Papa Don’t Preach’s fashion director reimagines what you think you know about fashion
Marry a sneaker with a stiletto? Unconventional, we know. Shubhika Sharma, founder of the famous Papa Don’t Preach label, forges her own sense of the conventional half a lehenga a day. If you haven’t seen any celebrities wearing her designs, or if you haven’t heard your next zillennial talking about it, here is Shubhika herself on how, as the brand’s self-proclaimed Chief Fashion Officer, she’s been talking about it. ensures that Papa Don’t Preach exudes fun through fusion. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What inspired the name “Papa Don’t Preach”?
My inspiration comes from the songs. Papa Don’t Preach is originally a Madonna song. One day I came across the song and it instantly found a space in my head. I called my best friend to get her opinion on having this name for my label, and she immediately approved! I feel it resonates with my brand tone, it’s rebellious. The name gives you a visual mood-board of what this brand is.
Can you tell us a bit about your formative years?
My parents allowed me the gift of boredom. Let me explain what that means – they allowed me to be right after school instead of having an extremely busy schedule. This is where all the magic happened. I cut pockets out of old pants, crushed paper and made earrings, and tried to sell them to those around me. It was then that I realized that my creativity had an entrepreneurial spirit. I continued my studies in mass media in Bombay and worked as a stringer at the DNA newspaper which had just been launched at the time. They wanted me to write on the pulse of my youth when I wanted to write about the most important things, you know, the things that mattered. Soon after, with the support of my family, I bought a local store. I called my brand ‘Fire Fly’ at the time. I then went to London College of Fashion for a year while my best friend took care of my shop. Ironically, the streets of London taught me more than my education. They taught me that anything you can do to sit on your body can be called fashion. After my internship at Gomez Gracia, a label present at New York Fashion Week, I learned a lot about how this industry works. It inspired me to make an iconic gesture. I hosted India’s first fashion flash mob at famous nightclubs like Olive and Tryst. We were always looking to make noise, even when we were younger as a brand. Since then, I have been working on my brand and every day is different. One day I might argue with the Masterji (tailor) over measurements and the other day Chrissy Teigen might wear the same design.
How about Papa Don’t Preach’s USP?
You can’t help but stand out – you can never blend into a Papa Don’t Preach. We express ourselves through embroidery, challenging the classic silhouette and using bold colors. The demi-lehengas, the stiletto sneakers, the Spidey bag, the dhoti suits are all authentic to Papa Don’t Preach. We also marry Indian aesthetics and craftsmanship with western stiletto heels.
If Papa Don’t Preach started ten years ago, how have people started to notice it only now?
I don’t feel like people started to notice us just now, the press just started to. My brand’s first five years were spent building the right team, research and development to improve product quality, and refine our unique identity in a very crowded market. I’m glad I put my blinders on and invested in doing so in the first five years. If this is done well, then success and fame are guaranteed.
Was there a time when you felt you had achieved it all?
It’s not a moment, I think it’s a year! Ironically, 2021 is the moment when I registered a change in myself, in my company and therefore in the brand. That’s when the iconic writer, performer Alok Vaid Menon, famous for de-genre fashion, wore us. The strong split reaction to this look on Instagram sparked a butterfly effect and we are forever changed. It empowered me, I no longer felt like I was just someone making bags, shoes and pretty clothes; I felt I had the power within me to make a difference in our highly polarized world. That, combined with the fact that we increased Rs26 lakh in a month for karigars (artisans) in India as we were locked in my house in the first wave and spotlighted for not charging the ‘tax on demeaning fats has left me feeling more empowered and therefore more responsible for what we as a brand can and will do next. And it’s really exciting.
How has the pandemic changed our sense of personal style?
It obviously made us feel more comfortable. I think “athleisure” has become a huge thing. For example, many people opt for flats and sneakers under their lehengas and dresses. But when it comes to the big bridal day, I feel like they still want to give it their all. So I would say second-hand clothes haven’t changed much but everyday clothes have become more casual.
Does this mix of sneakers and lehenga … resonate with older customers?
This combination does not really appeal to the older generation. I really think it’s a zillennial thing.
How did your creations get to Hollywood?
It’s a bunch of little things done over several years. In all fairness, I attribute a lot of the brand’s success to Instagram and the power of its reach. I have managed Instagram personally and have carefully used it as our gallery to showcase our growth, innovation, and diverse offerings, from accessories and resort wear to party wear. The business has also grown exponentially over the past two years in the United States with the support of our resellers based there, so word of mouth has made its turn on American soil as well. Chrissy Teigen’s stylist reached out to us via Instagram, a PR agency kindly offered to represent us pro bono and had us on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar Vietnam. Mindy Kaling came to see us through our dealers. This combined with the boost we got from Alok V. Menon really helped. The first international celebrity to wear us was American pop star Katy Perry in the pages of Vogue.
You mentioned that Instagram has been helpful. How well does it define the style of young people?
In my opinion, the sad thing that Instagram does is that it makes people more okay with fast fashion. Lots of use and throwing are seen on my feed as sewing and crafting takes a back seat. On the positive side, buyers are much more knowledgeable about what they want for themselves. They create these little lookbooks and Pinterest boards when they come to our store, so I know they’re a lot more knowledgeable than before the rise of Instagram. It’s more exciting to work with an ‘awake’ audience, it feels like a collaboration, because these are people who clearly know what they want.
Is there a clientele for Papa Don’t Preach in Dubai?
One hundred percent. We have a good database of Arabs interested in “embellished babydoll dress” and pre-sewn sarees. Many Middle Eastern influencers are drawn to Papa Don’t Preach. As expected, the bags, head accessories and shoes are doing very well.