Let’s face it. Most of the time, women are not in need of “designer” clothing. We want pieces that go with our lives, our personalities and our needs. And then there are stylists who do this as a hobby, sometimes clothes, sometimes jewelry. How nice it would be to have a trained professional who can do it all, from head to toe, seamlessly and fit their clientele so they are prepared to face the day, no matter what the occasion or event. In conversation with Swapna Dhond Patel, fashion expert, stylist and the founder of Style Remixx.
AM: Hi Swapna, and welcome to the Woman Inc’s Woman of Substance series! Can you tell me a bit about your background – where you’re from and your educational qualifications?
SDP: Hey Anu, thanks for including me in your feature! I am so excited to share my journey. I currently live in beautiful Basking Ridge NJ with my husband and two kids. But I grew up in Mumbai, India and moved to Philadelphia, PA for my college education. As I like to joke, this summer I would have lived exactly half my life in the United States. I have a degree in Fashion Design from NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology) and a B.S in Fashion Merchandising from Philadelphia University (now Thomas Jefferson University).
AM: How was it learning your craft at NIFT, one of the premier fashion design schools in India?
SDP: NIFT was one of the most instrumental experiences of my life. Fashion is generally viewed as a glamorous profession. It definitely has its fun moments, but studying for a degree in design is a lot more intense than most people imagine. From studying fabric science to art history, to a semester of learning to use a sewing machine the training was rigorous.
AM: Where did design and merchandising take you? How did you come to the U.S. and what were your initial gigs?
SDP: During my years at NIFT I interned with Rallis India Ltd., which was at the time a subsidiary of TATA industries. It was an export house and I got to learn the ins and outs of product development and taking a garment from a sketch to an actual product for department stores in the U.K. After my design degree was complete, I turned down offers to work at other garment exporters and chose to further hone my skill. I pursued a degree in Fashion Merchandising at Philadelphia University. This is where I learned how large stores as well as small boutiques work. And truly what it takes for fashion to be a “business”. During these years I worked backstage at fashion shows during New York Fashion week and experienced some of the fun and glamour of the fashion world! In 2001, I was offered a prestigious internship at Macy’s Merchandising Group, the summer of my Junior year. It was 10 weeks of being in the trenches and one of my most memorable experiences. The experience was mutually beneficial and I was offered a full-time position with Macy’s in Product Development upon graduation. This was in 2001, when the economic and political climate was grim. Till date I feel blessed to have had the opportunity!
AM: How was it being a designer for some of the big department stores in the country? In addition to creation, what were your other duties?
SDP: I believe that no matter how many degrees you may have, actual learning happens when you work! I loved my job as a designer for private labels at Macy’s like Charter Club, Clubroom and Green Dog. This is where I learned how to communicate design ideas with overseas factories, how to source fabric, understand the cost basis and how it affects design. I learned what it means to be a part of a team and work on cross functioning teams – technical designers, quality control, product development and graphic design to name a few. You can be the best designer, but if you don’t have an incredible team to support you, it’s pointless! My day would include sketching new designs, researching and creating inspiration boards for every new season. Collecting fabric and trim ideas, working with antique print studios as well as new print designers to find the right graphics to develop a collection. And of course, fitting the garments on a live fit model to execute a well made, well fitted piece of clothing. Whether it is women’s, men’s or kids’ clothing the principles of design and product development remain the same. I was responsible for approval of color, fabric, trims and prints as well as fit on the collections I designed.
AM: I understand you are involved in Stella & Dot? Tell us more about this venture and how it has altered or enhanced your style quotient.
SDP: You know, motherhood changes your life and priorities! When I became a mom in 2009, it seemed scary and challenging to leave my baby with someone else. So we (my husband and I ) decided that I would quit my job to be home with my daughter. I was quite busy playing Suzy Homemaker and four years later my son was born. While I enjoyed being with my babies, I felt like something was missing in my life! In May 2014, I was invited to a Stella & Dot trunk show. I instantly fell in love with the beautiful products. I had also been reading about the CEO of Stella & Dot (Jessica Herrin) in Inc. and Forbes magazine. I was fascinated by her and her journey. The product was fabulous and the risk and investment were super low! So I decided to give it a shot. Mind you, before I discovered Stella & Dot, I had tried my hand at 4 other business ideas. But the amount of time and resources each took did not translate to profits. So when I saw that I could launch a business that had a mission I believed in, a product I loved for under $200, it was a no-brainer to me! I would say Stella & dot has altered my life quotient. I am a more confident, poised and happier person because of my Stella & Dot journey! I have met many incredible women, gone on fantastic trips and developed skills that I would not have in my life as a stay at home mom.
