Outside, the incessant rains may have dampened spirits, but inside the restaurant, it’s all wine and roses. Well, Prosecco and carnations to be precise. Music, laughter and casual banter are punctuated by the clinking of crystal flutes, besides the directions shouted out by the photographer and the queries of frantic assistants. Yet it seems only fitting that the energy in the room should match the effervescence of the golden- hued drink that’s flowing like the River Pactolus of King Midas.
Remarkably though, through the chaos, none of the women facing the flashes miss a single cue. If anyone knows how to get work done while having a great time, it’s this group: Nayntara Thacker, Founder of By Tara; Hina Oomer-Ahmed, Founder of Luxebox; Arpana Punjabi, Curator-in-Chief of food blog Whatmakesappyhappy; Ruchika Kothari, Founder of Shawlart; Tara Daswani, Founder of Tara Fine Jewellery; and Jayna Lakhiani, who has two luxury brands under her belt, 1976 The Clutch and Vintage Shades Cashmere.
A tête-à-tête with the ladies quickly reveals that all six fabulously successful makers of taste have much more in common than secured rungs on Mumbai’s diamond-studded social ladder. HELLO! unveils how...
HELLO!: How did you find your calling? How has your work evolved over the years?
Nayntara Thacker: When I got married and moved to Mumbai, I recognised the demand for high-end linen here. So in 2007, I started importing linen from the House of Windsor, the brand my parents manufacture in Indonesia. Conversations with buyers helped me recognise the need for a curated shopping experience — a one-stop-shop for all of one’s aesthetic needs. I started in 2018 with just a handful of brands that I loved; it’s been my constant endeavour to discover exciting new brands and support NGOs like Jai Vakeel, Helping Hands, Akanksha and Seva... My upcoming show has 72 vendors. I’m also always trying to improve the shopper’s experience. Last March, for instance, we provided a hands-free shopping service, wherein shoppers had dedicated valets carrying their bags.
Tara Daswani: I started my business two decades ago, but the exceedingly popular prêt line is just four years old. It started out with me wanting to create a special gift for a best friend. The entire line just grew from there.
Jayna Lakhiani: My love for fashion goes back to watching how brilliantly my mother Nishi would put her look together, when I was little. But it was a chance meeting with a boutique owner in Dubai, who loved my outfit, that led to my first collection in 2003 because I started supplying kaftans, coats and jackets to her store. When I moved to Mumbai about five years ago, I was approached to represent Vintage Shades, a brand of handcrafted cashmere apparel that I instantly loved. In January, I launched 1976 The Clutch, a line of clutches and handbags that I knit by hand myself. My sister Jaya Raheja and I learnt how to knit when we were very young. I always found it extremely calming.
Hina Oomer-Ahmed: While Jayna was drawn to fashion, I was a fashion stylist a few years ago. Though I wanted to apply my design aesthetic in some other creative way that also supported artisanal brands. On a whim, I put together 100 gift bags for Diwali 2016, and the idea was a hit from the get-go. For me, the best part was how much thought went into those packages. The personal touch — say, something that reflects the values of the individual giving or receiving the gift — is the difference between a good gift and an unforgettable one. A lot of clients are now mindful of ecology, as they should be, and we truly believe in gifting with purpose. So last Diwali, for instance, we introduced beej patakas, look-alike firecrackers embedded with seeds that grow into plants.
Ruchika Kothari: My family has been in the worsted yarn business for several decades. My father’s legacy, which my two sisters and I now manage, spans across both the domestic and international markets. I started manufacturing shawls from our yarns around the time my daughter was born, in 2002. It was a natural extension of something I was familiar with, and it was exciting to actually see the finished product. Shawlart is constantly evolving. We’ve introduced home accessories like cushion covers and table linen, and in 2019, we launched ‘Nunki’, our first flagship store near Marine Lines, Mumbai. Recently, we developed an eco-friendly yarn and a line of sustainable products. We also convert wool waste into blankets, which philanthropists then donate to charitable causes.
Arpana Punjabi: My business is an extension of something I’ve always enjoyed. I love food, and I love talking about it! Bizarrely, people guard their discoveries; I could never understand why. So in August 2017, I decided to highlight the home chefs I felt deserved attention. And through the pandemic, I added hordes of what I call ‘Covid babies’ to my directory. It’s a win-win: I introduce you to the best home chefs, and you get to treat your taste buds to something for which you’ll thank me. What could be nicer?
H!: What is it like to work with friends: fun or complicated?
NT: We all believe women should promote women. When we come together to work, it allows us to put that into action — we’re all there for each other. In fact, Hina and I bounce ideas off each other all the time. It’s all about information sharing and helping each other grow bigger and better.
HOA: Nayn and I are neighbours, and that friendship seamlessly grew into a working relationship when she launched By Tara. The night before her first event, we worked late, perfecting the lighting and setup. Appy’s career graph has been inspiring. I love that she’s become such an important part of the city’s food scene, and I also love having this ready access to the best catering advice whenever I need it. I always reach out to her when I need advice on homegrown brands that I can include in Luxebox.
AP: You know the saying, ‘Birds of a feather...’ One tends to flock with likeminded people. All of us are meticulous about detail; we’re all perfectionists. When you share the same work ethic, collaborating is a breeze.
