Posted on September 11, 2012 at 2:23 am

Fashion What's Happenin'

The stories behind the style: Getting to know FNO's Desi designers

They make trendsetting, ingenuity, and success look effortless—but a deeper look at the histories of their brands reveals that their respective roads to the world of fashion were not without hurdles, whether anticipated or unforeseen. At last Thursday’s Fashion’s Night Out New York City’s RARE Salon, Urban Asian spoke to Nausheen Gilkar of Sheen and Kavita Jacobs of Sexiguru on designing their dreams!

Nausheen Gilkar (right) and Kavita Jacobs (left) pose with Amrita Singh (center) during last Thursday’s Fashion’s Night Out party at RARE Salon, NYC

With a fashion-centric upbringing common to both women, one would assume their current occupations to be expected, even required: the daughter of a designer of Kashmiri saris and shawls, Nausheen Gilkar was raised amidst the region’s distinctive textiles, while Kavita Jacobs’ childhood summers were defined by sketching patterns and selecting fabrics as she created her own custom wardrobe with her mother and family tailor.  Yet when it came to choosing a career path, their parents had alternative ideas.

“Mom and Dad were all about, ‘you must excel in math and science,Jacobs recalled.

Gilkar was held to the similar expectation of pursuing a more “practical” profession. Initially they obeyed, Gilkar enrolling in a business administration program and Jacobs going the banking route.

Courtesy of Kavita Jacobs of Sexiguru

It was circumstance—and the courage to accept it—that re-introduced Jacobs to the possibility of a future in designing.

“2009 was one of the worst times on Wall Street. We saw where the economy was headed, decided to take destiny into our own hands, and do what has been a passion for me since I was a little girl” she said of launching Sexiguru in 2009 with her partner and husband, gold medalist Olympic swimmer Chris Jacobs. “Given his love for the water and fitness, it seemed obvious that we start with resort wear.”

3 years later, the brand’s buyers include women aged 18 to over 70. From sheer tunics for women seeking a sexy look to added sleeves and lining for those with a more conservative sensibility, Sexiguru provides options for the spectrum of stylistic tastes. Though inspired by the couples’ travels abroad (the Summer 2013 collection is influenced by a recent trip to the South of France), the line features pieces reminiscent of kurtis and dresses featuring Desi motifs and detailing, thus remaining Indian at its core.

Courtesy of Kavita Jacobs of Sexiguru

By contrast, Gilkar’s forays into fashion were more premeditated:

“I got my degree in a year, which made my parents happy. After that, I couldn’t ignore my true passion, so I went for it.”

Studying Apparel Manufacturing in Los Angeles and going on to work with private labels, her global travels eventually brought her full circle back to Kashmir.

“The style unique to Kashmir appeals to me because I’m from there, I grew up around it, and always knew that it was something I wanted to be a part of,” she said.

It was this resolute confidence in fashion being her calling that fueled the launch of Sheen’s first line merely months ago: particularly striking are the silk sheath dresses, each delicately embellished with a belt showcasing the intricacies of Kashmiri embroidery. Feminine, chic, and versatile, Gilkar’s debut collection perfectly marries the appreciation of current trends with the preservation of tradition.

Courtesy of Nausheen Gilkar of Sheen

As Gilkar and Jacobs continue on their separate designing endeavors, they share the commitment to give back to those they receive their inspiration from. Local Kashmiri artisans craft Sheen’s products; using the region’s age-old dying and hand-weaving methods, Gilkar’s native community is both financially and artistically empowered by her brand. A portion of Sexiguru’s profits is donated to education efforts for underprivileged girls in India, while auctioning its pieces in New York City supports the global Children’s Hope adoption initiative.

Courtesyof Nausheen Gilkar of Sheen

Beating parental odds, enduring economic crises, rejecting conventions—Sheen and Sexiguru are products of two extraordinary women’s visions and determination. Though they may be relatively new additions to the industry, Nausheen Gilkar and Kavita Jacobs have already made their mark, their stories are proof that in the often-fickle world of fashion, passion and persistence are always en vogue.