Tania Mohan, the founder of Indian-inspired luxury fashion brand Tabla, shares her design inspirations, role models and top tips for maintaining work-life balance.
In a city as fast-paced as Hong Kong, few business ventures make it to the five-year mark, let alone 20! Thankfully that’s not been the case for Indian-inspired luxury fashion brand Tabla, with the boutique label gearing up to celebrate its 22nd birthday this year. Ahead, we’re catching up with its founder, Tania Mohan. A third-generation Hong-Konger, the former lawyer turned fashioned designer shares her most meaningful milestones, design inspirations and her top tips for maintaining work-life balance.
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Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you lived in Hong Kong?
I’m a third-generation Hong Konger of Indian origin. I went to boarding school and university in London, but besides that I have always lived in Hong Kong.
Can you share a bit about what you do? How did you break into the fashion industry?
Today I am the creative director and owner of my own brand Tabla, an East-meets-West lifestyle brand, made in and inspired by India. But that wasn’t always the case. Initially, I was all set to become a barrister (I got my LLB in London and PCLL at HKU). However, as it was 1997, I worried about my lack of Cantonese skills, so I ended up at a law firm to train to be a solicitor instead. I soon realised that a 9-5 job was not me though, so a few months into the contract, I decided to take the plunge and quit.
As fate would have it, I managed to persuade the editor of a Hong Kong newspaper that they needed a fashion editor, and I was soon off to Paris covering the Chanel show, interviewing top local designers and revelling in Bali at the Dunhill show. It was a dream job, and it led me to where I am today.
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How did you end up starting your own fashion label?
I am Indian by heritage and have visited the country multiple times, but it was during a trip to Bombay (now Mumbai) in the late ‘90s when I truly fell in love with the crafts of India and my passion was ignited. The delicate craftsmanship, fabrics and colours mesmerised me. I ended up bringing back some semi precious stone jewellery to Hong Kong to sell and my friends loved it. Around this time, the pashmina craze was taking off and I was at a crossroads in my life, so I decided to take up an offer up to open a boutique.
I opened Tabla (named after an Indian drum – it’s also a word that contains the initials of myself, my mother and my sister) and to my surprise, it was a fantastic success. In addition to pashminas, I also stocked collections from various talented Indian designers. After a while I decided to try my hand at designing, and eventually the shop became self-branded with all my own designs. The artistry of India is such an unwavering passion of mine, especially now when so many time honoured techniques are being replaced by machines and mass production.
What are your design inspirations?
I love going back to the true luxury of handcrafted pieces, to hear stories of the artisans I work with and to help keep these crafts alive; this very much inspires and informs everything I create.
I find joy in research and in learning about a certain craft, be it an embroidery or print technique, or fabric dyeing procedure. Most recently, I interviewed a wonderful artisan in Gujarat who comes from a seventh-generation block printing family and specialises in a stunning form of art known as Arjak. I have since worked with him virtually to design an exclusive fabric, which will be crafted into a range of beautiful products for Tabla.
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There’s so much that comes with starting your own company. What has been your biggest milestone to date?
I’d say celebrating 20 years in retail in the heart of Hong Kong. This is no easy feat, and while there have been some very hard times to ride through, I remain just as motivated and passionate about Tabla today as I was when I first started.
What are three things you do to maintain work-life balance in your day-to-day?
I play bridge often and now even teach beginners courses – I love getting more people into this amazing game! I also enjoy taking a walk along Bowen road while listening to a podcast, as well as spending quality time with my family and friends over good food.
What are five goals you hope to achieve this year?
- Get fit (yes, that old chestnut!)
- Having Tabla grow more – I’d love for my brand to be firmly recognised as a trusted source showcasing the crafts and embroideries of India. My dream would be to have Tabla shops all over China.
- Staying healthy and grateful
- Teach more bridge
- Have more moderation with my vices
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If you had one piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Find a niche, own it, never give up and love what you do.
Who are your role models?
Any entrepreneur that can make it on their own and follow their dream and vision.
What makes Hong Kong feel like home to you?
I was born here so everything about it is home to me. I love Hong-Kongers’ can-do attitude and resilience – we always bounce back no matter what. The city also has an amazing fusion of east and west, and is a melting pot of excitement and efficacy. Where else in the world can you be a stone throw’s away from the hustle and bustle of a financial capital after having hiked up a glorious mountain that morning, all while recovering from a stunning boating weekend on our beautiful seas?
All photos courtesy of Tania Mohan.