Our next Designer Spotlight feature is husband and wife duo Sachin and Babi Ahluwalia. Both studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, where they met and fell in love. Their namesake company, Sachin + Babi was introduced in 2009. It’s only been a few years, but the brand’s pieces have already been worn by celebrities and magazine models alike.
Let's meet them!
Babi hails from New Delhi, India. She went to Lady Shri Ram in India, which she described to Man Repeller as a “very boring girl’s college.” Her family connections led her to work in the atelier of a prominent Indian fashion designer. (She didn't tell Man Repeller which.) She then went to a Bombay design school, and continued on to FIT to study textiles.
At FIT, she met Sachin Ahluwalia. Sachin came from another part of their native India, the city of Mumbai. He was always the entrepreneurial type: when he was 16, he started a shirt company. Sachin would block print on men’s shirts and sell them to his mother’s company. He credits a lot of his business knowledge to his mother, one of the first ready-to-wear designers to supply to department stores in India. Aiming to major in economics, he applied to schools all over the U.S. Even with an acceptance to Penn, he decided to come to New York in the fall of 1994 to attend FIT instead. His plan was to go there for six months and then transfer to Columbia. It didn't happen that way.
As Sachin told Man Repeller,
“I think it was the second day or third day of school that I saw a beautiful girl wearing a short black skirt and polo T-shirt across the street with, like, 17 boys around her. And I was like, “Okay, she’s cute. I gotta figure out who she is.”
However, Babi remembers their first meeting differently, telling HuffPo,
“We met in school, there is a special group meeting for your social security card, so that was our first like meet and greet, you’re like ‘do you know your route around here?’ and you’re like ‘no’ so we sort of explored it together."
Either way, it's undeniable that fate brought Sachin and Babi together. For the first semester, they hung out as just friends in a group. They would have dinner together after class. Sachin used to use Babi as his fit model, and began realizing he had “a knack for” fashion design.
The two started dating in the summer of 1995. Things were getting more serious. They talked about their relationship and other future plans, including a possible business.
Bells & Balmain
Due to a roommate that backed out, Babi had to move in with Sachin near the time they were graduating. In India, things like this don't fly. Their parents told them to get engaged, and they did.
At this time, Sachin and Babi worked as embroidery craftsmen. They created authentic Indian threadwork. As explained to Man Repeller,
“Those were rough days. We were cold calling and meeting every little joe shmo because we wanted to work with designers from our factories in India. We made a cheat sheet and we were really trying. We researched designers who had done beautiful beadwork.”
In December, they got married at City Hall. The bride wore a pair of pants and a Henri Bendel sweater. They went back to India for the traditional weeklong wedding festivities. Their parents then gave them a loan to expand their business.
In 1997, they "got very lucky," and were given the chance to show their work to designer Oscar de la Renta, who liked what he saw. He decided to use their embroidery on his evening gowns. This helped jumpstart their business; from then on, they became a go-to embroidery source for other major fashion houses. They told Man Repeller,
“He wanted to know all about us. As soon as he found out where we came from, our families, our business, our start-up, our loan, he said, “This program you’re doing is fine but book your tickets, you’re coming with me to Paris, too. For fashion week.” He used to design for Balmain. Balmain was very different back then.”
In 2009, they launched Sachin + Babi, a fashion design house based in New York City offering advanced contemporary collections.
Embroidery is big in Sachin + Babi collections - it’s elaborate and everywhere. They use rich textures and prints that are reminiscent of traditional Indian clothes. Their textiles and embroideries are used by other fashion houses as well, including Oscar de La Renta, Carolina Herrera, and Saint Laurent. Sachin + Babi's passion is “taking the ordinary and everyday wardrobe and elevating it.”
Sachin and Babi, the designers, have to juggle both their love life and work life. They described it to Man Repeller like this:
“At home we finish each other’s sentences, and at work we interrupt each other.”
It seems to be working for them.
Do you like Sachin + Babi? Would you wear their pieces? Have you heard about the brand before? Would you be able to work with your significant other? Any suggestions for the next Designer Spotlight?