Life Beyond Reed (continued)

Photo by Kunal Daswani

Anaka Narayanan ’04

Founder, Brass Tacks Clothing, Chennai, India

After earning her degree in economics, Anaka took a job at a consulting firm in Manhattan, but her heart wasn’t in the work. She returned to Chennai, moved in with her parents, set about learning the fashion business, and launched Brass Tacks, a line of women’s clothing with two dozen employees. She oversees every facet of the business, from designing the clothes to writing copy for her website. “I care about every detail,” she says. “But I also want to grow the business, so I’ve learned not to micromanage as much.”

Thesis: Does Civic Participation Affect School Quality? Adviser: Prof. Denise Hare [economics]

Why fashion? I was really drawn to tailored silhouettes I would see women wearing when I lived in New York, but I missed the beautiful textiles from home. When I went back to visit Chennai, I would see these gorgeous fabrics but the silhouettes were so boxy—like pillowcases with holes cut out for the head and arms. I kept wondering, "Why isn’t anyone using traditional textiles to make more modern styles?"And my mother said to me, "Stop complaining and do it yourself."

Did you have any fashion experience when you got into the business? As a kid I would go into my mother’s closet just to play with her saris—the smell of the cotton, the textures, the colors. I was surrounded by fashion, but I never studied how the garments were made or how to run a business.

So where did you start? I did a lot of R&D in the beginning, and I definitely attribute that approach to Reed. At one point I measured 100 women—family, friends, friends of friends—and realized the bust-to-hip ratio was completely different for Indian women than U.S. or European women. So I made my own size chart.

What’s your take on fashion at Reed? Functional. Reedies look down on fashion. Actually caring about the way you look? Please. 

How did Reed shape your approach to running a business? I like to go in-depth when it comes to getting something done or thinking about an idea. That's something I got from Reed. I also have an ability to apply skills to a variety of scenarios, and I'm open to learning new skills that are outside my “core strengths.” Handling the marketing, the PR, writing out my press kits... I wouldn’t have been able to do any of that well if it weren’t for Reed. 

What’s your toughest challenge as an entrepreneur? In the beginning I wanted to have a say in absolutely everything. But in order to grow the business, I can’t spend my day at the workshop or the store surrounded by employees asking me a million questions. I have to find balance. And I’m too impatient. I want to work on something today and see the result tomorrow.

Any advice for budding entrepreneurs? Running a business on your own can be incredibly isolating. You know starting out it’s going to be hard work, but no one tells you it can be lonely, too. So my advice would be to go into business with a partner or partners with clearly defined roles—divide and conquer.