Born in Pune, India, Nagrani initially studied to become a doctor before receiving his bachelor’s in business administration and entrepreneurship. For a time, he managed the distribution of toys from China to the US before focusing on luxury fashion. He started by creating a high-quality line of socks for men which was rooted in classic ideals of luxury. He expanded by creating a full collection and opening a New York store. Nagrani introduced a fashion retail experience like no other, which was inspired by asking “where would Frank Sinatra shop today?”
Nagrani is refreshingly authentic: he values passion above all else, is dedicated to his family, and has committed to sustainable production methods that give back to the community. His dedication to a personalized, quality consumer experience sets VK Nagrani apart. It’s all in the details.
VK Nagrani’s Nolita store, New York.
Mood of Living Q&A:
Mood of Living: When did you launch your company and what inspired you to start your own business?
Vivek Nagrani: I launched in 1999. I wanted to create men’s clothing but had no idea what I was doing so began with men’s socks. The objective was simple: create the best men’s socks I could. The idea was to build a company working strictly with family-owned workshops, focusing on artisan products and to elevate the human condition. I also wanted the company and my work, to serve a greater purpose and that meant helping those who were less fortunate. Our “Elevate Life, Eliminate Waste” project allows single mothers a chance to improve their way of life by making handmade dolls from leftover fabric that we then sell to our clients. Not only does the money go to them, but the joy of creating something beautiful gives them a feeling of self-worth.
MoL: When was the moment you realized your idea could turn into a business?
VN: I have yet to realize that moment. For the time being, I continue to just do what I can to stay true to my vision. It is very unlikely that I will turn this into a “business”.
MoL: What was the best advice you received about starting a business, and from whom did you receive it?
VN: My grandfather and my father. They told me I would have to know how every aspect of the business worked and there was no job or role that was beneath me. My job was simply to get the job done.
Beginning with socks, VK Nagrani now offers a full menswear collection.
MoL: What are some of the obstacles you encountered when starting your company?
VN: I think the better question would be about the successes I had starting the business; that would be much easier to quantify. The obstacles were never ending but something inside me would not allow me to give up. Well, in all honesty, I tried to apply for a corporate job but was unable to even get an interview so I had to keep pushing ahead. Like many start-ups, funding was an issue as was convincing retailers to carry the line because fashion hosiery was very new to most stores.
MoL: You started with socks and have since branched out to the broader luxury menswear industry. Why socks, and what made you want to expand?
VN: For me to be who I intended would mean building a brand from the ground up. Men had very low expectations when it came to socks. I believed that by giving them a product that exceeded their expectations, I would create a sense of trust and connection with the consumer. I never tire of hearing how our clients are being complemented and how they now enjoy getting dressed.
MoL: You have said that you “want to make a difference and live with a purpose” – what is that purpose?
VN: The purpose is to build a company and a brand that brings attention to the artisan way of life. I hope that I inspire other entrepreneurs to follow suit and pursue passion over treasure. I also wanted to do my part in elevating the human condition.
MoL: Has creating a fashion brand helped you to realize your purpose?
VN: Clothing has allowed me to bring to life my talent and self-purpose. I would have been a horrible doctor, but I am pretty good at creating cool laundry. Through clothing, I have been able to create the “Elevate Life, Eliminate Waste” project which allows me to help those less fortunate. By working with small workshops, I know that each person involved with the brand lives in a civilized way.
MoL: In what other aspects of your life do you strive to achieve this purpose?
VN: I try to make sure there is purpose in every way as a husband and father, a friend, a son, a brother. I hope people will remember me and smile, that my daughter will be proud of my work and who I was as a man. It is never about the fortune, but the manner in which that fortune was made that serves as the foundation.
MoL: Who is the VK Nagrani man?
VN: The VKN man is someone who has had to carve his own path through life, who worked for everything. His character and his integrity trumped everything else. He never loses sight of where he came from and remains true to his soul, never compromising his integrity.
He chooses a life that allows him to do what he feels is right. His lifestyle is balanced. His passion is his work but respects the fact that life is a moment and he needs to make the best of it. He is modest, appreciates everything, and takes nothing for granted.
MoL: And what does passion mean to you?
VN: To me, passion means choosing to pursue what your soul yearns for. To be able to endure the hardship, failures, and frustrations that come with it is essential. To take the path less taken. I would spend summers in my grandfather’s shop in India where I fell in love with clothing and the art of turning fabric into something fun to wear.
MoL: You have said in interviews that you “hate fashion”, which is an unexpected statement coming from someone who has found success and passion in running a fashion business.
VN: Well, it is the business of fashion that frustrates me. I see clothing as my medium for self expression. The gentleman should be confident in what he wears and his wardrobe should correctly reflect his character. I want men to take what I make and make it theirs, focus on a sense of style rather than fashion. Fashion is something that the general population adopts for the moment; it is generic and speaks to those who do not have a true sense of self. People need to feel like they fit in for fear of being alone. Who cares? Live life as you choose, be who you are, and never apologize.
MoL: What influences your stylistic vision, and where do you find inspiration?
