Forging a Path

Krisna Krishnankutty is a film stylist and the co-owner of Beg Borrow Steal. When she’s not working on set of the biggest movies in Bollywood, she’s at her rental studio, where she oversees an inventory of remarkable clothing, serving production shoots and last minute event needs. We spoke to her about forging her own path in the industry, and finding value in creating her own empire.

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Hi Krisna! Tell us about your company.

Me and my partner run a rental studio. It has a bunch of costumes, clothes, accessories, shoes, and jewelry. We are both stylists and costume designers who worked in the film business. We started collecting things over the years and felt that there was a market for people in the industry to rent things. So that’s how we started our company! Right now we’re a small boutique rental studio. We rent to stylists, production houses, people in the costume business. Sometimes we have people coming in to rent an outfit for an event, birthday, or festival, like Christmas or Diwali.

What is a typical day for you as a stylist and owner of Beg Borrow Steal?

It depends. Right now I’m in the studio about 11. We clear up, put things back on the rack, talk about our plans for the day. I normally do some accounts, run through our books, look at websites, research designers and what’s on sale, whether we can buy new stuff, and imagery for the sale.

Right now we’re doing a show—we’re styling two music composers who are judges on a TV show—so I work on that. Sometimes we call different designers and get products or pieces from them to use, as they have to wear something different for each episode. Around 7pm I go on set, dress them up, and prep them for the day. We usually leave an assistant there so they can handle the rest of the shoot and make sure the actor or artist is okay. Then I come back to the studio and finish up the work here.

At the moment we’re also doing a film, so I’m reading the script, doing breakdowns, and putting a presentation together so I can pitch to the director. We have another film which is already being created—a South Indian film—and for that we’re only styling one artist. We’ve done one fitting with her so now we’re talking to the director, tweaking the outfits, and giving them to the tailor for alterations. We do a bit of everything and try to get it all finished! Everyday is different. I have days when I just sit in the studio, if we have a few clients I help them out, and sometimes we just hang out and don’t do much!

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What was the inspiration behind Beg, Borrow Steal?

Beg, Borrow, Steal was actually my partner, Pranav’s, idea. He had been sitting on it for about a year. He’s a bit of a collector so he started putting things together. As stylists we have a lot of residue post shoot—we end up collecting things and you don’t normally throw them out, so you then pull on them for another shoot and they rotate and recycle.

He started thinking about opening a rental studio because right now in Bombay they only have high-end rental studios, and they generally do mainly Western wear or costume-based things. A lot of people in film and production houses don’t want to keep a lot of the stuff, because they don’t have space. So they either tell us to take it back or they’re happy to rent it, use it for a shoot, and then return it. There was definitely an opening in the market.

We met in college, and when he came to me with the idea I thought it was incredible. We both moved to Bombay around the same time—he started doing films and I was also doing films. I went from one film to another back to back for 4-5 years. I dabbled with some celebrity styling in between, but felt my passion was in film. He went from film to celebrity styling, and started working with Shaleena Nathani, who’s a famous celebrity stylist here. He then went independent and started styling some television actors and anchors along the way. He came to me to talk about starting it (we hadn’t spoken for a year or two) as he remembered these headgears I’d made for my final project in college, and wanted to buy them for his inventory. So that’s how we started talking. He said he was looking for a partner, asked if I was interested, and I was. That’s when I decided to invest and get involved 100%. It’s been about four months now, and it’s been really great.

Tell us about your relationship with your business partner.

We’re really honest with each other. 100% transparency. I think the fact that we knew each other through college and then individually grew as stylists/designers is really great, because our strengths help each other. Our personalities also support each other. I’m a lot calmer and he’s a little bit hyper. I think that we somehow work together because sometimes if I’m lazy, he’ll push me to do things, and if he gets too much, I’ll calm him down. There’s definitely balance.

I’m not afraid to tell him anything. We’re really upfront with each other which is great. Whatever decision we take, we always make sure we’re on the same page. If one of us isn’t, it’s something we just don’t do (unless one of us can really take the lead, we can then work it out).

For example, this TV show we’re doing now was something I’d never have done, but he said, “Don’t worry, this is my forte, we’ll figure it out together.” That was amazing. Now we’ve got this film and it was the other way round: I jumped on it and could take the lead.

We can take on a lot more work as we have strengths in different departments, Together, we make up for what the other lacks. It’s great to have somebody to lean back on and to come to at the end of the day. It’s a lot of pressure by yourself, so it’s nice to having someone as a sounding box to certain things, and to reassure you when you’re second guessing yourself (even if it’s saying no to something.)

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What are the biggest challenges and the biggest rewards of this job?

The biggest challenge is how much of my personal life I’ve had to give up, because it’s so time-consuming. It’s also physically draining as there’s a lot of running around. I think time doesn’t really exist in this industry—you often work insane shifts all through the week and it’s something you just can’t help. I’m learning to compartmentalize my life to make sure I have time for my personal life as well as my work, but it’s definitely difficult.

The upside is that I love what I do. I’m so passionate about it, and that’s a blessing. I can go into work and be so proud of what we achieve. A year ago, I would never have believed that I could be in this position today. I was burning out going from film to film, and I wanted something of my own. I was 25. I had set some goals when I was 21 and moved to Bombay (I’ve been going back and forth since I was 18 and interning), but in this industry it’s really difficult to go independent. It’s a lot of being in the right place at the right time. I was an assistant for so long that I felt like I had to make a shift in order to do independent work. I gave up a lot of opportunities as I didn’t want to have to do the same thing and be blocked for 6 months at a time. So I made a conscious decision that I’d wait for that one independent contract. And it did happen eventually, but it wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be.

When I got this opportunity to collaborate with Pranav, I already knew I loved curating things and putting things together—it’s like a giant wardrobe and I get to pick and choose what I put into it. It’s so fun. I’m really happy right now. I’m super content with my career and love having something of my own. It’s so nice that I can go in the world and am genuinely happy with what I’m doing and the projects we’re taking on. This is where I wanted to be and yes, it was a tough year to get here, but it’s been good.

What is your vision for the company in the future, and your role within it?

That’s something that we’ve been thinking about a lot recently. Firstly, we need to grow our brand so more people know about it and we become that go-to place. Secondly, we want to build the content and inventory that we have. Eventually I’d like to be online—an app or website is something we have to look into. It’s the smart thing to do. E-commerce is huge in India, and people are doing it already, but renting online isn’t something that’s done yet. Renting clothes isn’t what people are accustomed to. Hopefully when this mindset changes, we’ll have a market to step into.

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What advice would you give those who choose to embark on a similar journey?

Be really open. Don’t say no. Jump at opportunities. That helped me learn a lot. Give all of yourself to what you do. Even the less good experiences can help you. If something doesn’t work out, there’ll be 100 other opportunities knocking at your door.

What are you not sorry for?

I’m not sorry for going after what I want. I’m not sorry for wanting to be independent in my own self.