Melissa Gopall-Ramjee is an entrepreneur who has found her perfect niche. With an enthusiastic eye for aesthetics and fashion, she founded her own online store The Silk Closet (thesilkcloset.com), which features incredible South East Asian-influenced or originated pieces. The road to get there has really tested her ability to cope with the demands of running a business whilst figuring out her passion. Now, The Silk Closet is thriving as a result of her hard work and drive to succeed. Yinsey Wang of Torn + Polished interviews Melissa on how she set her business up, despite having little background in the fashion sector.
Tell us why you decided to set up The Silk Closet. What was it about this market that drew you in?
I got my first taste for Indian Fashion when I was about 5 years old and witnessed my grandmother perfectly throw on a saree in less than a second –super hero style (it certainly felt that way anyway!). Since then, I have been mesmerized and I always wanted to be surrounded by beautiful glamorous
sarees. Opening The Silk Closet was the result of that, but it was also quite timely, as the Indian fashion industry is growing rapidly and getting lots of global attention; and at the same time, customers are itching for something new from Indian fashion. This is as it has been the same for us in the UK and Europe for the past 30 years.
Much of Indian fashion is also suitable for women from all backgrounds; we sell dresses, skirts, jumpsuits, accessories, and other items that have been handcrafted by artisans using Indian fabrics and techniques handed down from generation to generation. My first few customers were actually from Italy (they know good craft when they see it!).
You started from a corporate background and transitioned into an entrepreneur. What made you decide to switch? Have there been aspects of your previous experience that have been beneficial to your role in running a business?
I spent ten years in the corporate world, and loved it whilst I was there. But it got to the point where I needed much more flexibility in my working hours so that I could actually see my husband who works very random shifts; and I was also itching to do something for myself. I’m naturally someone who has always obsessively researched people’s stories and backgrounds to learn from. I can remember finding an interview with comedian and general genius, Ricky Gervais where he said “I’m really lucky, I make money doing what I love” and I just remember thinking “that’s going to be me one day.” Hopefully I’m now on the path to that “one day”!
There are some basic aspects from my previous experience that helped me, but to be really honest, not a huge amount. Going out and getting business; closing sales; finding ways to generate interest; and keeping the momentum, whilst remaining positive and true to your idea is the hardest thing! Nothing really teaches you about how to handle that until you try it for yourself. The choice of industry was slightly insane too because I had zero background in fashion. But that was definitely part of the attraction, because I like to think that we can do anything we put our minds to. There’s also an advantage to coming into an industry with a slightly naive approach because you do not do things the way they have always been done.
If you’re doing what you love, then don’t give up. There have been so many times when I have wanted to quit – when a collection didn’t do as well as I’d hoped and when key people didn’t deliver what they had promised, directly impacting my customers, and so on. There was also a time when I couldn’t get bloggers or magazines interested at all (thankfully that isn’t the case now) but had I given up, I wouldn’t have seen where it could go. I still have to often remind myself of this lesson.
In terms of personal growth, there has been so much and as an entrepreneur you have to find a way to identify what you’re feeling and deal with it. I have a thicker skin now and can much better deal with rejection and things not going my way. Over the past year, I’ve really had to work on my positive mindset and practicing gratitude because it’s the small successes that build up into something of quality and value that you can be proud of; nothing happens overnight. I’ve also had to learn the value of taking regular guilt-free rests – I am so much more productive because of it, but when you have a huge to-do list and a business to build, the temptation to keep working can be too much. (Arianna Huffington is also a huge help!).
Tell us about the sorts of designers you select to be part of The Silk Closet.
All my designers have a huge focus on quality and craft, with most of them working directly with artisans and craftsmen in India – people who have been working in the field for generations – to hand produce something special. A unique point of view is important to me when selecting designers, I want my customers to feel that they’ve purchased something special that they won’t see other people wearing, and that they can treasure for years.
What has been the highlight of running The Silk Closet so far?
There have been so many, but I really enjoyed putting together our latest campaign, Cannes Glamour which was all about fashion inspired by the Cannes Film Festival and the French Riviera. It was my first editorial shoot and I was quite nervous about it, plus the weather had been typically terrible all week, but it held out for us on the day. I worked with a fantastic team, and the designers were amazing letting me have full creative direction of the shoot. We also had an amazing location by Embankment with
Big Ben and the London Eye in the background. Couldn’t have asked for more.
If you could choose anyone to represent the brand, who would you choose?
It’s hard for me to pick any one person, as I revere so many! But it would be anyone who is hardworking, self-made, and an inspiration for younger women. Bollywood actresses Deepika Padukone, Aishwarya Rai, Priyanka Chopra and Katrina Kaif come to mind. From an international standpoint, it would be Mindy Kaling or Neelam Gill.
What has been your favourite piece that you stock up to date and why?
This is such a hard question! I love so many of them and to be honest, I wish they were all in my wardrobe. But if I have to choose, then it would have to be this piece by London based designer, Jyoti Chandhok. It is a one-off saree made of an Italian chiffon fabric by Roberto Cavalli, which she has embellished with pearls and finished with a scalloped edge. It is truly special, super stylish and you won’t see anyone else wearing it!
Clothing, Creative Direction and Styling: @thesilkcloset
Hair and Makeup: @sana_artistry
Location Courtesy: @tamesisdock, Westminster and Embankment, London