VN: I am more an engineer with great taste than a fashion designer. How I travel, where I dine, what I do, and how I live are my inspiration. I create things with a purpose, that should stand the test of time and gracefully age. My sense of style revolves around simplicity, function, elegance, and sophistication. My grandfather would always say, “A man’s presence should be felt, not heard.” To me, this meant creating clothing that would bring out a man’s self confidence, giving him presence.
MoL: How do you utilize sustainable business practices?
VN: Being a sustainable business is very important. We work with small, family-owned workshops that make each piece with the intention to stand the test of time. We have also implemented the “Elevate Life, Eliminate Waste” project.
MoL: Why did you choose to work with family-owned factories and artisans over more commercial options?
VN: We wanted to make clothing in a responsible manner. Working with artisans ensures that each and every person that is involved in our production lives a decent life. When you work with artisans, the product is a work of art rather than a commodity. There is a lot of pride in how we make clothing. Our clients demand the best and insist that pieces are made using fair trade practices. It is a matter of civility.
Vivek Nagrani in his store and designing new collections.
MoL: Your storefront marries luxury clothing with a luxury lifestyle – what influenced your decision to form that sort of environment?
VN: I wanted to create an environment that brought the clothing to life. The attention to detail, the décor, and the use of reclaimed furnishings gives the client an understanding of how we think and an insight into our design process. We worked on the interior with John Kole of Hecho, Inc. who thinks outside the box. He was instrumental in making our vision come to life. We wanted something totally original, a place that allowed for discovery and heightened the senses. The objective was to elevate the way a man thinks about not just clothing but also his way of living.
MoL: Since your customers come to the store by appointment only, how do you find your customers, and how do they find you?
VN: Luxury to me is always about discovery. Men who are searching for better are seeking brands like ours. Most of our clients have read about us or have been referred to us. We also work with hotels and restaurants that cater to our target consumer.
MoL: What is unique about the relationship a customer has with your store?
VN: Every aspect of our store is unique. From the initial consultation to the way we present clothing, everything is different. Men come to us with the intention to improve the way they dress and create their own personal style. They want simplistic elegance, real luxury.
MoL: You host events in your storefront; is the entertainment aspect of your brand something you wanted to incorporate from the get-go?
VN: Entertainment was essential in explaining how the clothing really works. Events in our space bring the world of VK Nagrani to life. Events are designed to serve a purpose. We want our consumer to know how the clothing functions in real life situations. We want them to really understand the way we think.
MoL: We find that people who make beautiful things are more likely to lead an artistic lifestyle. Do you entertain? Do you spend much time creating a beautiful home? Do you cook?
VN: Those who choose a path like mine tend to live a certain way, regardless of their financial disposition. My home is small but designed with intent. It is simple, the way I like it. When I entertain for work, it is more glamorous and exciting. It is about the brand and showcasing how the clothing really comes to life. When I entertain personally, it is very simple and focused on conversation, food, and drink with a small group of close friends. I love to cook and see it as an extension of my artistic ability. I often create my own versions or takes on the traditional. For example, I will make spaghetti and meatballs with a touch of Indian flavor. Or I will cook Indian food with an Italian sensibility.
Found and recycled objects decorate the VK Nagrani store in celebration of sustainability.
MoL: You have said that your wife and family have played a key role in shaping your business. How do they influence you daily?
VN: My wife has been the greatest support system ever. She encourages me every day to do what I think is right. She never complains about the business nor does she demand anything. It makes it much easier to stay focused on what I am doing rather than taking shortcuts for mere financial gains. Integrity is more important to her than money.
MoL: Along that same vein, how has fatherhood impacted the way you see the world?
VN: Being a father, especially to a daughter, has made me even more focused on doing things the right way. I want my daughter to know that integrity is most important. I want to set an example for her so that she too will pursue passion over treasure.
MoL: Where do you go for peace of mind and spirit?
VN: My most favorite place on earth is Taormina in Sicily. It has an authentic, rustic sophistication that is only seen when your mind and eyes are open.
MoL: Do you have a favorite quote?
VN: Yes, it happens to be our company motto: “Be everything to someone rather than something to everyone.”
MoL: Is there something you know now that you wish you knew before launching your brand?
VN: Wow, that would be a book. I have made so many mistakes, each yielding a lesson that has made me a better man. I think, if I had to do it over again, the most significant difference would have been not investing so much time in retailers.
MoL: Any words of wisdom to someone thinking of going down a similar career path?
VN: Pursue passion over treasure. Create things that make you proud and allow your soul to feel satisfied. Do your part in leaving the world a little better than when you arrived.
MoL: What does success mean to you? Has owning a business changed that definition?
VN: Success to me is very simple. It is defined by how one impacts the human race – no matter how big or small, so long as it is a positive impact. I built the company to include a sustainable business effort with product that enhances the client’s way of life and opportunity to help those less fortunate.
MoL: Where do you see yourself and your company in 10 years?
VN: In 10 years, I would like to be living in Sicily developing a new concept of bed and breakfasts. As for the company, I hope that we can create the ultimate shopping experience center. I hope the company will have created a community of like-minded, elevated thinkers.
MoL: What do you want the legacy of VK Nagrani to be?
VN: I want to inspire others to do better, to make smarter decisions and seek out their passions. I want them to be inspired to do things with a conscience.
Facebook: VK NAGRANI
Photography courtesy: Kil Park