Meet Rashmi Kumari. A fascinating designer who has no airs of being a top designer. Her sassy, kick-ass style is so refreshing. It was lovely to meet her and talk to her. Never have I met someone so real. No masks with this ball of energy. Her collection is a label to reckon with and if looks could kill, I would be dead by now. Her natural beauty and real smile which radiates to her twinkling eyes can charm any hard nut. The best of all is that she does that effortlessly and is not even trying. For me it was a lesson to meet her and enjoy her lovely hospitality. I think she met me in her home clothes and it was lovely to see the real Rashmi Kumari, not just the fashionista we all see, not the socialite who everyone wants to go out with, but the real deal who could easily be any ones fabulous mentor – but the sad part is, does she want to?

1. Tell me about yourself, your brand info.

“The brand is called C’est Moi. Yes I am an integral part of the brand, the brand sells because of me and it started in Dubai about 7 years ago when I moved from New York. We were very fortunate I guess and lucky that I came at a time when there was not so much accessibility and overflow of designers in the market and I was lucky we got into major stores like Bloomingdales and Harvey Nichols.”

2. Why the name?

“C’est Moi, means “It’s me” in French. Why the name? Because literally when a woman wears a C’est Moi piece, it feels like it’s actually been made especially for her, so therefore the name C’est Moi and the other thing, why I think we were such a big success was because ours was probably the only couture brand that catered to full size women. It wasn’t meant for zero size women. It was for women with curves, with a full size body. I think that was a huge gap in the market and C’est Moi managed to fill that and it’s affordable couture. These are couture pieces but they’re affordable.”

3. What is the range like?

“Bloomingdales retails it from anywhere between 6000 to about 18000 dirhams which is a pretty big thing because I do not know of any other ‘Indian’ designer who sells in that category in international stores. And these are not bridal wear, these are still ready to wear cocktail wear, which is a pretty huge thing and we are placed exactly where other international brands are kept so yes for me it’s a big achievement.”

4. Do you have more of Indian touches to the international designs?

“Beading is always Indian, but the patterns are mostly provided by the company. The patterns are not done by us. We did fully factoried manufacturing. So the fabric is ours, the beading is ours, the artwork is ours but they give us the patterns. They provide paper patterns and then we develop on that. So, the swatch was ours and the manufacturing was ours.”

5. What did you do in New York?

“Fashion. When I came to Dubai, I started my own label. Before that also I’ve been in the fashion industry for the last 10-15 years. I’ve worked for people like Armani, Alice Temperley, Matthew Williamson, almost all the big labels.”

6. So you worked for them as a designer?

“No, as a manufacturer. We had factories in Delhi, India, solely owned by me and I had people working under me. We used to do fully factoried garments for them. We’d manufacture for all these big names. So C’est Moi is just something that I started when I moved to Dubai.”

7. How did you start?

“I used to live in New York for about 24 years. I’ve been in the right place, at the right time. We started off doing bags for a designer called Samoto, then we started out doing accessories like scarves. Then one thing led to another. New York is not such a big town and again at that point, 15 years ago there were not too many Indians who were doing this so it was very easy to get into the market.”

8. What was your biggest challenge at that time?

“Nothing. It was a walk in the park at that time“.

9. What about Quality control?

“All those things are easy. For Indians, our mentality is such that we know how to fit the budget, but then at that time because we were dealing with expensive brands, the prices that we were being paid were very handsome. So we could afford to factor in extravagances like that. We could reject ten pieces and then pass the eleventh piece. But over the years we understood that that’s not how it’s going to work. We just need to do our work in a more stringent sort of fashion and then it just became a habit.”

10. You were in New York and your factory was in Delhi, so how did you control it?

“I think I was smart enough to do this – I made it work in a profit sharing structure, so we had a lot of very young kids who would work for us, they were like 20, 21, 22 – just finished college, I made them all my partners.”

11. So you still work with the factory?

“No. Once I had my kids, I stopped doing it.” “Now I pretty much only do C’est Moi. That’s my baby” she said with a sweet smile.

12. Where does C’est Moi get produced?

“Everything is from India. Delhi. Bombay. Whichever factories I choose to work with.”

13. So you work with other factories?

Yes, I work with other factories.

14. But you know the ins and outs, so that’s a benefit right?

“It doesn’t matter. You know there is so much of profit margin that if somebody wants to make money, they’re welcome to cheat me. Welcome to make money.  That’s the only way you can be successful. You can’t be successful thinking that you’ll save two rupees here and ten rupees there; you can’t do business like that.

15. So do you travel a lot?

“Yes, at least once every three to four months I have to go back before a big collection comes. See luckily, in Dubai it’s not that much of hard work because there aren’t four collections. It’s not the international market, its only two seasons that we do. We do Spring-Summer, we do Autumn-Winter. So you do forty-forty pieces and start the business.”

16. What is your educational background, did you study designing?

Very basic education, 12th pass. I went to F.I.T. when I was in New York. I left home when I was 16, I moved to New York and went to F.I.T. I come from a middle class family so as and when we could afford it, I would go back to F.I.T. and do some courses, but none of that is important in life.

Basically street knowledge, you’re going to learn working for people. That’s going to help you through. None of all this fashion designing – NIFT and F.I.T.

If you have the money, if you have the time, please go ahead and do it otherwise its just knowledge that you have to have. It’s an inherent thing, you either have it or you don’t.

17. How was your childhood?

Childhood was like any other childhood. We lived in Tea Gardens. We were sent to hostels. We went to Welhams. And then my parents moved to Delhi during the Asian Games, and then I went to a school called Airforce Bal Bharti which to me was the defining moment of my life. I think it made me who I am. It was this really mid-level public school. Because Welhams is this very very fancy boarding school with the richest people from all over the world coming there. Airforce Bal Bharti just did it for me, made me who I am, so that was an amazing experience.

