The fashion designer highlights her journey and the dogged pursuit of excellence that has seen her dominate her field
Philu Martins, a renowned fashion designer, is known for her excellent portrayal of designs. As a child she enjoyed the outdoors and was a tomboy. Since she was born and raised in Bombay, she always found Goa to be really fascinating whenever she visited. She states, “I enjoy the sea, beach, and trees, I often climbed coconut trees. I have even fallen down a few times, but it hasn’t prevented me from having a good time. As a result, being around nature was my first love.”
Starting out, Philu wasn’t sure if she was interested in fashion, but her father’s side of the family was into flower making. Her paternal grandfather made suits. As he lived in Bombay, he would create custom made suits for well-known actors like Rajesh Khanna and so on.
Like many other children, Philu used to play with sarees and dupattas. She was not aware that she had a liking towards fashion, but it caught her attention. When she was in college, she joined the medical field after finishing her 12th grade, but she didn’t enjoy it. She enrolled herself at the Belgaum Nehru University. Later, she discontinued her course and returned to finish her graduation in zoology. Her mother urged that she complete her master’s degree. However, Philu continued her education at Sophia’s College of Fashion Design, after that. Philu then worked with Wendell Rodricks for two years up until launching her own label in the early 2000s. Regarding her hobbies, she enjoys dancing and singing as well as reading during her free time.
Philu spoke on choosing fashion design as a career option. “As I said before, I never imagined I would pursue fashion designing because at the time, there were only three primary careers available to someone with strong academic credentials: doctor, engineer, and architect. I chose to pursue medicine because I did very well in school. Later, I understood that I did not enjoy it. I did not appreciate dissecting bodies since it made me queasy. I therefore left it. In the past, no one knew that fashion design was a job; instead, knowledge about this industry was only available through publications and newspapers, as opposed to today with the benefit of social media.”
Consequently, when she was in her final year, Wendell arrived. He had organised a massive show in Goa. She became quite interested by it and fell in love with this line of work. The Miss World and Miss Universe winners at the time, Aishwarya Rai and Sushmita Sen, had a significant impact on her decision to pursue her aspirations. Since Bombay offered greater exposure and chances than Goa, she relocated there.
Philu goes back in time and mentions the early years in this profession. She stated, “I started out by working under Wendell Rodricks and experienced a great deal of exposure to celebrities and glamour. Later, I began working alone. My son was around a year old when I first started out on my own, and managing things at the time was really challenging. Finding the ideal fabrics, accessories, etc., was tough. Along with finding the right craftspeople to work with, who were experts in the use of the equipments, had to be the biggest challenge. But somehow, over time, I was able to build my own team, and I found myself working on a lot of custom clothing.”
When a designer first graduates and wants to establish their own brand, they first create a collection, sell it off the rack, and keep it in stock at several locations because it is less stressful. In Philu’s situation, Goa being a small place, she found that people prefer to have personalised clothing, with regards to important events. So, one thing naturally led to another. Word spread that people enjoyed her work, the creativity, and how she designed clothes for people with different body types. As a result, the designs were more enhancing and would make the subjects appear lovely and graceful.
Philu mentions certain things that excite her in this field. She says, “I believe something fresh is introduced each time; New colour, fabric and style. It is also lovely to witness the design come to life in physical form during the creative process. Hence, I love what I do for a living.” There are a number of noteworthy memories in her kitty which she mentions with fondness. The most memorable might be when she made a wedding dress for Katrina Kaif for a movie. She had to take her measurements and design the gown. She was appreciated for her work and it is one of her favourite memories. There are many painful memories too, but they taught her a few things, which she does not regret.
During her tough times her family helped her a lot. Just as soon as she left Wendell Rodricks in 2000, she was preoccupied with her son and had other obligations. Philu says that she would rather quit her job and take care of her son for that reason. At that time her father-in-law had a garage and as a result, when they moved, they found the garage vacant. She sought permission from her family to start her workshop from the garage; and since then there was no looking back.
Philu started off with one machine, a table, and a few accessories that she had. Her husband gave her the first cheque of Rs.10,000 as working capital. She left for Bombay with the sum, picked up some material and created around twelve ensembles. Later she invited her friends and they bought the collection for a very low price just to see how they felt in it. That is how the whole enterprise began for her, as the word of mouth began to spread.
Philu speaks on her future plans. She would like to cut down on her work load as she spends a lot of time with clients, and would like to make less of personalised clothing. If it is a bridal dress, the price can reach `1.2 lakhs. But for something like wedding gowns, it is fine to work with a client because it is an occasion to remember. With regards to personalised clothing, she spends a lot of time meeting customers every day and designing for them. She therefore intends to create collections and market them initially throughout India. As of now she stocks her collections in numerous locations throughout Goa.
Philu shares the philosophy that keeps her going in a competitive field: “My mantra for success is firstly you have to love what you do. And secondly, you have to have to do it yourself. Like hard work. You have to put in your best effort mentally and intellectually, and give your best to whatever you do. One advice would be, don’t fear competition with others that is not even competition. When you are into a profession, the competition is with yourself. You cannot be the same person you were yesterday. You have to better yourself every day.”
Lastly, she concludes with words of advice to new and aspiring designers. “This is such a lovely industry to get into. You meet new people, you tend to help a society by making them feel good about themselves, because when they wear a creative, beautiful outfit, they definitely develop confidence and feel good. One thing to keep in mind is that we all have to be down to earth, even though one has achieved success in this field. And lastly, love whatever it is that you are doing”.