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Abhishek from India, director of fashion brand House of Attuendo

Abhishek Kochhar, from India, was planning a career in business administration when a fashion internship opened his eyes – and a BA degree in Fashion Design at UCA Rochester changed everything.

After graduating in 2008, Abhishek founded House of Attuendo, a fashion label inspired by his interest in technology-enabled design. And he’s planning big things for the future! Find out how he aims to expand the business, what he's learned along the way, and his top piece of advice for creative students.

What attracted you to studying in the UK?

‘I chose the UK over studying in India because, from talking to fashion students at that time, I had a fair sense that education in India is more theoretical – while in the UK, education is more practical and hands-on, which gives a better experience and much better adjustment to real-world situations.

‘I was also choosing between the US and the UK. With both having a varied fashion scene, I chose the UK as it provides a much better field to innovate and try being unorthodox and unconventional, contrary to the US where I think fashion is often more commercial.’

Abhishek with friends and fellow Fashion Design and Photography students at the UCA Rochester bar

Why did you choose to study fashion?

‘Coming from a family of financial experts, fashion was an alien world to me. The journey wasn't a cliché tale of being all inspired from childhood – in fact, I was pursuing my undergraduate degree in business administration and had never even thought of entering the fashion industry.

‘I was offered a business degree internship at an Indian fashion house; that is what got me interested and gave me a glimpse of the fashion world, and reshaped my whole life. I got more involved with the design department than the finance department, and started to learn from the studio designers and pattern cutters. The thrill of creating something new every time, with no boundaries to adhere to, was reason enough to go into fashion designing as a career.

‘Enrolling onto UCA’s BA (Hons) Fashion Design course was the turning point. I still remember the first day at UCA where, being an introvert, I was a slightly shy student among the batch. During the first year, I stayed at the university dorms with all my new friends around me – it was like a family. Through the three years at UCA, Donna Ives (Fashion Design course leader) and all my tutors helped me to understand and pursue a career in fashion.

From fashion courses to careers:

‘I did my first stitching exercises at UCA, and my time in the sewing machine room became the most exciting time (and it still is)! Working with different people from different parts of the world with different styles and areas of work is something that I cherish and still find most helpful today, whilst working on collaborations.’

How did the teaching style in the UK compare to back home?

‘Speaking in terms of fashion courses, in India, the teaching is more theory-based and it’s more to do with creating off the table – as opposed to playing and understanding the drapes and body flows of the garments. It’s good as a foundation, but UK teaching is more informal and encourages the students to develop a flexibility of trying, testing and developing new ideas and techniques.

‘Also, in creative fields like fashion and art, it is important for us to become market-oriented because at the end of it, whatever we create should find buyers.

‘It is highly important to learn the value of the product or service, market placement and marketing plans at school and college levels. This is one of the most important areas that is clearly better covered by UK universities.’

Did you do any work experience, internships or part-time jobs while you were a student?

‘I started my work experience during the summer of my first year. There is an Indian company, Orient Craft Limited, that provides design and manufacturing services to brands like Zara, Topshop and Evans – they were setting up a base in London and I got the chance to work with them as an assistant merchandiser on a part-time basis. It was one of the best places to learn how designers work, and how outsourcing and development works in high street retailers.

‘During the summer vacation of my third year, I was privileged to get a six-month internship with the fabric development team of Alexander McQueen, which opened doors to my future placements and ultimately the start of my own venture.’

Tell us about your career! What are you doing now?

‘I am currently the director of House of Attuendo, where we create womenswear collections for our brands Attuendo and Attuendo Jeans, which retail in over 73 stores worldwide including our newly-opened flagship stores in Gstaad, Switzerland. 

‘House of Attuendo also has a technology division, Attuendo Tech Studios, where we create technology solutions that are reshaping the online and offline fashion retail scene of the future.’

How did you take the leap as an entrepreneur, and start your own brand?

‘Starting a brand gives one of the most interesting and exhilarating feelings, and at the same time it is one of the most exhausting avenues to take. After my graduation, I worked for a few months at Arcadia and then at Dior in Paris. During my brief tenures, I got to learn a lot from all people within the organisation.

‘With a global recession at our doorstep, moving back to India and starting my brand seemed foolish, but with the help of a few university friends, I managed to get regular manufacturing orders from a few brands. This helped in creating the initial cash flow required to start my own brand. Once the customer response started to come through, it was not hard to expand and diversify the brand.’

How do you keep finding inspiration?

‘I always believe that inspiration isn’t found; it comes to you. I just observe and listen. Observing people, nature, habits, and listening to everyone and anyone. Inspiration is always something that gets me interested. 

‘Creativity, for me, is not being bound by rules and guidelines – it’s imagining a situation where your reaction is not guided by any preconceived notions and processes.’

University friends working as stylists and models for a photo shoot during Abhishek's course

What advice would you give to students hoping to work in the creative industries?

‘You are entering an industry that is full of passion, fame and rewards, but at the same time, it is one of the most exhausting fields to work in. The minutes of fame that are visible are the result of a lot of hard work and a lot of studio and design time, by a lot of people from different sectors that work like a mechanised team. If you believe in yourself and are ready to be dedicated, then there will always be a way to ride the tides.

‘Also, bear in mind the creative industries are not isolated fields – innovation and modifications are always derived from work in other industries. It is therefore essential to keep yourself open to everything on a micro and macro level.’

What are your ambitions for the future?

‘I am fully and wholly dedicated to the company. House of Attuendo is just at a nascent stage, compared to the timeline of most fashion brands. I aim to develop it into a vertically integrated fashion and technology brand. We are currently concentrating more on prêt (ready-to-wear) collections, but over the next four years I aim to put more emphasis on our semi-couture collections, which truly convey the founding values of the organisation and help increase the longevity of the brand.

‘I am also a firm believer in technology-driven design, and am working on developing our in-house R&D department to innovate and embed technology in fashion. In the long term, I aim to make it a staple base for our brand over the next 10 years.’

What’s your number one memory from your time as a student in the UK? The one you’d tell your grandchildren about?

‘Living in the UK and being a student was fun – always trying to get your budget right, enjoying nightlife and having student jam sessions. It’s like living with a family despite being away from one.

‘Choosing the best experience would be hard, but I can certainly say that studying and interacting with students from all over the world was something that was not only enjoyable and cherished, but also opened up so many possibilities and avenues that have helped me in my professional life.’

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