fads is for our products to occupy a permanent place in the hearts and wardrobes of their buyers. Our pieces are designed to be versatile so that they lend themselves to a variety to looks.

The Biswas sisters in looks from Suta’s Holi 2023 collection

What is the one impact you have made with Suta that you are proudest of?

Of the 17,000 weavers from across the country that we work with, more than 60 percent are women. This is a feat we are very proud of, as when we started out, it was difficult to convince the weavers to work with us and earn their trust. However, with our consistent efforts, we’ve not only brought them on board with us but have also empowered our female artisans by encouraging them to be financially independent.

We’ve set up bank accounts for them so that they can directly receive their payments from us, instead of handing their wages over to male members of their households. We’ve found that, with this autonomy, our female artisans are focusing on giving their children a quality education.

Suta saris are designed keeping urban Indian women in the age group 18-35 in mind

Which is your bestselling category?

Suta is best known for our saris and blouses. We’ve essayed a transformative role in how saris are viewed and worn by contemporary women – our emphasis on creating easy to drape and wearable saris has found them a place in work and casual wear, instead of them being reserved only for special occasions, as was formerly the case. Our ready-to-wear blouses have met an important market need for pressed-for-time buyers who are seeking statement designs and practicality.

What has surprised you so far about the way the brand has grown?

Beyond numbers, what inspires us is how connected our customers feel to our brand. We love how our customers share special moments from their lives with us, share how our own journey has motivated them, and why Suta is so much more than just a brand for them – they consider it a way of life. Suta is built on a foundation of very strong values, and we love that these values have been imbibed by and resonate with our customers.

Suta engages 17,000 weavers across India

You both model your own clothes. Which ones are your favourite designs?

Every Suta sari has a special place in our hearts. But if we were pressed to choose, we’d pick our ruffled mul saris just because of how fun they are – wearing a playful ruffled sari that’s so soft and light makes you feel like a whole new person and instantly elevates your mood.

We’re also partial to our silk saris with kantha embroidery because of the rich legacy of craftsmanship that each of them bears – each sari takes several hours to make and it touches the hands and lives of several artisans before making its way to its wearer.

For us, it is therefore not just a product, but a living piece of our artisan-first philosophy that has its own beautiful story.

Does social-media popularity translate to greater revenue and sales? What has been your experience in this regard?

Much of Suta’s marketing success can be attributed to our strong social-media presence, which draws on themes rooted in nostalgia, while also acknowledging contemporary trends. The distinctive visual imagery of our saris is quite different from those of any other sari or ethnic-wear brands, and is combined with lucid storytelling about each sari.

Our imagery and underlying messaging have appealed to our target segment – the modern Indian working woman between 18 to 35 years of age, who takes pride in her own distinctive style. Through our authentic storytelling on Facebook and Instagram, we have been successful in reviving this traditional garment in contemporary wardrobes.

Suta saris have a young, peppy aesthetic

Your brand targets a younger demographic, while also upholding the ancient textile traditions of India. What are the technical and design details that have helped you make heritage trendy for modern women?

As a brand, we’re most proud of how we’re making saris more accessible and even more desirable as everyday wear. We believe that even the most fashion-forward men and women are conscious about comfort and wear-ability in addition to aesthetics. That’s where our expertise lies – our signature mul cotton, for instance, is very easy and comfortable to wear even over longer durations.

Our choice of fabrics is what keeps our customers coming back for more, as younger buyers are no longer intimidated by saris. We combine this with quirky, fashion-forward designs that appeal to the sensibilities of more experimental wearers, giving them a multitude of options to express themselves as individuals, with their clothing as a medium. We also truly believe that the role of fashion is expression – whether with our Pride collection, or our printed saris, or our statement blouses, we live out this philosophy with the products we create.

A look from Suta’s Holi 2023 collection

Tell us about your limited-edition collection of 13 saris for Spring 2023. Which one of the saris is most special for you?

The Holi collection revives the centuries-old manual tie-and-dye technique of Shibori, infusing it with floral patterns and a vibrant colour palette. Each sari has been painstakingly created by indigenous artisans, who carefully fold and clamp the fabric to create striking patterns. The fabric used for this collection is mul modal, combining the brand’s signature feather-light mul cotton with modal, a bio-based fabric derived from cellulose.

Using modal brings out the true vibrancy of the colours we’ve used, while mul is light, incredibly soft and imminently wearable, especially in warmer weather conditions. The reason why this is a limited-edition collection is because these designs are impossible to replicate in multiple batches – a large part of their beauty lies in their uniqueness.

Each of these saris reflects a different aspect of spring (and the festival of colours), which makes each of them special in our hearts.

1 comment on “Two sisters, a passion for Indian weaves, and a social-media success story

  1. Pingback: Two sisters, a passion for Indian weaves, and a social-media success story – eShe - WannaFollow Blog News

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