Inorganic Chemist Launches Second Career as Fashion Designer
Swati Padmaraj did not originally go to school for fashion design. She grew up in India, getting masters degrees in both business and inorganic chemistry at the University of Mumbai."Growing up in India, the culture was either become a scientist or an engineer. There were very limited career options," Padmaraj told AOL Jobs.
Even if fashion and styling was her true passion, she found that chemistry fascinated her as well. "I love chemistry, because it connects me to the elements of life. You can actually talk about metals and how they affect you," she said.
After living in India for a couple years, Padmaraj came to the United States, got married, and raised two kids. She worked at a software business and got involved with entrepreneur networking groups in Seattle. During this time, her interest in fashion continued. She often styled people and gave them advice on what to wear. She also started designing bridal outfits for customers.
When her children entered high school, Padmaraj decided that it was finally time to pursue a career as a full-time fashion designer. She went back to school and graduated in 2011 with a bachelor of fine arts in fashion design from Seattle's International Academy of Design and Technology.
Now, her new fashion line Àtiz will be showing at fall Fashion Weeks all along the west coast, including Phoenix, Vancouver, Portland, and Los Angeles. It's the result of several years of hard work, with Padmaraj using the business degree she earned in Mumbai as much as her recent fashion degree. She's been getting her factories lined up, deciding what fabric to use, looking at sale samples, approaching buyers, and connecting with industry people. Her background in chemistry has been helpful too, as she takes a unique science-based approach to luxury womenswear designs.
"Chemistry and fashion actually have a lot of synergy," said Padmaraj. "I can look at fabric and say what kind of color saturation it takes. Or ask, is it environmentally friendly? All those kinds of informed decisions I can make as a designer, because I have a chemistry background."
Ultimately, Padmaraj wants to use fabrics and processes that are environmentally friendly. This means that she is exploring digital printing, which involves less chemicals than block printing. She chooses polyester over cotton, because polyester can be recycled and growing cotton uses a lot of pesticides.
Padmaraj is also very inspired by Eastern culture, whether it be Indian or other Eastern cultures. The tagline for Àtiz is "Eastern tradition meets Western innovation". She finds Eastern silhouettes more relaxed. They fit diverse people and make them feel comfortable.
"If look at a sari, it's one piece of fabric that's wrapped around you," explained Padmaraj. "Instead of you changing your body, the fabric changes and adapts to your body to create a look. I think we should enjoy our bodies just the way they are."
For those looking to follow their passion like Padmaraj, her advice is to believe in yourself and do whatever it takes. "Follow your passion, but strategically follow it," she said. "Think like a business, see what it takes, write it down. Be knowledgeable. I think it's very important to understand where you're going and consciously do things to go forward."
A career change involves learning new skills, but also using previous job skills or life experiences to stand out. Padmaraj's heritage, experience as a chemist, and business degree all helped her launch Àtiz. As she begins to be celebrated as a fashion designer, she says one of the greatest rewards in her new career is being "accepted as what you really want others to accept you as."
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