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Hetal Patel: Creating fashion which lasts

Entrepreneurs 15-03-2021

Hetal founded London womenswear label VAAI in 2017. The collections are presented as ready to wear and bespoke couture. The entrepreneur in Hetal had noticed a niche opening in the British womenswear market. The VAAI designs showcase sustainable heritage-inspired contemporary womenswear crafted using artisanal techniques and fabrics. From her Battersea studio, Hetal has since attracted a global network of professional clients to VAAI, from London and beyond.

You have a PhD in Transplantation immunology? What gave you the conviction to pursue a creative field?

Creativity is in my DNA! After numerous years in academic research, I began to feel trapped. Fashion and the creativity behind fashion allowed me to explore what has always been deeply set in my heart since childhood. Fashion design allows me to express myself and feel a sense of freedom.

There are no regrets  with moving from science to fashion.  The skills are transferable to this business. For example, just as you do in fashion, in science you need to network, research, present your work well and budget.

Motherhood propelled that need to change my entire focus. I was at a point in my scientific career where I was expected to take on a managerial role. Whilst I loved being in the lab and teaching, I didn’t aspire to a future in academic research. I also didn’t want to lose precious time with my children. I had already started designing and making clothes for my girls which is how this business started.

What sort of clientele does VAAI attract?

Our muse understands her sense of individuality and recognises her ability to converse without words whilst wearing VAAI. She enjoys quiet luxury, is stylish yet a conscientious shopper who is open to supporting emerging labels. She often has an artistic flair expressed through the way she dresses. The VAAI clientele will quite often create seasonal capsule collections with key pieces often bespoke made for herself.

There’s a niche that hasn’t been explored in this country. Fusion with repeat value…a garment which you can style in various ways. That is where I saw we were missing out.  The fashion industry is the second biggest polluter in the world and we therefore wanted to create garments that can be worn numerous times.

Describe what you look for when sourcing the fabrics you work with.

Quality is something that is really key to my pieces. I design them and look for unique fabrics from India and the UK. Whether its handloom cottons from Kerala, or traditional British lace, sourcing is one of the most enjoyable parts of the job. I like to use heritage and artisanal handmade fabrics. Over two thirds of my collections is produced with natural and sustainable fabrics which are able to biodegrade over time as opposed to synthetics which don’t degrade and are at a higher cost to the planet. I go where love has gone into the fabric.

Where do you find inspiration?

Practically everywhere. I’m constantly sketching ideas based on inspirations from daily life and travels. Whether it’s the antiques and décor of the Queen’s Room at The Royal Albert Hall, or the colours of Autumn in Battersea Park, inspiration is all around. I even look at my children’s drawings! For example, the batik prints you see in the transeasonal 20/21 collection are inspired by intricacies of blood vessels something I studied during my time as a research scientist.

Your debut collection was presented at India Fashion Week London in 2017 and was a ‘phenomenal success’. What was it, do you think that made the most impact?

The fact that it was designed here in the UK with British Asian women in mind. What we presented was different, and authentic and this opened some eyes to those within the Industry as well as buyers. The entire collection was in keeping with the British Asian client who was looking for fusion wear and wanted something new and exciting!

What’s next for VAAI?

In this era, you see brands come and go especially those that grow very quickly and can’t keep up. The VAAI business model has been designed to be sustainable with slow, steady growth even during tricky times. The brand has organically grown over the past two years, with many of our clients remaining loyal and continuing to support us. We will continue to follow this direct to consumer path. Our ambition is to continue expanding our network of clientele. We often host styling events teaching our clients how to style VAAI pieces in at least three ways. This makes our products repeat value and sustainable, and this will continue into the future. We thrive for the brand to be socially responsible paying fair wages, using natural biodegrable fabrics and reducing our carbon footprint.
Photograph by Rory B. Gullan

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