As Canadians, we are lucky to be surrounded by so many different cultures. We distinguish ourselves for being a cultural mosaic as compared to a monocultural melting pot. Gargi Ghugare, the founder and designer of Soukh, embodies the essence of a cultural cohesion through her beautiful mosaic purses, embroidered jackets and Miista shoes. Her colourful textiles and vivacious motifs create a unique experience for the viewer and take them onto a journey through a bustling marketplace. I met with Gargi to learn about her inspirational process behind Soukh, and her outstanding achievements.
How and why did you come up with the idea for Soukh?
I actually started another brand called G aur M. I started the brand with a girl that I went to school with. We did Vancouver fashion week and after graduating we continued with Toronto Fashion Week. That was all garments, and I was looking to move more into the direction of accessories. I dissolved that brand and moved into Soukh, which launched in November 2017.
I used to hand make all of the purses but when things started to blow up, I realized I couldn’t sustain hand making all of the pieces anymore. The techniques are very traditional, so I opted to do the designs and let the people who are extremely familiar with the techniques make the pieces. The purses are made in Turkey, India and Oman. The manufacturers are all family-owned businesses and are not factory run. I have met all of my artisans and we talk almost every day.
Where did the name come from?
Soukh actually means marketplace or bazaar in Arabic. I didn’t want it to be just accessories, I wanted to curate fashion from different parts of the world and bring them to one place. The purses are from the Middle East, the shoes are from Spain, I’m getting swimwear from Trinidad and Tobago.
What were you doing before Soukh? Why did you decide to go back to school to the Fashion Techniques and Design program at GBC?
I’ve always wanted to pursue fashion but my family told me I had to get a solid undergrad before I move on. George Brown College is a great school. I did my undergrad in business and I had no knowledge of fashion at all. I wanted to get into fashion and make it into a career, and I need to go to school to do that. The Fashion Techniques and Design program is one of the best programs. I had never sown or cut fabric before and GBC taught me those fundamentals.
When did you come to Canada?
I was born in Oman and brought up in the Middle East, and I only moved here when I was 17. I finished my last year of high school here in Canada and attended the University of Western Ontario for business.
What are some of your proudest achievements?
I exhibited my garments at the Vancouver Fashion Show, Washington D.C Fashion Show. We had a few trunk shows in Dubai as well. There’s a whole application process to be involved in these shows. We crowdsourced money to buy the fabrics and to get into these shows as they’re really expensive to present. The make-up artists, hairstylists and models are included in the show fees so we didn’t have to worry about that part.
Any challenges? And if so, how did you overcome them?
With Soukh, the challenges I faced would revolve around the introduction to the product. Many people haven’t seen these products so it was tricky to make people see the products and like them. E-commerce in that regards is harder because consumers can’t physically hold onto the product before they purchase it. Most people actually thought that the purses were soft instead of these harder shells. To overcome this initial introductory step, I started doing these shows like the Breakfast Television Toronto show to get Soukh out there. Most of my consumers are from North America, and 99% of them are from Toronto.
Soukh is unique in that style suggestions are included with each product. What made you decide to include the style suggestions?
I made the website all on my own and I thought of adding style suggestions next to each product. If you don’t know what you’re doing, styling can be pretty hard sometimes. As a consumer, I would like to know how to wear pieces, especially statement pieces like the ones I make.
Was there a specific moment in your life that sparked the idea to create Soukh?
I have always wanted to work for myself and I’ve always wanted to work in fashion so it was a very natural choice to start my own brand. I am a third culture child – I am Indian but I grew up in the Middle East and then I moved to Canada. It just made sense for me to incorporate a nomadic approach. If I go to Spain, I know they have good leather so it makes sense to buy leather for shoes from Spain. If I go to Turkey, I know that their tile works really nicely, so I’m going to buy tile from Turkey. I like being able to bring these materials to one stop – and that stop is Soukh. I hope that Soukh invokes a sense of wanderlust and a feeling of travelling around a marketplace that you wouldn’t find in a big box retailer here. The experience that Soukh provides makes you feel special.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs just starting out?
My advice is to just go for it! What is the worst thing that can happen? The worst-case scenario is that someone won’t buy it, but if you believe in it, go for it. Start small, test it with your friends and family and branch out from there. You can’t just rely on your design sensibility, you need a second or third perspective. Another thing to remember is that some opinions will be harsh.
What are the next steps for Soukh?
The next steps for Soukh would be to get into boutiques that have the same voice as Soukh and do to a lot of pop-ups. I will also be releasing a swimwear line later this year from Trinidad and Tobago. I’m really excited for it because the pieces are made so well and they’re made by people who know swimwear through and through. It’s hard to find really nice pieces here that fit well and that will fit a wider variety of body types.
Photos: Calvin Pinto