18. How many siblings?

Two. I have a sister who is also in the fashion business. She lives in New York. She is 15 months older than me.

What she does is also very interesting. Her’s is a very niche business. So if we would manufacture Armani, we wouldn’t do Black Label. Black Label is the highest end of Armani where each gown is for like 50,000 dollars to 80,000 dollars. So what Mrinalini does is, she only manufactures for the niche. So she works for Valentino, but only Valentino Haute Couture. She works for Armani but Armani Haute Couture. So it’s a similar thing but very very high end.

19. When did you actually start designing? When did it hit you that you could be a fashion designer?

When I was 16, when I left India, the moment I reached New York, I knew this is what I want to do. So I started working in Broadway. I knew I wanted to go to design school from a very early age and I wanted to do something in fashion.

20. What was your first achievement when you reached the US? What made you feel like “Ya. I’ve made my mark”?

Nothing. At that point there was no making your mark, it was more of survival. Every day life was on a day-to-day basis. We would do two to three jobs at a time. Like I said, we come from a very middle class family and we din’t have that kind of money.

So every day was a learning process. I started working in the garment district that was a big thing for me. By the time I was 17 or 18, I started sketching for them, and it was a huge achievement when people started buying some of those clothes, but I did that for a year. Then I left, came back to India for some time. It was a very gypsy, very bohemian sort of a lifestyle.

21. How was your nature that time?

I was always very street smart. To survive in New York City at that point you had to be very-very street smart. That time was very dangerous not like how NY is today. And I was blessed. I had the right people in my life. I met the right people. We worked in restaurants. I mean you did everything, you needed to do, to kind of live in that city. It was good.

I mean, the actual working process only started in 1999. 2000 is when the actual structured business started. I opened a company called Rustic India and we started doing bags and accessories. Then gradually it just went higher and higher till we started working with Armani. By the end of it I was pretty much working for every big designer anywhere in the world.

22. Have you written an autobiography?

No. I have no vanity. I have no ego. For me it’s just being in the right place at the right time.
Now I don’t tell anyone to come into this business because nothing can be done now, there is too much competition and very deep pockets. Every bored person is making clothes right now. Go on Instagram and see you will see all the top families are doing garments and with that kind of money there is no way you can compete with most of them.

23. What inspires you to come up with a design. Is it an image in your mind?

No. No. Nothing. I’m a very very commercial person. Why I think I’m so successful, pretty much the biggest name out here is because I’m very commercial. I would be lying if I told you I go to travel in the Greek Mountains for inspiration.

24. Is your mom proud of you?

I’m sure she is.

25. Do people inspire you?

No. I go to the internet. I see what’s selling. I’m just very commercial and I instinctively have the knack of knowing what is going to sell and I do that. I have no desire to know how my pieces are going to look on the ramp. Are they going to look fabulous? Nothing. I know people have put in a lot of trust in me and I need to deliver that. For somebody like Bloomingdales and Al Tayers, I’ve been with them from the day they started and there is no other because in these kind of companies, you come in – you go out, nobody is there consistently for that period of time because you have to have a huge sell through. I do about a million bucks for them every year, my sell through is like 82 %. I can’t afford to say “Oh My God, I have to be creative and I have to do these fabulous things.” No. I have to do things that women of all sizes can wear. So there is not that much of creativity. I can’t do halters, I can’t do these very sexy things. I have to do things which the Arabs will buy, the Russians will buy, which everybody will basically buy; all full size women.

26. Can anyone design?

“Not at all!” A clear statement made.

It has to be an intrinsic, instinctive sort of thing. Yes you can think anyone can think as designers but it has to be commercial. It’s not meant for everyone. It takes a lot. You may buy my dress because you’re a friend of mine but a random stranger picking up something for 10,000-12000 dirhams is a huge deal. That’s what designing is all about.

This is a little village called Dubai. We can all become famous in this little village but you have to be accepted by an international audience. People have to be able to pay 2-3000 dollars for your dress. I think that to me is when you’ve arrived as a designer.

27. How do you build your brand?

Word of mouth. I wear my own clothes. I think that is very very important because Dubai doesn’t really have a structured industry. That’s what we really desperately lack. Now we’re starting D3 but even that, I don’t know how structured it’s going to be.

For fashion designers whether it’s an Aiisha Ramadan or an Ayesha Depala, me or Essa whatever it is. We’re just doing it on our own, we’re struggling on our own. What we need is like a fashion designing council or something like that who can take us under their wing and then help us to build the brand because there is no structured industry. It’s not like I can go to an agency and say this is me now you take me and now you do my PR and you do my marketing. Everything has to be done by us. Yes we can hire a PR agency but there’s only that much we can do basically it’s you, yourself for yourself.

So Aiisha Ramadan is the brand and the brand is Aiisha Ramadan. Rashmi Kumari is C’est Moi and C’est Moi is Rashmi Kumari. It’s one and the same bracket. You will never be able to be successful if you say listen I make the most beautiful clothes but I’m going to be media shy. You have to completely flaunt yourself out because that’s how you’re going to sell. There is no difference between you and your brand because there’s no structured industry where you could hire an agency and say you do the marketing.

In India it doesn’t matter. But this is a little village with a developing industry. Everybody needs to know each other. I think why I’ve done so well is because most of the locals feel like this is a girl who lives here so it’s a local talent. Arabs have this thing about helping people who are from Dubai so like Saks Fifth Avenue has approached me and the main reason for them approaching me right now is because I am somebody who lives here, I’m a local designer. So they feel I know what the local sensibilities are. I can make Kaftaans for them, I can do what they really want.