How did she do that? New Zealand-based Shibani Shetty on making it on the global fashion stage

6 November 2019
By Fashion Quarterly

She’s dressed some of India and Sri Lanka’s biggest movie stars, but Auckland-based Shibani Shetty is only just getting started.

Inspired by the international runways, from Milan to Mumbai, Mission Bay-based Shibani looked to the international fashion community to launch her contemporary fashion label Tutla.

A software engineer by trade, the designer has shown how making a remarkable first fashion impression can come down to social media impressions. Her tactile and draped designs (some inspired by the saree) have been seen on influential actors Radhika Apte (3 million Instagram followers), Shruti Hassan (12 million) and Jacqueline Fernandez (34 million, and counting).

While she celebrates being part of a popular culture moment, for Shibani being a fashion designer is all about the work behind-the-scenes. “It brings me more happiness than doing anything else in the world,” she says of creating Tutla collections.

We asked Shibani about the brand’s progress and plans for the future:

What inspired you to start your own fashion label?
As a little girl, I would love playing dress ups on my little sister, and by the time I was in college, I used to raid my mum’s wardrobe for beautiful silk sarees and take them to dressmakers and upcycle them to beautiful outfits. Soon I was making clothes for friends and family and I was constantly being asked where I got my clothes from and that gave me the drive to start thinking about launching my own label. I also took a long break from my career when I had my daughter, it gave me a lot of time to reflect on my career path or let’s say I had plenty of time to dream.

What do you want to achieve with Tutla?
I think my goal has always been to make fun, playful, beautiful clothes. Easy to wear but a different offering than what’s on the high streets. Some of my designs have a drape-like aesthetic to it and I think that comes from my Indian roots-inspired from the saree. So the general aesthetic around my clothes is usually simple cuts with a little bit of drama… The perfect combination of texture, quality and affordability are what I think makes Tutla unique.


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What does a typical working day look like for you?
I still have a day job so I usually start my day very early. I wake up around 5.00 am, I squeeze in a 30–40 minute work out at home, followed by the usual morning rush like filling lunch boxes etc. I am at work by 6.30am most days. I pick my daughter up from school and some days I do a quick run to the local fabric store looking out for new fabrics and inspirations. Some evenings I am designing or researching on trends and silhouettes for the new collection followed by checking customer emails and orders – getting that organised. Dinner is with my family and some screen time before I hit the bed!

What do you love most about working in fashion?
I find it empowering to see people wearing my clothes, plus seeing how great they feel in my designs is so rewarding. I get to do what I love doing the most.

What is your biggest career accomplishment or a moment you’re most proud of?
The biggest accomplishment has to be when Radhika Apte wore our brocade pantsuit at the red carpet of TIIF (Toronto international Festival). She has 3 million followers on Instagram and is extremely famous in India. She was representing India at a global platform and that’s what I aspire for my brand to become global.


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How did some of the world’s biggest stars start to wear your designs?
It’s definitely rewarding, acknowledging and drives me to do keep going. I was in India doing our photoshoot at the time and someone suggested I try sending some clothes to Bollywood stylists. One thing led to another and we had our first breakthrough with Radhika Apte wearing it at the TIFF.

What are some challenges you have faced or had to overcome?
I think the hardest part was when I finally decided to launch the label getting it out there and getting people to believe in the label was hard you put in a lot of effort into it and you don’t see things working as expected initially and that is the hardest.

Is there anything you wish you knew when you started your label?
As a new label, you are learning every day, so I don’t know if I could have done anything differently.

What motivates you?
For a very long time, I have had to work my 9-5 and sacrifice my dream of fashion design. I’m working very hard and have a great team around me – all so we can get Tutla off the ground. My 7-year-old daughter motivates me every day she sees all the hard work I put in, she usually accompanies me to all my shoots, and my fabric hunting trips – she was even my date to New Zealand Fashion Weekend! She does beautiful fashion sketches and cards for me. She even made a beautiful card for me on my media day wishing me luck.


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Do you have a motto you try to live by?
One thing I constantly tell myself is not to take failures too seriously, to learn from them and to keep trying.

What is the best advice you have been given?
The one piece of advice that my mum gave me and my sister growing up, was that it was important that we become very independent, it was okay to fail but never give up. At the time I was sick of that piece of advice but reflecting back now, I think that it has helped me reach this far.

In another lifetime, what would you want to be when you grow up?
I think I see myself as an artist in another lifetime.

How do you relax when away from your work?
Away from work I love to spend time with my family go for walks by the beach, I enjoy cooking so I spend time cooking for my family and catching up with my friends whenever I can find the time to.


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Who do you most admire in your industry?
I think my most admired designer/label would be Stolen Girlfriends Club. I love their story, I love how they made it in the industry creating a revolution, maybe I resonate with their story.

Who do you turn to when the going gets tough?
The person who has been my rock and the one person who I always turn to on a bad day is my husband. He has supported me more ways than I could imagine and believed in my dream more than I could ever believe in it.

When did you last act fearlessly?
The most fearless thing I have done is to take the plunge into pursuing my dream and launching my label when the most obvious and easiest option ahead of me was to pursue my growing career in IT.

You have already achieved so much, but what’s next for you?
I think I have a long way to go, I aspire for Tutla to be a favourite brand locally and globally.


Interview: Jessica-Belle Greer
Photos: Supplied

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