Harshita Gupta on her Journey from Content Creation to Entrepreneurship with Fashion Label Chikankari Hues

A multifaceted artiste, who started her journey as a radio jockey and became a comedy content creator, Harshita Gupta has bigger dreams. In May 2024, she launched her very own clothing line with husband Shrey Chhabra, Chikankari Hues, that strengthens her roots in Lucknow.

Srushti Pathak
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Harshita Gupta

From making us laugh with her single daughter and father ke conversation videos to winning the Cosmopolitan Comic of the Year in 2023, Harshita Gupta has been making waves. Today, she has wowed her audience by launching her own fashion label, Chikankari Hues.

Harshita was a radio jockey but then in 2016 -2017, a digital wave came. She was asked to create videos which she was hesitant about. What started out with a mandate from her boss, led to her hitting 1 million followers on Instagram in a few years. She did take over the world with her content but has stayed to her roots in Lucknow. And her love for fashion and Chikankari. In May 2024, she launched her very own fashion line producing India’s GI tagged heritage with Chikankari Hues.

To know more about her journey from being a content creator to entrepreneur, Srushti Pathak spoke to Harshita Gupta and below is the excerpt of the same. 

From making relatable content to stepping into the world of entrepreneurship, what led you to launch your own fashion label? 

I think I was always interested in fashion. After 12th standard, I gave all the fashion exams like NIFT, FDDI, Symbiosis, Pearl. NIFT used to be my dream college. However I did not qualify and cried a lot. So I used to feel like, you know, it's the end of the world and maybe I'll never be able to do it. But honestly, I moved on and I did journalism and mass communication. Then I went to radio and then content. Somewhere I lost touch with fashion, and that was something I wanted to do at one point in my life. 

It was when I told my husband Shrey that I want to do something with Chikankari as I selected my wedding lehenga that the decision was made. I come from a business family and so I have inherited those skill sets.

Your stunning red wedding lehenga was Chikankari. What’s the story behind it?

Because I'm from Lucknow, I have always loved Chikankari on another level. I obviously wore Chikankari for my wedding. So you can imagine how much I love Chikankari. So I think that lehenga was the calling. I saw the work, I realised how expertly it had been created and loved its sheer beauty.

Honestly, I think all wedding lehengas look the same. I wanted to wear something different and I wanted to wear red, which was clichéd. Because, for me, red is the colour of the bride. When I experimented with my Chikankari lehenga, I had it made from scratch. I witnessed the choosing of the fabric and then it being dyed, then it would be embellished. So I was a little worried if it would match what I was dreaming of. But when I saw it, I said that it was such a beautiful artwork, why don’t people wear it for their wedding! Though most people have a set choice of lehengas that we have all seen, I was ready to experiment with Chikankari. 

Chikankari is Lucknow and Lucknow is Chikankari. How are you differentiating your brand from the competition?

Everyone out there that’s creating Chikankari gives off ‘Salona Sa Sajan’ vibes. Chikankari brands have put their marketing for Chikankari in a box of ‘traditional femininity’. My launch video was nothing like it. I paired Chikankari with leather boots, belts and sunglasses. I want women to feel hot even in Indian attire. Why should I feel very soft and ultra feminine when wearing Indian clothes when I don’t resonate with that thought?

I want women to feel very confident even when they are wearing Indian attire. This is something I’ve wanted to achieve with my brand and it will take time but it will happen for sure. Such are the designs we are launching really soon, so I would say just wait for it. We are experimenting with Chikankari on another level.

What is the best business/financial decision you made with Chikankari Hues?

The branding and strategies making women feel confident even in Indian attire is key. Secondly, I learnt a lot when I was shooting for my brand. I think the best thing that’s happened to Chikankari Hues is the vibe. More than a garment, Chikankari Hues is a vibe.

Why did you choose to work with your partner? What are the things you both bring to the table for the business? Do you think it’s harder or easier to work with your partner? 

It’s very easy. Shrey has been my rock solid support in this. I am a creator but I am a technically challenged person. And I am not at all ashamed of it. Websites, accounts, numbers are all a very different ball game. Shrey has been doing a phenomenal job when it comes to that. I am handling the forefront, everything in front of the camera. I experiment with the garments, styling the products and this is where I use my skills. Marketing the brand and portraying Chikankari in front of the world is something I take care of. And all of the technical aspects, and everything that’s boring for me, Shrey handles that. That’s a solid balance we both have managed to achieve. And I like working with him.

What are some tips you’d give to couplepreneurs who work together?

When you become life partners to business partners, there’s no going back. In such situations, the amount of time you spend together is much more than the average couple. Plus, you get to know so much about each other and your partner’s working patterns.We both are workaholics, we both are hustlers. The fact that we both love working is our mutual ground that makes it smooth. If one of us was lacking that zeal, then it would have created a clash. Since our working styles and patterns are so similar, it’s more fun. And working with your partner means you have a shoulder to cry on. Business means there will be days when you question things. The Chikankari industry is raw. Here, you have to deal with all kinds of people, including some who may lack finesse. You are dealing with so many channels that you are bound to screw up. And it happens in any business venture, even my father who has been in the business sector for so long, has dealt with it. Businesses witness screw ups, it’s how you handle it that makes a difference. The Chikankari market is really unorganised. There are so many layers to it that you truly need support.

Are you looking for funding/have acquired investment/intend to bootstrap your business?

I am not looking for funding. It is going to be a self-funded project for life. I am not looking for funders and I don’t want funding.

What does the real Chikankari market look like?

While I was shooting for Chikankari Hues, I went to those places and the dhobi ghat that are a part of this process. Chikankari has to go through 5 tests. It’s not as simple as the fabric exists, you wear it and it’s done. It has 5 steps involved in that process which I witnessed firsthand. The very first step is chapai which happens right after you buy the fabric. It takes such skill, time and effort yet no chaapa falls incorrectly. These artisans are so well-trained and have been doing this work for decades. 4 chaapas fall in a straight line so seamlessly - now this is art. 

Then the fabric goes for kadhai which happens in villages on the outskirts of Lucknow. Here, mostly women engage in kadhai work. They have centres where they work on Chikankari from 10 am to 7 pm. They have a trainer as well who teaches them kadhai and they do around 35 to 37 centres for Chikankari. Murri, Ghas Patti, Hool, Phanda are some of the stitches done on Chikankari pieces. 

The next step happens at the Dhobi Ghat. These dhobis have been working for so many years. They use that special chapai ink that’s removed skillfully and then the fabric goes for washing. It’s a long process.

How do you intend to scale up/expand your business in the next 5 years?

All these rural women with dupattas on their heads come together to work on kadhai for long hours. They are underpaid. With Chikankari Hues, I want to provide better working conditions to the artisans. That will require a lot of funds. This won’t happen immediately but in the future, I definitely want to make it a reality. For the kind of work, the kind of art they are curating, they get Rs. 160 - 200 which is very little. Lucknow got the GI tag for Chikankari in December, 2008. It is a world renowned art and they are getting paid very little for it. So I want to strike a balance here. To be honest, I don’t know when I will be able to do it as it will require a lot of funds. But the day I do, I will be working on bettering the working conditions for the artisans.

I promise that the new launches will have super amazing designs in a month or two. I am trying to experiment with Chikankari and it will take time but eventually you all will see that.

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