Neha Chhabra, Founder SURIA, on Leaving Corporate Life to Unleash Her Creativity

SURIA (meaning ‘sun” in Indian Sanskrit) is a start up retail concept brand founded by Neha Chhabra with the goal of providing a distinct platform for Indian and global inspired fashion.

Growing up in LA, Neha frequently visited India with her family. From an early age she purchased fabrics and jewelry that she could incorporate into her wardrobe of jeans or dresses back home in the US. She saw a void in the market and realized there was an opportunity to introduce a group of global designers to New York and capitalize on the diversity that the city embraces.

“When I started Suria, I realized that there were many fashionable women who like to incorporate rare pieces into their everyday wardrobe” she said.

By using traditional embroideries and incorporating them into contemporary silhouettes SURIA designs are unique and wearable. Each piece is hand selected and intended to be mix-and-matched to create a unique, true-to-self look.

While collaborating alongside the best of modern Indian inspired fashion, SURIA will be working with various non- profits to help give back. “Having the concept brand as a platform for fashion design talent from other countries is only one of our goals,” explains Neha, “Also, as a part of our concept we wanted to give back and partner with non-profits and charitable organizations.”

SURIA will be debuting ready-to-wear, jewelry and accessories from international emerging and established designers, who anren’t found state side, alongside their own in-house label. The next step is introducing a pop-up-shop this Spring in NYC, covering both online and offline channels while building the SURIA global fashion concept.

TNW: How did you come up with the idea for SURIA and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?

NC: The fashion industry has been part of my upbringing. My parents started their fashion business when they first moved to California in the 80s. My husbands’ family has generations of numerous textile companies in India.

After climbing the corporate ladder, I wasn’t satisfied and wanted to unleash the creative side that I grew up with and combine my rich family history with modern silhouettes for a western market.

I went to Mass Art for fashion design and finally decided to leave the rat race and start my label Suria- which means "sunshine'' in hindu Sanskrit.

TNW: What makes your company different from your competitors?

NC: We do not mass produce. Most companies send their production to China and India for large production quantities; however we make small quantities each season so we can overlook the quality and price for each product. All the production is done entirely within our family using pure fabrics and quality beading, not synthetics. Everything under Suria by Neha Chhabra can be customized to your specific fit and style.

TNW:  Who were your first customers and how hard was it to attract them?

NC: My first clients were at a trunk show I participated in. People were immediately attracted to my collection because of the intricate work they’ve never seen before. After they tried on our tunics and dresses, they were in love!

TNW:  What is your marketing strategy and what has been the most effective source of new customers so far?

NC: We are achieving and will continue to achieve a larger online presence with social media outlets and reaching out to buyers for niche boutiques. This has helped us distribute our line into boutiques in the US and internationally and has helped us gain new customers. We are driven by the desire to bring the best of India to the rest of the world, including textiles, crafts, hand-looms, embroideries and traditional Indian arts, combining it with western sensibilities.

TNW: What is next for your company?

NC: Suria is in the process of adding e- commerce and broadening our distribution base. We are also opening a showroom in Midtown this summer and adding a range of contemporary ethnic pieces using modern embroidery techniques that shows India’s rich heritage and culture.

TNW: Have you come across any other exciting startups recently and what is it about them that appeal to you?

NC: I was recently in Mumbai and saw a concept store that showcased candy and clothing together. This was a creative idea to mix both worlds together!

TNW: What lessons have you taken from your successes & or failures?

NC: I’ve just scratched the surface and can’t wait to keep growing our company.

While growing my business on a daily basis, I learn something new every day from experience. Success comes gradually and I’m slowly getting there.

If my clients like my designs and I’m able to help Artisans in India grow their business, I feel humbled and greatly successful.

TNW: Do you have any tips or any advice for women who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?

NC: If you have an idea or product which you feel is viable, I strongly believe you should test it out in the market. From surveys or building buzz for a product that helps you understand your client base and what they’re looking for. Be strong, be confident and be truthful!

TNW: Do you have any role models or mentors?

NC: My mom! She’s amazing and I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. She showed me how to sew at a young age, she also taught me the business side of things and to always stay grounded and believe in myself and to work hard. She inspires me everyday and is my biggest support system.

TNW: What does your day look like?

I'm up by 6:30am checking my email and responding - this is also an on going process through out my day. Since our production is overseas, we have to work with their time zone. By 10am I’m out in Midtown, sourcing fabrics, trims and inspiration to send to our team in India. I always go to the gym mid day to de stress- it’s also a great way to streamline my thoughts from the afternoon. By 3pm, I start draping on my dress form. Before you know it, its 7pm and my creative side is still going and I can’t stop thinking of my collection.

TNW:  Is there a moment in the history of your company which you remember as the highlight so far?

NC: My highlight was my first fashion show called “Fashionably Late‘. I was nervous and very excited; however it was a surreal moment for me because I always dreamed of becoming a fashion designer, and owning and growing my brand from the bottom up. The fashion show made me feel confident about what’s to come in the next chapter of my life in fashion and being a entrepreneur.

TNW: What is one lesson about leadership you learned from a boss or mentor?

Lead with a positive intention, to be of service to clients, prospects and give back to the community.

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