“I would rather make a mistake than live with the regret that I never tried.”
Prabal Gurung’s essence can be captured with the above quote as much today, while full stride in his New York fashion career, as back in time when he was a young boy in Nepal. His dreams started at a young age while in St. Xavier’s School in Kathmandu even though he acknowledges that he was never one of the ‘brilliant’ students. With the support of his family, he stayed true to his calling, and was always immersed in his own world. He recalls sketching his ideas and designs wherever he could, be it in school books, drawing sheets or walls. One of the first admirers of his work was his mother who always encouraged his creativity. This support, Prabal believes, is the root of all his success which gives constant inspiration and the strength to stand his ground in the competitive world of high fashion.
One of the most courageous steps in pursuit of his dreams can be traced back to the time he went to India to start his career by studying at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in New Delhi. While studying, he also worked with various local productions and fashion houses, and designed alongside established names such as Manish Arora at the wake of India’s booming fashion industry. With his wealth of experience in India and other countries, Prabal decided to embark on the greatest risk of his career and moved to New York. The city, which is arguably the fashion capital of the world, presented formidable challenges but he was determined to follow his dreams and carve a niche for himself. He was aware that moving to New York could turn out to be a mistake, however, he decided that he would rather live with that mistake than live with the regret that he never gave it a shot.
Fortunately, his decision to move to New York was a winning one. After years of hard work and patience backed by the support and encouragement of his family, his labour is bearing fruit and he has made his impact in the world of high-fashion. From interning for Donna Karan while attending Parson’s School of Design to being a part of Cynthia Rowley’s design team, to being the design director at Bill Blass and having the US First Lady Michelle Obama wear his design, Prabal Gurung has come a long way. He materialized his dream when he launched his own collection PRABAL GURUNG in 2009 even though it was in the midst of an economic recession. Prabal recollects that the modeling industry, the production houses and people from the fashion fraternity in New York have been very supportive in this journey. This could be the reason why Prabal feels right at home in New York and its fashion houses.
For a person who has achieved success and a celebrity status, Prabal remains humble, modest and grounded. He is proud of his heritage and makes sure that Nepal is mentioned in all his interviews, which is his small way of helping his country gain recognition globally. However, he is also aware of the problems afflicting our country like power cuts, traffic, pollution and the like. He attributes his ability to compete anywhere in the world to growing up in Nepal. He says that anyone can complain about what is not right in our country; the crux lies in what we choose to do about it. His message for all young Nepalis is to follow your dreams; hard work and patience are the key ingredients for success. He also urges Nepalis to celebrate the successes of one another so that we can collectively move forward together.
Questions & Answers
Q. How would you explain your success in the fashion industry?
Fashion is all about your love for it, not because you want fame. Fame is just a by-product of hard work. In the art world like fashion and music, it has to come out of passion. If fashion is taken out of me at any hour of my life, I wouldn’t survive.
Q. To be a fashion designer, what should you be good at?
In everything and not only in fashion, one has to “dare to dream”. Think differently, you should not always follow the prescribed system. That’s the biggest challenge for Nepali youths and society. You should utilize technology like facebook, twitter etc. to the fullest. Technology is the mantra to success, not only in fashion industry but everywhere else.
Q. What was your lowest point in your business?
There are always high points and low points while doing business anywhere. The beauty of a 9-5 job is that you are guaranteed with a salary and benefits. During business, the rolling of cash or maintaining a healthy cash-flow is the most challenging aspect. But I cannot remember any specific lowest point.
Q. When can we see your collection in Nepal?
This is just the beginning of my career. Once I am established, I can always come back because this is home. I would love to work here, but I don’t know the time line yet.
Q. What are the possibilities of Nepalese organic fiber in New York ?
There are many popular companies in New York who only use organic and natural fiber in their products. There is organic and green revolution going on over the world. For me I don’t do that yet, because I want to be known as an international designer from Nepal not as a Nepali designer. It’s a very small market, but the market for the organic fiber is growing globally. My area of interest is in luxury designer wear.
Q. What are your plans for the future? And what’s your favorite color that you use mostly during your work?
The next plan is to bring out different accessories like shoes, hand bags, the whole product category. I along with my brother and sister are planning for a Foundation for education in Nepal. Regarding my favorite color, it is always red.
Q. How did the Michelle Obama thing happen (how did she get to wear your dress)?
I think when Michelle Obama wore my dress, it’s not just a matter of pride for me but the whole country.
Q. How will you maintain your creativity and your originality with the expansion of your market?
We don’t live in a vacuum, we are surrounded by people. The main thing is to be surrounded by extremely talented, knowledgeable and smart people. All the good ideas don’t just come from me but from my team. When people are given responsibility and made responsible for their actions, they will perform themselves.
Q. How did you start your business?
I didn’t have a lot of capital. I started with goodwill of my friends and people around me. I started with 26 looks. The media supported me and as my collection was featured in a top magazine, people started buying.
Q. What were your “IT” moments?
I think the highest moment is yet to come. The major “IT” moment was when I realized I wanted to do fashion and studied it. And the Michelle Obama moment is also one of my high moments.
Q. Where do you fabricate your collection? In Nepal?
Most of them are done in New York. I mostly buy from Italy and Paris. My sweaters and knitted wear are done in Nepal. I have tried to do fabrication in Nepal but the efficiency here is very poor. Time is a major factor in fashion business; I have had unpleasant experiences in Nepal when the order was not delivered on time and I had to cancel the collection in all the stores. Incidents like this will have a negative impact on the reputation.
Q. What is your products’ uniqueness?
A product has to be good and the quality should match the price and meet the expectations of the consumer. I make sure the product is extremely well made and delivered on time. We should think globally, not only locally.
Q. What is your Corporate Social Responsibility?
I don’t know if it’s corporate social responsibility or not, but my responsibility is to make my product great and create an identity of my own and I always add Nepal to my achievement..
Q. Who is your role model?
My mother, my sister, my family and my friends plus every global woman who is aware of what is happening around the world.