When, at the age of six, Samant Chauhan moved from his village Dharhara, in Bihar’s Munger district, to Jamalpur in the same state, the Central School he was enrolled in seemed hugely sophisticated. “I was dying to go back to my village and tell friends that our classroom had chairs," recalls the 30-year-old fashion designer, who now lives and works in Delhi.

Chauhan, who exports clothes under his label “Samant Chauhan" to stores in the US, Europe and Australia, says his annual turnover last year was Rs1 crore. His father Bibhuti Bhushan Singh, who is a class III clerk with the Indian Railways, makes around Rs3 lakh a year.

Photo: Madhu Kapparath / Mint

“My parents could not afford to pay for both my brother and I to get a rickshaw ride to school, which was 3km away. My brother, being younger, got the ride and I had to walk. But on days he fell sick, I would get the rickshaw," remembers Chauhan.

After graduating in physics, Chauhan was debating whether to become a sound technician, a photographer or a cinematographer, but he was unable to get admission anywhere. He applied to the National Institute of Fashion Technology in Delhi for a postgraduate programme in 2002, though neither he nor his family had an idea of what a fashion design course would entail. “I thought it would be easy—I didn’t know they would make us study so hard."

The first year was tough, particularly since Chauhan hardly spoke English. “Delhi was a culture shock. People would casually talk about Ben Hur and Harry Potter, but I would have no idea what the reference to context was. I did not know basic stuff like where to put a floppy in a computer. It was shocking to see classmates spend Rs2,000 in a pub. That amount would have sustained me for a month. Since I could not speak English, I hardly spoke to anyone in my class in the first year."

To raise money for his living expenses for the first two semesters, Chauhan made portfolios for senior students and took up small graphic arts-related assignments to make money: “So that I could pay for my living expenses while my father paid the fees," he says. Chauhan got a scholarship for his last two semesters.

In all the years since, Chauhan’s proudest moment was to have his parents watch his show at his first fashion week appearance in 2007. Now, of course, attending fashion shows is a norm at the Chauhan household.

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