This Is How Nupur Goenka Used Color And Couture To Find Her Calling
By Genevieve Pierre-Charles
Aish is a culturally responsive and intuitive fashion brand. Over the past year, it has been paving its way into some of the worlds most globally renowned publications like Vogue, Nylon, Elle and Pop Sugar.
Aish’s quick rise, is in thanks, due to founder Nupur Goenka’s multicultural approach to creating empowering business practices that intuitively embraces a women’s needs to move in flourishingly comfortable designs. Aish’s goal is to channel empowerment to each woman who touches Aish’s designs. From Aish’s textile employees, all the way up to the wearers of the infamous intricate surface embroidered fabric - Aish embodies a feminist-forward mindset at all stages of the business.
Yet Nupur’s path to finding Aish was a nonlinear one. For most of her early career, she wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted to do - or even how to get there. As a result, her career approach was fluid. She intuitively followed job skills like stepping stones, until both her skills - and an unforeseen moment that changed everything - fortuitously led her to build what would become Aish.
A journey that started across the world
“I fell in love with Indian textiles...the joy of it was always there,” Nupur Goenka recounts.
Growing up in India, Nupur’s father was a manufacturer with a great attention to detail. Her father’s influence materialized in her creative process. In her childhood, Nupur had memories of her father making sure the fabric and the quality of his garments were perfect for his clients, re-ironing shirts and checking all the buttons. Nupur absorbed her father’s attention to detail.
“It bothers me when things aren’t made well.”
His early influence on Nupur’s self identity was perhaps just as instrumental in planting the seed of future dreams for entrepreneurship but challenging her to always go after her dreams. “He’s always given me the space and the freedom to be, like, ‘make your own choices, fall down if you have to.’” This was especially empowering message for Nupur growing up in a more traditional society, where women’s choices are often guided by the men in their lives.
Though these early impressions foreshadowed her calling into textiles, Nupur’s journey was anything but linear. In fact, she had relatively little understanding of what she wanted to do with her life when she left for the U.S. to study.
Eventually ending up in marketing and advertising, Nupur quickly realized it was a trade she could learn from, but was not her passion. She yearned for her job to be more than just a means to an end - something that was fulfilling. Intuitively following her gut, Nupur returned to India to see if her answer was hidden somewhere in her past.
“The quest was going without knowing where it was going to lead me,” Nupur recalls. “The thing was trying to find something to give me joy.”
She began seeking out roles in companies where she might find the fulfilment she lacked in the corporate space. She spent time at her father’s company, but the experience didn’t persuade her closer to the industry. Conversely, she began to work her way through a few more jobs, eventually going back to school once again.
Then one day, years after she had touched a textile, a friend asked her for some help getting Indian fabrics for a project. Nupur jumped into the ask headfirst, feeling the excitement of working with the material again. Throughout the process of identifying manufacturers, evaluating the quality of textiles, and negotiating pricing, Nupur realized she truly enjoyed the process. This small epiphany planted the seed for what would soon become the beginning stages of Aish.
How she overcame resistance
In the beginning of Aish, Nupur experienced a lot of failure and experienced doubt about whether or not she was doing the right thing.
“I often tell people, ‘Thank God for ignorance. Had I known how hard it would be, I don’t know if I would have had the guts to start.’”
One of her biggest early-stage hurdles was identifying the connection between western consumer desires and Indian designs: how could she innovate on a product that - thanks to western appropriation - was both overdone and often times exploited. Simultaneously, how could the brand ensure the integrity and humanity of the garment employees in ways that so many other western textile companies set up in India exploited.
Nupur spent a lot of time going back and forth from New York and India, on a quest to lock down the sociopolitical business and fashion climates of each area. Despite not instinctively knowing where the two cultures would meet, or how they would combine into one brand, she continued to create more designs.
“I could put in 18 hour days, and I still felt excited about it,” she said.” Somewhere deep inside, I felt like I had the skill to do this.”
The combination of the joy of her work and the feeling of being qualified helped her push forward to find her brand. As she continued to work, she began taking larger inspiration from the color, culture, and couture of the materials and fabrics around her. Slowly but surely, the brand’s ethos transpired up from the craft.
“It has to first sit right with you. It has to feel right,” she says of her process.
Now, Nupur describes Aish as “chic, comfortable, and cozy.” Aish’s brand values focus on how women feel in their desires, aspirations, and every day moments.
Nupur’s process of building an intuitively feminine and empowering brand also seeped into her business model. As Aish grew, Nupur started visiting places were textiles were being made. She quickly realized that the level of protection and care offered to the employees was not optimal. For Aish, a major goal became to ensure the safety, protection, and basic human dignity of all employees.
“My first thing - we need to provide a clean environment. If I could provide an air-conditioned environment, clean bathrooms, and for them to feel safe, that is most important.”
“Things should feel like a win-win situation wherever you’re working,” she goes on. “It’s important to women that are working for you, that they have challenges, that they’re learning something, and whoever that you’re working with wins out of that situation. If there is only one winner in that situation, it will not last.”
Nupur’s business model stands out, because even in 2019, garment workers are being exploited, specifically by Western brands who have decided to use these workers to increase their profits. Most of the workers are young women, starting these jobs as early as 10 years old. Nupur encourages her workers to communicate, but many of the workers employed by brands have no avenue to address their concerns, specifically, workplace conditions and pay.
Nupur trains her female employees on soft skills, specifically on communication and emotional intelligence. These trainings enhance the skills many employees already have to succeed, but often need an empowering environment that is responsive to cultural needs in order to vocalize their skills and talent within the company.
How she paved the way
In Nupur’s journey, each step was about taking with her the skills she gained and learning a little bit more about the world, before stumbling into her true passion. She went where she felt led and made her mark in the spot she stood. In the midst of her confusion about her calling, she took the time to notice those around her and aided them in any way she could. The people who make the clothing and the people who wear the clothing are inspired by Nupur to feel beautiful and to make their voices heard.
Nupur’s story is a model of someone who has ventured out into the world to find their one true passion, and returned to the same spot they once stood, secure in their ability to be successful in all they desire to do. Even more so, Nupur leads with empathy and service as her core values, lifting up everyone around her.