Kashish Hemnani might be new to the Middle East, but she’s no stranger to being a fierce female entrepreneur with a vision. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hemnani studied in London and graduated with a degree in law – but for some reason, it wasn’t a satisfying career path for the entrepreneur and in 2009, she took a leap of faith and launched her own handbag line, LAYKH. The luxurious line of accessories boasts exotic skins and leathers at an accessible price point, in everlasting styles, practicality, and a personal touch from the designer herself, which is rare in the world of luxury today.
Settling into her new life in Dubai, introducing LAYKH to the Middle Eastern market, we know there is no looking back for Kashish, as she looks to take her label to new heights and AboutHer.com caught up with the savvy, yet mindful business woman herself to find out what truly empowers the designer 10 years after launching LAYKH.
Tell us a little about your background...
I am Indian, born and bred in Hong Kong and went to London for university where I graduated with a Law degree. I returned to Hong Kong and dabbled in PR and Business Relations where I quickly realized that the corporate world was not a good fit for me and I decided to venture into the world of entrepreneurship. I launched my handbag brand “Laykh” in 2009. In 2019 we celebrated our 10 year anniversary and I also got married and moved to Dubai.
What does Laykh stand for and what significance does it have?
In Sanskrit, the ancient language of India “LAYKH” is defined as, when all the planets and stars in the universe align willing an event to occur, aka, destiny. As a brand, “Laykh” shatters the myths and illusions of the luxury industry. Luxury to me is a reality, not a perception. It is about purchasing a sense of value.
I source only the finest leathers from the leading tanneries worldwide, focus on quality workmanship, attentive customer service, transparent pricing and timeless design – in this day and age that is a “luxury”, to know exactly what you are buying and for what price and to know the product will stand the test of time. The whole trick of the luxury industry is to make consumers feel like they’re buying something rare when in actuality whatever we’re buying is almost certainly made in enormous quantities. As the industry expands putting your hands on something unique gets harder and harder.
My shoppers know that they are being looked after, it is not just the product that counts but ensuring that the journey of purchasing a Laykh bag is hassle free and trust worthy. All questions are answered, bespoke enquiries are taken with great detail, all bags come packed in embroidered dust bags and a personal hand written letter from myself. Once bags are delivered I always follow up and ensure ones satisfaction.
You have a law degree, what made you turn your back on a career in law, to take a leap of faith and start your own business?
The corporate world was not the right fit for me, I didn’t like playing the role of one link to a long chain where I had no personal purpose in my work and no autonomy. Being an entrepreneur was freeing and opened up a world of travel, sourcing and endless possibilities. Further when you’re creating a brand you are creating a vision and an ideal, a cohesive message on what you stand for, it is a journey of self-discovery.
Laykh's signature is the use of exotic skins and leathers, what draws you to these and what is your design process?
As many of us do, I would cyber stalk my fave fashion icons for outfit inspiration – my victims of choice included Victoria Beckham, Kate Beckinsale and Eva Longoria to name a few! I applaud their clean cut elegant aesthetic, I began to notice that in all the looks I loved the finishing touch was always a magnificent exotic skin handbag. Whether it was the Birkin, a Zagliani python bag or a Nancy Gonzalez oversized croc clutch they added instant vogue points to their look.
The power of the exotic skin handbag dawned on me, how the luxurious textured skins can transform a simple jeans and t-shirt day into a picture worthy street style moment and those “nothing to wear” days go from frustrating to fabulous!
I have conducted multiple trials to understand the complexity of exotic skins, to know what leather works best for what style and how each skin is to be finished. When designing and sourcing I always keep in mind that the handbag is a functional accessory, like the shoes that pinch you toes, there is nothing more infuriating then a box clutch that does not fit your phone, a day bag that is heavy when empty is not going to be a fun to carry when full. Laykh bags are a pleasure and a comfort to carry, only encouraging your fashion choices by working with multiple looks and just naturally dressing up or down with your outfit easily transition from day to night and from casual to formal.
What, about Kashish Hemnani's personal style, translates into Laykh's aesthetic and overall brand image?
I am a non-clutter sort of gal! I don’t like to drown in statements, I choose just one!
– Legs/ back/ stomach/ cleavage – Just one!
– Earrings/ necklace/ cuff/ belt – Just one!
– Smokey eye or red lip – Just one!
The non-clutter also extends to my wardrobe, I create pieces that are on trend yet never “trendy” - to be eternally stylish. Not cluttered with chains or logos that would upstage the spectacular skins or date the piece. I don’t get lost in fashion rather fashion is my accessory.
Who is the Laykh woman?
When bags are being carried that scream “look at me, I’m so edgy” on the owner’s behalf, that’s too obvious of a statement for any truly stylish person to want to make, in fact the designs almost come off as insecure or self-conscious, when something has to be broadcasted the effect is totally lost.
The LAYKH Lady – as I like to call her would refuse to buy a lifeless uninspired bag just because the designer’s name is on the front. She does not fall victim to trends but is a knowledgeable shopper who knows what her money is worth, believes she is worthy to own beautiful things and invests in quality classics. She is confident to stay away from the “it” bags because she knows they maybe all the rage for one season and a dust collector for the next. She is secure and stylish in her fashion choices.
Having lived between Hong Kong and now, Dubai, how does your Middle Eastern clientele differ from the Far East?
