Meet Shagun Sharma. She is the Founder of Naytra Couture based in Wellesley, MA. Naytra Couture produces hand crafted, wearable art in the form of tunics, blouses, and scarves.
All Photography by Cara Soulia, Boston Portrait Photographer
I was introduced to Shagun early in 2020 by a mutual friend. My first ‘meeting’ with her was over the phone. As Shagun told me the story of how her business was born, I could hear the incredible passion in her voice as she spoke about her business. I could completely relate to that feeling of being so invested in your business and so excited about the product you are creating that you think about it around the clock – sometimes to the point of ignoring your family! As she described the amazing process by which her garments come to life, I couldn’t wait to see them in person. From that first call, I knew Shagun would be an excellent candidate for my “A Mother’s Work” portrait series. Not only is her personal story fascinating, but the very long path she has been on to finally bring her idea to life is absolutely awe inspiring! Shagun transforms beautiful artwork from remote villages in India into timeless silk garments that anyone can wear. I am so proud to highlight her story on my blog.
A Mother’s Work: Shagun Sharma | Founder of Naytra
Tell me about yourself.
I grew up in a family of four in India — it was me, my mom, my dad and my younger sister. We were a very close-knit family, but I always had an especially close relationship with my dad. I was greatly influenced by him, and I know I am where I am today only because of him.
For instance, I always thought I was going to pursue something technical after college. I had studied math during my undergrad, and thought the next logical step was getting an MBA. My dad, however, never believed in being limited to one path. When he visited the National Institute of Technology (NIFT) in Delhi, he knew I was going to fall in love before I had even seen it myself – math degree or not. And he was right.
When I was at NIFT, I was introduced to Madhubani paintings while taking a course called “The Influence of Ancient Indian Art on Textiles and Fashion.” I had never seen artwork so beautiful, breathtaking, and intricate. I fell in love instantly and knew I had to find a way to share these magnificent designs with the world.
And then life happened. I met my husband Sanjeev, we got married, and before I knew it my daughter Diva was born. Then we moved to Canada in 2001, where we had our son Neil. It was then that I got my MBA Degree in Toronto like I always thought I would, with a focus on marketing and business strategy. From there, I went on to work for companies like Hallmark, and Walmart Canada, eventually moving to TJX Companies outside of Boston. I quit my job in 2015 to spend time with my kids before they left Boston and started their own lives. Now that my son Neil has left the nest and gone to college, my husband Sanjeev, encouraged me to follow my dream. Hence the birth of Naytra.
Tell me the story of how Naytra Couture was born (what the name means, your mission, etc).
Naytra means “eyes” in both Hindi and Sanskrit. My fascination with eyes goes back to my NIFT days, when I was introduced to Madhubani paintings. Madhubani is a folk art practiced by women in rural villages in India’s Mithila and Madhubani regions. This practice goes back centuries — 2,500 years to be exact. In the olden days, the women in these villages would paint the homes and buildings in town during festivals and special occasions. They would create these breathtaking masterpieces by using dyes from plants and vegetables in their gardens and suddenly these small villages would come alive.
Aside from the intricacy of the designs and the vivid colors, I have always been fascinated and intrigued by the way the eyes are emphasized in these paintings. All animal life is depicted with big, bold, striking eyes. These eyes always resonated with me as I believed then, as I still do now, in Shakespeare’s words, that one’s “eyes are the windows to your soul”. Our eyes are a window to our inner world —our feelings, thoughts and views of the universe.
Take me through the process of how your garments are made, from how make the design to how the fabric is created.
Our journey starts with the female artisans themselves – we work directly with female artisans in remote villages in India who create exclusive artwork for Naytra. After I receive the artwork, I have to conceptualize how to transfer the artwork from its current 2D form into a 3D context as a tunic, top, scarf, etc.
The next step is sending the artwork to the factories. These factories produce 100% mulberry silk with the highest level of certification possible for silk – OEKO-TEX standard 100 certified. Not only is this fabric free of any harmful substances, it is also environmentally friendly. Once the designs get to the factories, the designs are printed onto this silk It’s a slow, tedious, but extremely rewarding process.
Once printed, each piece is hand cut and hand-sewn – silk is extremely delicate and must be handled with the utmost case. Finally, after undergoing a rigorous quality check process the tunic, blouse, top and scarves are brought to the marketplace.
Tell me more about the philanthropic components of your business.
My brand and business are based on three pillars that I am very passionate about – women supporting women, sustainability, and giving the gift of eyesight.
Women supporting women: Supporting female artisans and their communities.
I began by reaching out to female folk artists living in remote Indian villages. The artwork they create is absolutely mesmerizing. I wanted to eliminate all middlemen and work with these artisans directly, make sure they were being paid a fair wage for their artwork and support them and their communities.
Sustainability: Taking care of our mother earth.
It is each of our responsibility to ensure the best future possible for our future generations. To do our part, we have adopted an absolutely no plastic policy. We use 100% pure mulberry silk – no man-made fiber at all. All the packaging material used is eco-friendly and your Naytra tunic or scarf will come in a special design cotton bag, with a recycled paper box and with hand-tags made out of recycled paper. These will be attached to the tunics with a silk or cotton ribbon.
Naytra: The gift of eyesight.
Did you know that there are 55 million people in the world who are visually impaired? These people cannot enjoy the riot of colors existing in nature, fashion, and art that you and I take for granted when we wake up every morning. While I was disheartened to learn this, a glimmer of hope stemmed from learning that 80% of these visually impaired people suffer from curable blindness. I was inspired knowing that there was something I could do to help. I aspire to work with you to cure blindness. Every time you purchase a piece from Naytra, you are giving someone the gift of eyesight. This is our gift to the world.
What is the most challenging thing about running your own business and raising a family at the same time and how do you manage it?
Well, the most challenging part about running your business is that the business becomes your baby — and in this process your other babies at home can feel neglected. The balancing act between the two is really challenging. I miss out on the little things, like being with my family and watching TV at the end of the day. I feel like I’m not present with them – even if I’m physically in the same room. Simple things like cooking for my family, which is so therapeutic for me, has taken a back seat. But I try my best to find a balance and enjoy every little bit of time that we spend together.
What is one of the best pieces of business advice that someone has given you?
I was a newly minted Assistant Production manager at the start of my career at an apparel manufacturing factory, and my manager was an old and highly experienced gentleman, who taught me invaluable lessons that I will always remember. One of these lessons was to never accept “no” as an answer. I learnt that it is very easy for people to say no when you ask them to do something. My manager taught me to challenge that “no” — to work, to fight, and to grind until I got what I wanted. It’s always an unnerving process but it is the best advice I have ever gotten – never to accept “no”.
Read more features from the A Mother’s Work series here!
Cara Soulia is a Boston Photographer who specializes in creating beautiful, natural images in a unique and artistic way. See more of Cara’s work here or get in touch to find out more about scheduling a photo session.