How A Niche Fashion Designer Has Maintained Entrepreneurial Longevity – Forbes

Photo by Nina Roberts

Fashion designer Alpana Bawa in her New York City boutique.

The entrepreneurial fashion designer Alpana Bawa has remained in business for more than 30 years in New York City. This is no small feat as emerging designers can be the hot darlings of the fashion world one moment, kicked to the curb the next. The fashion industry is notoriously fickle.

Bawa’s eponymous clothing line is known for its bold and funky mix of colors, prints, patterns and fabrics. She operates her own boutique that sells her collection, currently located in Manhattan’s NoLita neighborhood on the edge of Chinatown and Little Italy.

Donning an outfit she designed—a bright green skirt with vertical stripes paired with a fuchsia embroidered blouse—Bawa straightens out the displays in her long glass-front shop with a bright red floor. Her pieces, typically made of silk, cotton or wool fabrics, are not cheap. A dress might cost $400, a shirt $250 and a t-shirt $45, but each piece is individually constructed, the craftsmanship is exquisite.

Professionally, Bawa came of age in the 1980s in New York City. She moved from Delhi, where she grew up, to study fashion at Parsons School of Design in 1983. The city was wild, affordable and exploding with underground creativity—from the club scene and early hip-hop to the art of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. The infamous nightclub Area —mind-boggling because of its decadent artistry and fantastic mix of clubgoers—opened the year Bawa arrived. “I am really lucky that I was part of that,” reminisces Bawa, who frequented the city’s clubs.

Photo by Nina Roberts

Elephant pillow designed by Alpana Bawa.

Bawa’s early career is a veritable who’s who and what’s what of the 1980s downtown scene. Her first collection sold at Susanne Bartsch’s SoHo store (before Bartsch became the city’s reigning nightclub queen) where Bawa worked. Madonna purchased one of Bawa’s velvet outfits, which she wore for a photo spread in the now defunct Details Magazine. Bawa’s designs sold next to pieces by Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano, among other British designers.

Because of Bawa’s creative outfits she was soon working the door at the nightclub M.K. where she met Serge Becker, a downtown entrepreneurial figure connected to some of the city’s most renowned clubs, bars and restaurants; currently the Creative and Artistic Director of the Museum of Sex.


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