Vilasinee ‘Shalini’ Singhsachathet balances personal and professional relationships and takes the Jaspal brand into the future. BY REENA KARIM
“I have always known I was going to join the family business,” Vilasinee ‘Shalini’ Singhsachathet says as she gives me a tour of the pattern room at the Jaspal headquarters on Sukhumvit Soi 66. We pause for a few minutes in the sewing room, where some women are adding finishing touches to the garments, Shalini hesitantly poses for the camera, and apologises to the staff as she leaves. Over the next 10 minutes we drift through the accessories and leather departments, designer’s bay, sample room and finally end up in the conference room on the ground floor where we sit down with our cups of tea and Shalini gets down to business.
For Shalini, joining the family business was no coincidence. After finishing her undergrad in marketing from Mahidol University, she did a year-long stint at the company getting her first taste of what would eventually become her career. “I wanted to do some hands-on work before I started my masters, that one year was a real learning curve for me,” she says. “My brother took me into all the meetings. My father always said that I should sit and learn, so I would listen, take notes, and absorb the information. They were very open-minded and if I had any ideas they would listen and let me express my opinions.” Once she returned from London with a degree in fashion marketing from the London College of Fashion, she took a permanent place in the family business.
Growing up in a family that is also a highly diversified conglomerate, it’s no surprise that Shalini had a bit more than a passing interest in the business. “Why fashion?” she exhales, “I grew up seeing this business and everyone in my family so involved in it. As a child I spent time in stores, doing homework in the stockroom while my mother was at the store front with customers. So it’s kind of instilled in me, as if it’s in our blood,” she says.
Currently Shalini oversees the accessories department for Jaspal, but she also has her pulse on the clothing department often sitting in designer’s meetings and model fittings, to come up with inspiration and ideas for her the next collection: “You always have to be alert of all the trends and then translate that to products and then communicate that to the consumers.” But it’s not just fashion she fixates on, she is also engaged in the marketing, communication, and branding of Jaspal, oft working alongside her older brother, Viseth.
Working with family members may seem dreary to some, but Shalini makes the workplace dynamics sound effortless. “We work closely and share a family relationship rather than a hierarchy. We believe in open communication. Everyone can express their opinions. For me, it’s a plus to be working with my family.”
A lot has been going on in both her personal and professional life in the last few years and Shalini isn’t ready to slow down just yet. On the home front, she became a mommy to a baby girl only 10 months ago, while in midst of launching the new lifestyle brand Misty Mynx, along with her younger sister Varisara. Even though there was a faint hesitancy during motherhood, when she wondered how she would be able to balance both, her in-laws, especially her husband Dev encouraged her to continue. “My mother-in-law helps take care of my daughter when I am at work. I have a good support system.” Shalini is trying to balance her personal and professional life as much as can she can without compromising on either. “I want to work, but I also want to spend some time with my family. If I wanted to take time off or leave early to go spend time with my daughter, I can do that, so there is that flexibility. But at the same time we also have our responsibilities towards the company, which we never take for granted,” she admits like a true professional.
I wonder if there is ever a moment where she felt like she wanted to do anything else? Without skipping a beat, she says, “This is it for me. I watched the business grow since I was a kid. I always knew I wanted to work here. Everyone in our family has joined the business right after their graduation. It’s almost like a tradition. We have an inside joke that we have to keep expanding the lunch table at work to make room for more family members joining the business. In Indian families it’s tradition to have boys join the family business, but in our case, the women are also given equal opportunities and our opinions matter just as much as theirs,” she says with a sense of pride.
Carrying the legacy of the Jaspal brand forward must also be a constant source of stress and pressure. “Of course there is pressure,” Shalini says. “My position as the assistant deputy managing director comes with lots of responsibilities. But I have a good team in place and I hope to grow together. I work with happiness and I want to do the best I can. I want to be involved in the future too, hopefully find a right balance between having a family and this. I want to do it all,” she concludes.
PDF Leading Ladies
Published in Masala October ‘The Women’s Issue’, 2014, as part of the cover story titled ‘Leading Ladies’.