AM: Describe yourself in a few words/sentences. What are your most salient qualities?
SDP: I am creative, resourceful and resilient. I have a can-do attitude and a very positive outlook on life. I am always on the lookout for new ways to improve myself and my skills.
AM: Who would you say, was/is your biggest influence and in what way did he/she/they shape you as a person, and as a designer?
SDP: My parents are my biggest influence and after that I would say my husband and my kids. They are always putting up with all my shenanigans – the successes and the downfalls of my experiments! But my parents have never accepted quitting or failure. They have always set high expectations for us. And this has made me work very hard and strive for the best! I am always reading and have many different sources of external inspiration. So I cannot say I have just one hero. As far as designers go, I think the era of real designers has ended! The classics like Valentino and Dior are artists the likes of which are non-existent in today’s times. Fashion is a really different world today than it was 100, 50 and even 25 years ago.
AM: How did Style Remixx come about? What is your motto and how do you achieve it?
SDP: In my 5 years of being a Stella & Dot stylist, one of my mentors Mallika Malhotra asked me how I would distinguish myself from other Stella & Dot stylists. This set me on a path of styling not just jewelry, but offering style tips for regular women like myself. How to use what you already have in your wardrobe and take it from drab to fab by adding simple, stylish touches. As a mom of young kids, I am often on a budget while shopping. Plus I don’t want to blow all my money on clothes, shoes and accessories. I would rather spend it on experiences and create memories. But I do want to look and feel confident and amazing. This is what I want to create for all women. I want to help them look and feel their best everyday. I want to show everyone that when your outside looks good, your inside feels better. That in turn has a snowball effect on what you achieve in your day and in your life! In addition, I had become the GO TO person for my friends, family and clients for style advice- “What should I wear to my interview?” , “Which accessories should I wear with this dress?”, “Which shoes look better?” “I need a business casual wardrobe, what should I add?”. So, I saw that there was an opportunity to serve many women with my experience and expertise. Thus, Style Remixx was born.
AM: Who are your clients, and what kind of services do you provide for them?
SDP: My clients are mostly busy and very successful female entrepreneurs. They recognize the role of their wardrobe elevating their success and complementing their business and personal brand. I offer a few different services – but the most popular packages are the ones that offer a very high level of service and style SOS. My clients love the personal service I offer – where I do bulk of the work and they have complete trust in the style advice and decisions I make on their behalf.
AM: Have you been a mentor for other women like yourself, who forge their own career paths? How has the experience been?
SDP: Mentoring is one of the most humbling and gratifying experiences of my life. I love coaching other women to help achieve their personal and professional goals. It is all about mindset and that is what we all need to work on the most. Being a leader also requires me to walk the walk and challenge myself all the time. I have to work on setting hard goals and crushing them for my team to see. But also sometimes I fail and that’s important for them to see as well.
AM: Name a few of your favorite designers, and why you like them.
SDP: Tracy Reese and Rebecca Taylor are my current favorites. I love their use of color, print and pattern. Diane Von Furstenberg is another iconic designer who put the “designer” in everyday fashion. Amongst the classic red carpet style- Valentino, Dior and Oscar De La Renta will remain iconic designers.
AM: How would you describe your own personal style?
SDP: Easy to wear and care, lots of bold color and pattern. Finished with accessories that are like the sprinkles on a cupcake.
AM: Name 3 books/movies that have influenced your growth as a person and a stylist.
SDP: My top 3 favorite books are – Find your extraordinary (Jessica Herrin), You are a badass (Jen Sincero) and Building a Brandstory (Donald Miller).
I do not watch a lot of TV or movies except for the occasional shows to seek inspiration for my clients. From a styling point of view my all time favorite, well-styled show is Sex and the City. It shows you how well style can differentiate and define four completely different personalities.
AM: How do you keep yourself abreast on the workings in the fashion world? Do you attend a lot of shows in the area?
SDP: Regularly browsing stores for seasonal trends, keeping on top of shows in the area, and daily social media updates is how I stay informed. But I will tell you that I find my inspiration in my clients. Every person is unique, and how I style them is intuitive and not based on whatever the current fad is. Once I have meditated on each person, I seek out inspiration in media to create vision boards for each individual. This is how I bring out each persons individuality.
AM: Tell us your future plans and where you see Style Remixx going.
SDP: Style Remixx is in its infancy and the world is my oyster! I aim to serve and style the current and future generation of boss babes who want to create a strong personal brand. These are women who understand that their appearance has to be congruent with the badass, sheroes that they are on the inside!
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us Swapna, and wish you all the best in your styling career!
Swapna can be found on instagram at @style.remixx