auLinen: Love Story with Linen

Fashion designer Preethi’s romance with the fabric has brought to life au Linen, a fresh brand that embodies the essence of a coastal lifestyle.

“I fell in love with linen while working on a spring-summer collection for a global brand,” confesses Preethi. Her very personal connection with the fabric is obvious as she enthuses, “Linen is messy, just like me! You don’t have to iron it; you can wear it however you want. It’s strong and resilient, much like my own personality!” The fact that it’s durable, highly absorbent, and naturally ventilated has also made it popular, and Au Linen’s timeless styles appeal to customers looking for classy, breezy silhouettes.

Leap of Faith

Preethi’s early interest in fashion is obvious from her academic and career choices. She graduated from PSG College, Coimbatore, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in costume design and fashion. Working as a designer for an export company in Bangalore exposed her to the processes of top international brands. While she learned a lot over the years she spent with them, she yearned to strike out on her own as an independent designer. She decided to adopt the uniqueness of linen as a differentiator for her new brand, and Au Linen was born.

Preethi, Founder of au Linen

From Employee to Entrepreneur

The shift from being an employee to becoming an entrepreneur was huge and something that wasn’t easy for Preethi, as she single-handedly had to run her business. She expresses gratitude to her friends and family, who have been a great support throughout this process. au Linen’s journey right from its founding up until now has only grown steadily and remains steadfast in its commitment to quality.

Coastal Charm

A distinctive feature of the AU Linen range is the seaside vibe. Preeti explains, “Chennai is a coastal city, much like Greece or Thailand, with beautiful beaches. It’s surprising that people don’t highlight this more. I often imagine wearing one of my linen dresses and just relaxing at Thiruvanmiyur Beach with a cup of moru (buttermilk). When I design, I always ask myself, ‘Can you carry this dress to the beach?’ The coastal aesthetic is not merely a theme but a core part of her design philosophy.

The Old School Charm

Design is in the Detailing

At au Linen, the garments are carefully handcrafted to achieve desired result. Preethi initially imported fabric from China, but later started sourcing locally from places like Erode and Karur to save on import taxes. Once the fabric is ready, the magic begins. Natural earth pigments used for dyeing, which improve colour fastness and even colouring. “As far as I know, we are the only brand using this method for domestic purposes,” says Preethi. For the intricate details on the fabric, both hand and machine embroidery are used. Designs are first tested on substitute materials before being printed on linen. The fabric then goes through the process of a soft wash, making the linen feel soft and buttery, a crucial step Preethi had picked up during her stint at Marks & Spencer.

The Sleek, Chic Ensemble

Keeping the Range Relevant

Having worked with some of the top brands, Preethi has always had access to software such as WGSN, a trend forecasting tool that predicts trends up to five years ahead. However, currently, as a small business owner, she no longer has access to tools. So Preethi finds inspiration in fashion trends and tips from how people behave, and their moods. One of the most fun and unique features of au Linen is their addition of quirky quotes to most garments. Almost eight out of ten garments have catchy phrases on them, such as ‘Work ain’t cool, but bro, my outfit is,’ and wholesome quotes like ‘Walk by faith’ and ‘Bloom with grace.’ The brand recently introduced their new line of T-shirts designed in the style of classic jerseys, made from 100% linen, as well as tote bags with quirky quotes and graphics, adding a fun element to their collection.

Coastal Inspired Wrap-Around Dress

A Generous Soul

“I would consider my network to be my biggest strength,” Preethi shares. Having worked with leading brands as well as using the local talent, she has a good resource pool of tailors, embroidery artists, dyers among other specialists she can reach out to. Above that she also takes good care of them ensuring their salaries are paid even if she has to dip into her savings. As someone who knows this Preethi generously shares her contacts and knowledge with other talented designers she meets at exhibitions and pop-ups.

Pushing Sales Singlehandedly

When it came to sales, exhibitions served as au Linen’s primary sales channel. However, Preethi started finding it way too expensive especially when exhibiting in cities like Mumbai where her brand actually sold very well. Since she couldn’t cover her overheads, she shifted her focus to online sales. Nevertheless, she often puts up her stall at the local Farmers Market in Chennai, which she considers to be a blessing because of its low investment yet excellent crowd, making it a win-win situation.

The Linen Tee

The Quest for Investment

Although Preethi initially relied on her friends and family for support, she now recognizes the value of having an investment plan. In order to help the company’s growth as a whole, Preethi is actively on the lookout for investors to help scale the business. “If I had an investor, I wouldn’t have to run around everywhere myself; rather, I would hire an assistant and focus more on designing and expanding the business,” she states.

Vision for the Future

At the age of 38, Preethi’s journey and her experience are a testament to her resilience and creativity. “Although managing everything on my own has been challenging, the experience and journey have been incredibly rewarding, and that’s what keeps me going,” Preethi says. The brand focuses on moving forward with international markets, specifically Australia, Singapore, and the UK. “Particularly in the UK, linen is highly sought after, so my end goal is to export,” she reveals.

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