The knowledge of the luxury sector that the women in the Middle East have in unparalleled to any other. With all the exposure and experience to high end products the Middle Eastern shopper knows how to identify quality. They spot high end materials and quality finishing instantly making it an incredible market for my brand. They appreciate the chance to order multiple quality accessories from my brand through the year for the same price tag as a single bag from a renowned fashion house which is refreshing and exciting!
The appreciation for the “handbag” is especially great in places where women wear the burka/ hijab – as this is the boldest fashion statement one can make. My bespoke service is particularly appreciated as currently everyone owns the Chanel and Birkin bag and shoppers are looking for unique pieces and individuality.
What pieces from your collection do you think no woman should be without?
My best sellers include, the FAREESA – I was inspired to create the perfect day bag. The Fareesa functions as an open top shoulder bag but with its side and central dividing zipped pockets your valuables are safe and better yet, you can actually find them! With the multiple miniature pleat detailing that beautifully accentuates the python belly scales running down the bag, it has “Mary Poppins” potential! It provides ample room for all your non essentials by puffing out but when carrying just what you need its silhouette easily flattens down coming together and looks incredibly sleek.
The SUE bag – which is a micro top handle crossbody bag in a disarming retro style tote and messenger cross body bag with its stunning pipping detail is subtle making this piece distinctive and elegant! In this mini size it is also super cute to run around town with!
Finally, the MONIKA – which is an evening minaudiere box clutch that adds a flash of glamour, is timeless in its style and is beautifully irresistible. It features a pullback diamond shaped clasp closure with a stunning semi-precious stone malachite accent and a detachable chain. It is deceptively spacious fitting all your essentials, throw in your keys, card holder, lipstick and your Blackberry, iPhone or even Samsung!
This year, Laykh turned 10, what have been your greatest challenges and how have you overcome them?
When Laykh launched 2009 it was a different world, no social media, no Instagram, no twitter. It was simpler, my job was to the focus was purely on the product, selling was organic. If a customer connected to your product it would sell. Once social media became a driving force all of a sudden look-books, followers and likes became the way of the world. My focus began to divert and before I knew it I was spending thousands of dollars on PR companies and gifting to influencers. Now years later after trying to make my way through the smoke and mirrors world that is social media which was an expensive and arduous journey - I know that nothing matters more than your product. There is no greater marketing for your brand then someone carrying your product and it looking great.
As an inspirational entrepreneur, who have been the women that inspire you?
One of my customers, a lady called Nancy Lieberman. She was one of the first women to ever make partner at a US law firm and has been named one of the 50 most influential woman lawyers in America by the National Law Journal. In 2007 while on a family ski vacation, Nancy suffered a life altering accident that rendered her a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down. Despite her new reality she was determined to resume her practice full time and accomplished that goal one year later when she returned to work.
We first met when she came to Hong Kong for work and was looking to shop for handbags, one of her associates and I had gone to the same high school and arranged a meeting at my office. Nancy arrived in a wheelchair, full of smiles and was filled with positivity and light! She is a woman who helps women, whenever I go to New York she generously hosts bag parties for me in Skadden or at her home and encourages me to keep going, keep pushing and continue to stay hungry. Till date Nancy has purchased 35 Laykh Handbags from me and much of my success in New York is due to her good will. Whenever our paths cross we always make sure to have dinner together and spend some quality time. Whilst she may be one of my clients she is also my mentor and a dear friend.
Trying to establish an international fashion business is no easy feat, what empowers you and how do you use Laykh to empower others?
Women are what have empowered me. The incredible women that I have met over the last 10 years are the reason I have been able to succeed. Fellow entrepreneurs who share their experiences, customers who have referred me or have been such fans of my brand that they have whole heartedly hosted me in their home to spread the Laykh Love. Behind every successful women is a tribe of successful women who have had her back.
In this same spirit of support I am currently working on LAYKH GIVES BACK. Our new collection features our “Phoenix” clutch this holiday season, an evening minaudiere box clutch with a clasp representing two wings. Inspired by the Phoenix who rises from the ashes, meaning to emerge from adversity stronger, smarter and more powerful. We are currently connecting with a charity in the UAE dedicated to aiding women and children where a percentage of proceeds from the Phoenix clutch will be donated. The possibilities are endless and it is an exciting new aspect of business that I am looking forward to.
Whats next for Laykh?
The next step for Laykh is to become a lifestyle brand including a range of home accessories, clothing and expanding LAYKH GIVES BACK!
Lastly, what entrepreneurial advice can you share with other women who aspire to launch their own fashion business?
FOLLOW YOUR GUT
It is not about turning a current passion into a business but rather pursuing an opportunity which your instincts tell you could “work” and becoming passionate about it. Once you genuinely feel, not think, that you could be successful (realistically speaking) the work involved will no longer seem like work as success is in your reach will inevitably become a reality. Let your gut always be your guide! .
DON’T CUT CORNERS
You will only become an expert in my field when you are in fully aware of the entire process from its first sketch through sampling, sourcing, manufacturing and delivery. Make yourself the ultimate authority in your craft. Knowledge is power and only then will one be able to compare and contrast suppliers, test quality and continue to keep getting better.
You can find more from the designer on Instagram @laykhofficial and www.laykh.com