They met as students at NIFT in Delhi, and their close friendship turned into courtship which led to their marriage in 2006. “We went from friends to best friends and we never realised when we fell in love with each other,” gush Nandita and Hemant Lalwani.
Hemant’s tongue-in-cheek humour complements Nandita’s matter-of-factness, as one can tell from his offhand quips throughout the interview. But when it comes to their eponymous label, he means business. Quite literally, since he manages the company and its financial aspects, while she heads the creative side. However as co-founders, the roles can often blur.
Talking about the early days of their brand, Nandita recounts, “Hemant is from a business family and was always inclined towards setting up his own company. He had his own label as a small venture he invested in after college. I started helping him with it just out of my interest and admiration for design. Soon we realised that we wanted one of our own.”
Rather than go the couture route, the pair focused on wearable fashion. Nandita explains, “Our design philosophy had always been centred around the easy and comfortable looks which can take you from desk to dinner, and this is what we constantly work towards.” Their energetic collections of tribal-inspired prints and bohemian silhouettes can be found in many leading department stores around the world, including Anthropologie and Neiman Marcus.
The couple prefers to work full office hours and a typical day for Nandita starts with “her design team discussion, as soon as she enters the office!” Hemant jokes.“He and I have offices on different floors and we are really involved with our own teams. I create and he sells, though we constantly discuss design and production timelines for the smooth functioning of and synergy between the departments.” Hemant elaborates, “It keeps us closer to the internal problems teams encounter and helps us make better decisions.” While both try to leave the shop talk at the office, it does have a tendency to creep into their downtime. Conversations at home are peppered with their day-to-day issues and successes.
Differences of opinion aren’t viewed as obstacles, but a necessary aspect of two individuals coming together. “Whenever we disagree, we pull out the records and work with figures and numbers to take well-informed decisions. In case we are too tired to do that, Nandita is always right,” Hemant laughs. “We do find ourselves spending too much time on the same problem or over-discussing some issues as we are on the same side of the situation. However, you constantly feel the support of your spouse and two is always better than one,” adds his better half.
Apart from building their label, they are simultaneously raising their two sons, Nabhya (six) and Ryan (four and a half). “Since we both have the same busy periods, sometimes it’s a little challenging to manage kids or to spend time with them, as both of us are required for prolonged periods of time during fashion week season,” Nandita explains.
To newly minted couples they advise, “Keep your office out of your house. Even though it’s something we are moving towards as well, it is so important to have a work-life balance.” And how do they manage to do this? Aside from travelling and spending time with their kids, friends and family, while Nandita likes to dance and “party the stress away”, Hemant enjoys Sufi music and is a singer.
“We meet friends often so it does not feel that difficult. It’s been so many years now that we are used to our schedules. Hemant has his own band (tentatively called Parindey) where he sings, has jam sessions and performs at gatherings.”
For the duo, being married to each other adds an additional layer of trust to their professional relationship. “Having your life partner as a business partner has its set of pros and cons, but there is someone who knows as much about your company as you and always has your back, no matter what.” Always wanting the last word, Hemant jokes, “Working with your spouse also allows you a lot of time together…a little too much sometimes.”
The pair is passionate about their brand and are always nudging each other to make sure they never lose sight of its ethos. “I constantly keep updating her about what is selling; it helps her to create more wearable fashion,” says Hemant. “He keeps me focused whenever my designer mind tries to wander in any other direction,” adds Nandita.
Do opposites attract? In their case, a couple that parties together, stays together. “We are very similar and I don’t think completely opposite works, atleast not for us. Hemant and I have very similar business ethics, thought processes and parenting sensibilities. We totally love socialising with friends and are great hosts and party planners.”
This article originally appeared in Verve magazine, September 2016.