Thiruvananthapuram: Thirty years ago, Sheila James, the owner of Czarina boutique (www.czarina.in) in Thiruvananthapuram, who was then living with her husband in Chennai, showed her friend a set of clothes she had designed. Impressed by the designs, her friend, herself a boutique owner, encouraged Sheila to put on display a couple of those at her
Thiruvananthapuram: Thirty years ago, Sheila James, the owner of Czarina boutique (www.czarina.in) in Thiruvananthapuram, who was then living with her husband in Chennai, showed her friend a set of clothes she had designed. Impressed by the designs, her friend, herself a boutique owner, encouraged Sheila to put on display a couple of those at her store. Since then, she is doing fashion designing with great panache, drawing the attention and applauds of connoisseurs and the fashion conscious alike. No wonder Sheila still runs the most successful boutique in the capital city.
In 1988, she set up her first exclusive designer wear studio, Bodytunes, in Thiruvananthapuram backed by 30 craftsmen who designed and stitched a wide range of fashion garments for her clients. She was also the first in the State to customize wedding dresses and introduce concept couture. The fashion conscious crowd of Thiruvananthapuram soon began flocking to her store seeking her signature touch of exclusivity and elegance, and in 2000, she expanded under her new brand name, Czarina.
“I have third generation customers here at my store. Girls who came here as children come back for selecting sarees these days,” says Sheila. She added that when she came to Thiruvananthapuram in 1988, the small but influential fashionistas in the city used to travel to the metros for shopping. Once they had Sheila to bank upon, a new culture of unique home-grown fashion started taking roots in the city.
“The biggest challenge has been client satisfaction. They come looking for the best and I have to satisfy them. Often the store will have just one piece of a particular clothing and several people may be demanding it through the Facebook page of Czarina. But for us it is always first come, first served,” says Sheila.
“Initially it was more of ‘something to do’ and soon my passion drove me to designing. And I have never lost interest in designing during all these 30 years in the industry,” she said. Her growth was organic; one design following the other and slowly they merging into a fashion ecosystem, bringing in an element of freshness and cosmopolitanism to the fashion scene of Kerala. At Bodytunes, Malayalees watched Sheila’s craftsmen weave and embroider on fabrics sourced from all over the country. When Czarina came up in 2000, the design paradigm underwent a change and the store metamorphosed into a boutique.
“Thirty years ago when I started, I built up my rapport the hard way, going to each market and each shop, walking in and out for days exploring new places in the metro textile hubs of the country. It is that strong bond I created with the craftsmen that stood me in good stead through what I may say the longest market presence of a boutique in Kerala. We have prized exclusive associations, and some of the Benarasi master weavers who supply to Czarina do not supply anywhere else in entire South India. Even boutiques in Dubai and surprisingly, Mumbai come here for a quick round of shopping,’’ adds Sheila.
The matriarch of Kerala’s boutique industry, Sheila, who has been innovating from day one, has an archive of her designs. She says people come back asking for a replacement for their sarees and salwars having her vintage designs even after several years, forcing her to dig out the frames from her art collection. “Wedding trousseau shoppers make a good bulk of our customers, so do the NRIs. The NRIs look at our designs on our Facebook page and place orders or they just walk in when they are home on holidays,’’ she said.
True to its intuitive essence, Czarina is busy setting up classy colours, prints and embroidery on the traditional Kerala Sarees for its Onam collection which will be on display from August 13. Sheila also shared that Czarina will soon take a new avatar by bringing all its ranges under one roof in its own building in the city.
Sheila has seen her brand grow from an exclusive designer brand into an ultra exclusive customized boutique with unmatched superiority. According to her, the competition in the industry is with oneself. Every designer needs to ward off the possibilities of her creations becoming monotonous. Going for innovations by staying within the range of your original creativity, one could make the business as rewarding as any other creative enterprise.