Agnimitra Paul never imagined she’d become a fashion designer. When she was in school, she’d planned to be a doctor. Yet, here she is, one of India’s best-known self-taught designers, with one store in Kolkata, one in Siliguri in North Bengal, orders from all around the country, and even exports abroad.
Sitting at her store, surrounded by clothes women all over India long for, it’s weird to hear Paul talk about any ambition but this. But the charming designer is easy to speak with, and candid.
“My father is a doctor, my mother is a teacher and I wanted to be a gynaecologist,” says Paul. “I was a very bright student; I gave my entrance exams for the medicals, was cleared for dentistry, and then decided to do an MBA from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. Then I suddenly took a short vocational course in textile and designing in college, and then I knew that this is my calling.”
She had a few qualms about her career when her parents insisted that she marry, but Paul’s husband and in-laws were very encouraging about her plans. “For five years I worked with various fashion houses, with Ritu Beri and other established designers. I never earned more than Rs 2,500 a month back in 1996, but this was my core fund for my own store,” says Paul.
Women in our country are pillars of strength, we should empower, encourage and educate them
It may not have been much in terms of cash, but Kolkata in the 1990s was not a very expensive city and in 1997, Paul was able to set up her store, named INFA.
“The people around me, my relatives and my friends, loved my designs. But they thought this was only a hobby for me; just time pass,” grins Paul. “But I knew I could actually make it big. Kolkata in the ’90s had no established designer and I was giving them fashion, fabrics and western cuts at an affordable price.”
When you step into an Agnimitra Paul store, you see clothes for the modern working woman. “My designs define the new age woman who wants to be admired for her beauty, not for her clothes,” explains Paul. “A simple touch of kajal, and a pair of jhumkas is bling enough for any of my pieces.”
Once Paul established her brand, it didn’t take long for Bollywood to call, and Tollywood, Kolkata’s film industry, followed soon after. “My first big break was designing costumes for Esha Deol for the film Koi Mere Dil Se Pooche,” says Paul. “I was also Shonal Rawat’s designer for the Femina Miss India pageant.”
Not only is Paul a designer and entrepreneur, she is also a social worker.” I do many charity events,” she says. “And I buy my handloom fabrics from the villages of Bengal where hardworking ancestral weavers still produce some of the finest fabrics in the world. I do fashion shows all over India for children NGOs. I believe in empowering the rural India.”
Given that she is also a homemaker and a mother, Paul seems to exemplify what she believes about women in India. “Women in our country are pillars of strength,” she says. “We should empower, encourage and educate them. India is changing and so is Kolkata, and I admire the new age women.”
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