Jaipur. NEHA ASTHANA MEENA, A Fashion Designer and creative director of Aagaman Couture, is one of the most talked –about names and one of Jaipur’s brightest fashion stars, but she is not about to rest on her laurels just yet !
A young 34-year-old entrepreneur turned fashion designer manages her personal and professional life with sheer excellence, pride, and poise.
Neha hails from City of Nawabs- Lucknow, where she completed her schooling from Loreto Convent, Lucknow. And then earned her Bachelor’s in Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology from All India Institute of Speech & Hearing, Mysore. After which she went to Pune to pursue her MBA degree from Symbiosis. Neha is a fashion designer by Passion and by destiny she is the co-owner and business partner of a 7-year old fine-dining restaurant called ‘Aagman Indian Restaurant’ in Georgetown, Guyana, South America, one of the highly critically acclaimed fine dining restaurants in the Caribbean.
Neha is a caring wife to a supportive husband and a loving mother to two sons. Living with her in-laws, she believes that women are highly capable of juggling marital responsibilities with big corporate dreams.
Soon after her first pregnancy, Neha started her second venture along with her brother in Guyana, an e-commerce platform by the name of “Carib Basket”, while during her second pregnancy she had to stay back in India for medical reasons.Neha’s undying passion for fashion and the fire for creativity within led her to launch her own couture unit in 2019 by the name ‘Aagaman Couture’ that specializes in LucknowiChikankari.
What makes clients fall in love with Neha’s personality are her exceptional communication skills. She really knows her way around making them feel welcomed, comfortable and valued.
Talking about how she diversified from her core field, and what prompted her to launch her own Couture brand, Neha shares, “I am a hard-core believer of yogic sciences and practice conscious living, so I believe in destiny and karma.I always wanted to be an entrepreneur and during the course of running my first business I realized almost all the businesses have the same basic principles. Unlike the ventures abroad which were mainly focused on profitability, Aagaman Couture was started more out of my passion for Lucknowi Chikankari and the business has evolved with me as I immersed myself more into it.
Adding further she says “As a Lucknowite I always had deep appreciation and love for Chikan, which enhanced greatly when I was complimented for it outside Uttar Pradesh and even abroad. However I was surprised that people had very limited awareness about this art. With this as a basis I wanted to start a venture which I was passionate about and where I could balance my business along with my two kids without compromising either of them”.
Describing her brand Aagaman Couture, Neha said, “Initially I started off as a reseller back in Jan ‘2018, where I would go to Lucknow and carefully handpick the stock, though it was hassle-free but it had its constraints in providing customer care I strived for. Subsequently I started my own workshop to circumvent some of these issues, but I was still not satisfied as by now with my exposure to other handicrafts from other states I developed similar admiration for them and I was itching to create a fusion product incorporating the beauty and finesse of these wonderful art forms, keeping Chikan my original muse as main template.
Also I felt the designs and color themes were out of sync with today’s fashion trends and I took creative liberty to use pastel shades with modern abstract embroideries and much bolder cuts and stitches to suit the sensibilities of the modern generation. The idea was not to lose the elegance and subtle old age charm of chikan, rather to enhance it by fusing with mukaish, aari, zardosi , gotapatti, bandhej, phulkari, that too customized to the highest level so that each piece is singular and unique. To materialize my dream “ Aagaman Couture” was formally inaugurated on Jun’2019.
LIVING FOR TODAY
Talking about the effect of Covid-19 on her business and future business plans, Neha says
“COVID-19 affected all businesses globally and my business also bore the brunt. As of now the studio is closed for walk-in customers and only online orders are taken.
My business had barely completed 9 months before we closed down due to COVID-19. During that period we received tremendous response from our clients in Jaipur, as well as accolades and appreciation from my peers in the fashion industry. I was delighted to receive a few offers from prominent Indian Fashion houses and export deals to the US and Guyana. Apart from these I was also contemplating opening branches in other parts of India and probably in Georgetown as well. Based on the opportunities I had before COVID-19 we were in the process of developing our internal resources to provide sustainable quality assurance, I could be proud of. However, in spite of the setback, we will resume once again when we feel our business interests will not jeopardise anybody’s safety and wellbeing. Silver lining in these troubled times is we have launched our website and are taking orders which are fulfilled by our staff working from home.”
Talking about the future vision for her brand Aagaman Couture, Neha reveals,
“As I am deeply passionate about Chikan, not because it’s the most intricate work of handicraft, rather simply because it has an emotional connect for me coming from Lucknow. Similarly, all these forms of art are part of our rich heritage and culture which are testimony to exquisite skills of our artisans and a legacy we must pass on to our children. As a restauranteur I can vouch Indian cuisine has gained much fame and patronage globally, as it deserves,but other hidden gems like our textiles and embroideries have not received the attention they should, barring a few like Pashmina or Banarasi.
These are dying artforms, steadily but surely, being replaced by machines, mainly because the artisans are getting a raw deal and have lost the pride to pass on their knowledge and skills. My dream is to reignite the pride of these individuals by providing them financial liberation and bringing forth their contribution to the national and international stage. As the popular motto is trending nowadays “Vocal for Local” is very apt, because there is a growing acceptance and appreciation of things Indian, unlike in the past, be it Yoga or Ayurveda. All it needs is the conviction to bring it before the world.
For the aspiring entrepreneurs, Neha opines “As a serial entrepreneur and mother of two toddlers, my advice will be more relevant to aspiring female entrepreneurs. Prioritize Passion over money when you choose your venture for long term holistic success, as profits will eventually follow. Balancing professional and personal life is important, but for females pregnancy and motherhood takes a toll on body and mind, market forces will keep moving during those phases, if you are passionate about what you are doing you will not be bogged down or frustrated from where you resume,as it will still give you happiness in what you are doing.
Furthermore, a passionate person does not consider his business as a chore and is always proactive to market forces rather than reactive. All Females are god gifted with the ease of multi-tasking, it’s just that they don’t prioritize their own wellbeing, take out time for yourself to nurture your body, soul and mind to be effective, proud and efficient in what you are doing. Last but not the least nobody is born perfect or with all the knowledge, things are much easier if you prepare yourself as a student rather than a master.