H!: What’s your idea of a great holiday? Is there an outfit, an accessory or a lucky charm that you never travel without?
NT: My idea of the perfect holiday is somewhere sunny, with little connectivity, so I get to spend quality time with my husband and our kids, Naila, Naisha and Riaan. It’s important to switch off and enjoy each other’s company. My kids are my luckiest charms. They come to each and every show, and stand by me as my pillars of strength. That said, anyone who knows me will tell you I never leave home without a denim jacket. It’s embarrassing to think of how many I own! I have one in every colour, probably every brand available, and certainly every length. TD: I spend summers in London with my husband Tanveer and our son Aarin. I have a fun memory of bumping into Nayn once in London. She was right outside Selfridges and had large rollers in her hair. She actually thought she’d, somehow, go unrecognised! We spotted each other and just cracked up. I’m thrilled to be going to Australia for my cousin’s wedding later this month — that’s my favourite place in the world! My girl gang also does one trip every year. If you’re around people you can let your hair down with, any place makes for a great holiday!
JL: I couldn’t agree more. An ideal holiday, for me, means uninterrupted time with my husband Prakash and daughters Mireesha and Maanya. The destination is less important. But yes, I do have my travel essentials: a Helmut Lang denim jacket and a little, lace Alexis black dress. And my gold knitting needles never leave my sight! So much so that on a recent trip to Bali, I realised I had my kit in my handbag when I was going through airport security. I had to give up the scissors, but I was so grateful they let me keep my trusted gold needles.
RK: I love travelling, be it for work or leisure. This year, I visited Sardinia; it was amazing. For me, the best holidays are about great food, nice hotels, some lively entertainment, a little bit of sightseeing and shopping. After a bag-shopping spree in Rome a couple of years ago, I decided ‘No more’. But then I spotted a D&G brown leather saddle bag in a little boutique near Via Condotti, and I had to have it! I carried it everywhere for the longest time. This is now our money bag at all our shows, and it’s definitely a lucky charm. Shopping and activities do perk up a holiday, but what makes a trip memorable is the people you’re with. My best holidays are with my son, Madhav. During the lockdown, it was so nice to see him attend online classes with a view of the sparkling Maldivian sea before him.
H!: How would you describe your personal sense of style?
NT: I’m a blue ripped jeans and white tee kind of person. I love hoodies and caps, and I enjoy mixing high-street with a few cool brands. For instance, I might team a Massimo vest with a Zimmerman skirt and Zanotti flats, or throw a Balenciaga hoodie over a pair of Abercrombie jeans.
TD: Funky and playful. I love the sensibility of Sacai, Jacquemus, A.W.A.K.E Mode and Balenciaga. I’m not brand obsessed and prefer a ‘thrown together’ look. I love anything with a bit of personality.
JL: I’d say my style is edgy chic. To me, it’s less about what one wears and more about how they wear it. Confidence and the right attitude are important. Nothing makes me feel sexier or more feminine than a pair of wide-legged trousers teamed with a bodysuit or a white tee and my all-time favourite accessory: a jacket. I love Loewe and Chloé for their jackets, tees and trousers; Nadine Merabi’s gorgeous and glam wear; Valentino shoes; my own line of clutches; and just about everything at Massimo Dutti, Zara and Uterqüe. I love mixing it all up.
HOA: Classic, but with a touch of boho. Of late, I’ve been veering towards clean looks — a lot of whites and monotones with a pop of a bright colour. Less is definitely more!
RK: I’d pick comfort over style any day. I love to dress in natural fabrics, and I like the boho casual vibe. I’m not really devoted to any particular brand, but I love shopping everywhere I go. Whether it’s trendy Platinum in Bangkok, or Porto Cervo in Sardinia, I love it all.
AP: I’m with Hina on this. I love the timeless appeal of classic silhouettes. But I’ve come a long way from being obsessed with black — I wear a lot of colour now, especially white and pink. I love Gucci and Dior RTW. Sandro and Zara are high-street faves. And when it comes to traditional wear, I’m an Abu-Sandeep and Tamanna Punjabi Kapoor loyalist.
H!: The one piece of advice you would offer young female entrepreneurs.
NT: Work hard. Keep differentiating yourself by thinking and planning ahead. Let your heart and instinct be your guide.
TD: Success takes time, but it will come to you. Believe in your unique design ideology and create products that make you happy.
JL: Watch, listen, observe... And most importantly, be patient. It takes time to build a strong brand.
HOA: Design your own life. When you envision what elements your life should have, whether it’s the quality of your relationships or your career goals, your mind starts working towards realising those ambitions.
RK: Put your heart and soul into whatever you do. Don’t hold back and wait for things to happen... Make them happen! Experience is a great teacher, but education is a powerful aid; if you can do a specialised course, do so; it’ll help you stay ahead of the curve.
AP: Just be you! And stand up for what you truly believe in! H
Photography: Ashima Mehra; Realisation: Avantikka Kilachand; Fashion Editor: Sonam Poladia; Junior Stylist: Anushree Sardesai; Wardrobe Courtesy: Redefine; Location Courtesy: Neuma Food; Curated By: Arpana Punjabi & Purple Pistachoux Bakery
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s September 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!