Malavika moved to Dubai at the age of 5 and was raised in what was a city peppered sand and only a handful of buildings at the time. She completed high school and then moved back to Mumbai (India) to pursue a degree in Mass Media, specializing in Advertising & Journalism. She dabbled in the world of publishing and advertising as a copywriter and got her Masters degree from Middlesex University. For 8 years (and counting), she has been a writer, creating other brands and telling their story.
In 2017, she decided it was time to write her own story and create her own brand. Her brand of sustainable fashion— a movement that she has always been passionate about.
At first, it started with Malavika casually using leftover materials from her mother’s saris and kurtas. Rummaging through the scraps and turning the useless leftovers into table mats and hair bands. As the years passed by, her love for craft and fashion design grew into an insatiable desire to do more, and be more. This love for fabrics and clothing design gave birth Retro Rani.
"This thirst and drive to design clothes that treads on the concept of fair trade, eventually gave birth to my brand Retro Rani. My movie is a story of unbridled passion and perseverance where I play multiple roles on a daily basis. My story doesn’t quite have an ending yet, because the show has just begun :) "
Retro Rani, started off as a fashion blog, showcase all of Malavika's designs which were sketched and created by her to encourage the idea of self expression, individualism and a love for forgotten tradition. "I want to bring inventive Indian fashion funk and splash it all over the streets of Dubai."
With your venture Retro Rani, What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge with a concept like Retro Rani is getting the people of Dubai to embrace and understand the importance of sustainable fashion. It’s been more of a educative initiative than a fully functional business. I got past that hurdle by informing my customers about the intricate details of my concept, the hours spent on each fabric and the painstaking effort put into empowering Indian artisans everyday. It’s working slowly, but surely.
Why did you choose to focus on sustainable fashion?
For years now we have been consuming “fast fashion” without so much as a thought into who is making our garments and the price being paid for mass production. Huge fashion empires have slowly taken advantage of cheap labour & hazardous environmental implications so you can buy a skirt for 70% off. The profit margins are ridiculous and countless lives at stake. Sustainable fashion ensures that your clothes are not just made with fair trade in mind, but also quality fabric that isn’t killing the environment.
How would you define your design style? What do you think has shaped the way you design?
My design style is edgy and eclectic with a free spirited flair. My cultural background and Indian roots play a very large influence in my choice of designs and even the colors I pick for my creations.
While half of Malavika's lineage hails from Mangalore, the other half is from what was then called Madras. Among many things that Madras was famous for, one of it's hidden gems is cotton. Her designs use a variety of cotton fabrics - plaid, striped or checkered pattern that’s made with semi-permanent vegetable dyes known for bleeding to give it the soft, muted colors it’s known for.
As an entrepreneur, what advice would you give to young people aspiring to have something of their own one day?
Don’t give up. Ever. There will be days where you feel defeated to the point of exhaustion but the secret is to keep going and willing your dream into turning real.
Top 5 favourite designers / entrepreneurs
1. Julien Pacaud
3. Jack Ma
4. Ellen Degeneres
5. Anita Dongre
Name a mentor or someone who impacted your career and life. And how?
I don’t have a single mentor/someone who impacted my life as much as I have several people who fueled my desire to go forth with my dream of Retro Rani. They’ve all played a huge role in this during various periods of my life and i’ll forever be indebted to them. My mother will always remain my strongest support to date, having given me the courage to drop everything else in life to pursue this.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Launching my first line in 2017. Nothing can come close to that feeling of pride when you see your designs being purchased and adorned by the people of your city.
Talk about a time you failed at something or thought you did – but how it molded you in some way.
I keep failing at multiple things in everyday life. And I thank God that I do. My failures could be as small as delayed shipments to something as big as not breaking even. They’re all a pivotal part of the learning curve and much needed to eventually succeed.
A quote you live by…
“Magic always happens when you do not give up even when you want to. The universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart”
The hardest part of your job is….
Juggling multiple roles and functions every single day.
The part of the design process you love most.
Designing new textile prints. I absolutely love starting from scratch at the drawing board to sketch not only my designs, but the very prints that get hand-spun/hand-painted on the fabrics.
The part of the design process you least like.
The part that involves numbers. I hate math.
What are the next goals for Retro Rani?
The next goal would definitely be to scale up & start shipping internationally.
If there is one thing you want people to know or be inspired by from your story – what is it?
If you can spend AED 500 on one night out with diluted drinks and sub-standard food amidst a crowded bar, you can spend half of that on high-quality clothing that’s made with love and by people who truly care. it’s also about keeping coveted artistry and techniques alive in a generation that pay no attention to handmade goods.
Are there any other outlets you express creativity? How did that come about?
I have always been a creative person. Since I began my career as a writer, writing always remains an integral part of my life along with dancing, playing the piano and the occasional guitar.
What makes you happy?
Being able to sleep at night knowing I’m staying true to myself.
What is your morning routine before you start working?
Cup of tea, newspaper and hearing my dad bust out his latest vinyl purchase.
What music do you listen to when you design?
Music is probably the one thing playing in my house 24/7. It’s also because my father has been in the music industry since before I was even born. My go-to music for when I’m seeking optimal levels of creativity are Chill-step, Ambient and some Indie folk.
What is an important lesson you’ve learnt over the years as a designer / entrepreneur that you would like to share with others?
Never underestimate yourself. Not confident of your product? Sell it with sass. Not sure if it will do well? Convince people otherwise. Having spent a significant time of my career in advertising, I have learnt the importance of gauging the human psyche and exactly how to present your product to them. Just do whatever you’re doing confidently and design it like there’s no tomorrow!
The label encourages the idea of ‘up-cycling’. In many instances, the clothing is made from a pure Khadi material that was actually an old sari blouse piece which her mother no longer needed. She describes the fabrics as lightweight and comfortable.
This Dubai based designer truly believes that it is important to know that our fashion choices are impacting the world in a positive way. Retro Rani as a label is paving the way to sustainable fashion shifts every day. Because sustainable fashion matters, and where our clothing comes from matters. The fabrics are handmade from artisans in India and lovingly put into packaging made by children with special needs.
And that's a wrap!
- Written and Edited: Kamsin Mirchandani