Papa Don’t Preach: The Designer Behind the Fashion Power House

Papa Don’t Preach, a brand that’s made waves in the fashion industry over the last few years, is known to make heads turn with each one of its designs — Spidey Bags, Diva Jumpsuits, or glass beaded cholis anyone?

Everyone from the likes of Mindy Kaling and modern-day brides has dawned a Papa Don’t Preach piece, and the audience has relished the uniqueness behind the clothing, accessories, and even each of the campaigns the company puts out.

So, who has the brains behind the magic? It’s none other than designer and Creative Director Shubhika Sharma, and Brown Girl Magazine had the pleasure of chatting with her in a one-on-one exchange about her journey, the designs, and more!

Here’s what she had to say:

Shubhika, how did you get into the fashion industry?

I think the way to get into the fashion industry is to do a fashion week here — an Indian Fashion Week — and at that time it was Lakme Fashion week. But I didn’t get into it that way. When I launched my brand there was not so much of Instagram, there was Facebook at that point. But over the next 1-2 years Instagram really came to the forefront and I think it really helped me connect with a lot of my initial client base. And I still can never discount the importance of that. Especially in a country like India where your competition isn’t just other designers but it’s also your local tailors and masters. It’s just so accessible in India to buy your fabric and get something made. So you’re competing at so many levels in terms of design and price point, and things like that.

I still don’t think that there’s an ‘in’ into the fashion industry. I still don’t think I have an insider. I just really loved what I did.

I think this was the only thing I really wanted to do. My ultimate vision is to have a really inclusive, experience-driven brand that becomes a beauty and lifestyle brand eventually. So I just did it with passion, resilience, [and] persistence.

I did three seasons at Fashion Week and that definitely helped a lot to meet buyers and for you to get that kind of informal certification from buyers to have that trust that you are somebody who will be able to produce your high-quality pieces with consistency. So I think Fashion Week does that, but beyond the three seasons, I think it has to be Instagram and a really strong client-service-driven format of the business that led to the word of mouth, and high investment in how we communicate on Instagram. We are conversational, we engage with the audience, and it’s very relevant and new-age. It’s not just a display lookbook, it’s more ‘come and experience our brand with us and let’s build it together,’ and I think Instagram has been very instrumental in helping us be recognized as a fashion brand.

Social media definitely has the power to bring forward the mastermind in talented designers like yourself. And speaking of designs, what’s a favorite Papa Don’t Preach piece?

The thing is, as soon as I make a collection or the piece is made, I lose all sense of attachment to it because I’m already wanting to work on the next one and the next idea. So I don’t have any favorites but I am extremely proud that we are the first Indian designer house to manufacture a stiletto that’s extremely comfortable, and it’s high on craft because it’s hand-embroidered and made using vegan material. So I feel really proud of that.

I think we also hit it with our Spidey Bags — they’re like these really cute circular mini bags, more like accessories.

So these innovations are really dear to me. But I don’t get attached to any piece, it just doesn’t stay with me, and I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

That’s an interesting take. It’s all about looking forward! What does fashion mean to you?

I actually feel very lucky that I did not study fashion for four years and then went on to do a Master’s in fashion, so my view on what fashion is is very different from what I see when interviewing design students and associates. A lot of their inspiration is drawn from other designers, other beautiful clothes, and movie costumes. I feel like that just boxes you in.

My idea of fashion is that anything that sits on your body can be considered fashion. For me it’s not gowns, lehengas, or any silhouette, it’s about something that makes you instantly curious and excited about having that on you.

For me fashion is like an escape, it’s like a Superman costume. You wear it to feel different for a day, or more yourself, and tomorrow you can feel like somebody else completely.

I personally don’t have one sense of style. I can be wearing a cotton suit one day, and the next day I could be in sneakers and pants, and the next day I can be really girly-girl in a skirt and crop top. I don’t get restricted by one sense of style.

Fashion is aything that gives you an outlet and escape into a new or more complete experience of yourself, or whatever you want your reality to be in that present moment. At that moment that you put something on, what you feel like, and who you feel like, is completely up to you and your interaction with that [piece]. It just has to sit on your body, that’s the only rule.

Absolutely! And it feels like each one of your experiences is catered to the client. But is there something you feel is missing in the industry that you want to address? Can you talk about a void in the fashion industry which you want to fill with your work?

I think the void that I feel, or rather something that really bores me is, peoples’ want to follow trends so religiously, and I think that trickle-down effect can be quickly seen in all the high-street West stores. You can now walk into a Zara and it no longer looks different from an H&M or a TopShop, or any other streetwear brand because everybody is so trend-driven.

Everyone is so trend-driven and keen on getting the right color, fit, and look to sell more and more. I think it’s this focus on JUST wanting to sell — and don’t get me wrong, I absolutely understand the importance of your piece being commercial and saleable. But everything is looking like a clone of the other.

I want people not to let go of that sense of individuality when they’re designing. I don’t want people to lose that kind of bravado, excitement, or enthusiasm, or even the ability to say ‘look at me, this is who I am, and this is how I design; come and try it on and I can make you feel like something else for a day.’

I think that magic, that mystery, that newness, and freshness is definitely gone, and I think because of social media everybody is so into fast fashion and so on-trend that that ability to really have the patience to appreciate somebody’s work, or that ability to save up your money to buy something of beauty — even if it’s one piece you buy in a year — is gone.

I don’t think it’s the industry’s fault, it’s also the consumer’s fault. It’s like a loop we’re stuck in. I hope that we’re able to snap out of it, and I hope that we’re able to bring the patience to save up and buy something of beauty, authentic[ity], and original[ity].

And now…a festive fashion tip for all the upcoming shaadis!

My festive tip is: Don’t be afraid to stand out and don’t try to blend in. Again, that’s kinda like don’t really follow trends. So when people ask me during my interviews, ‘What do you think is the color of the season?’ or, ‘What do you think is the trend for the season,’ I never have an answer because I don’t design or dress from the point of view. So, I don’t know how to address that.

This is the only time when you can really go all out and stand out, so just have fun and don’t be afraid to play with colors. Don’t be afraid to be experimental. ‘Cause you know, who wants to be a wallflower?

You should use fashion to really have fun and just be yourself!

Lastly, a fashion faux-pas you advise against.

The fashion faux-pas IS getting stuck in trends and looking like a clone.

I think the other one would be to wear the wrong shoe which is not comfortable. I think an uncomfortable walk, no matter what you’re wearing, is really a letdown. It steals you of your thunder. Just get really comfortable shoes, even if they’re stilettoes — maybe by Papa Don’t Preach!

The second is, and this is an issue that we face at Papa Don’t Preach, that people just assume that because there’s so much color and fun in the outfits, that their makeup and their hair needs to be that colorful and that OTT! It just becomes costume-y.

I think there’s people who don’t understand the difference between a designer and a stylist; or, wearing a designer outfit versus styling is a major faux-pas. Styling is so crucial. So even if you’re buying something that’s so OTT, I think going with clean slick hair or a dewy face, or just a nude lip is really important, especially with Papa Don’t Preach. It’s all about getting the balance right. So I think the major faux-pas [here] would be not knowing how to style your outfits and not knowing how to get the balance in the styling of the final look.

There you have it, an exclusive chat with Papa Don’t Preach and its very own Shubhika! Tune in to our Instagram LIVE chat tomorrow at 9 a.m. EST, 7:30 p.m. IST, to hear Shubhika talk more about wedding styling tips and their latest drop!

By Sandeep Panesar

Sandeep Panesar is an editor, and freelance writer, based out of Toronto. She enjoys everything from the holiday season to … Read more ›