Sathya Balakumar and Heather Green work in the bridal industry, so calling them a match made in heaven may be playing on a pun, but it couldn’t be more accurate. The two refer to themselves as the “Lakum Duo,” because their vision for the brand is the same: they are set on establishing a high-fashion company that infuses heritage with modernity, without the intimidation factor that often follows couture.
SWAAY sat down with the Lakum founders to talk about their latest collection, setting out on their own and what designing for the “non-traditional” bride means to them.
What is your inspiration for this new collection, Elemental 2.0?
Sathya Balakumar: “Our story is about sleek, clean silhouettes, and then we pepper them with beautiful embroideries. For this collection, I wanted to go back to the techniques, the tailoring, the structure, very simple, sophisticated foundation pieces and then build off of that. The elemental pieces of the collection are the basic pieces that we grow from, and those are the silhouettes that last for a lifetime.”
Heather Green: “We built off our original Elemental collection, and a lot of it was actually inspired by the brides that are coming into the store. We get to be educated on the floor by the women shopping from us.”
Lakum founders, Heather Green and Sathya Balakumar, at their Elemental 2.0 launch party.
What sets Lakum apart from other bridal boutiques?
HG: “We come from high fashion. I think that's clear in our direction and the way that we approach everything. We don't approach it from the bridal world. We will still do markets, we are still going to show October. We did a runway show last year and it was cool, it was an introduction for us, but what really makes Lakum is the two of us."
SB: “Some of the more traditional boutiques are like a factory. You’re in and out in 60 minutes, barely see the whole collection. It's a very unemotional experience.”
HG: “Our role in this world is to create beautiful gowns or pieces that make you feel beautiful and like your best self. That’s what we strive for.”
How did you develop the concept for your brand?
HG: “When we came together to create Lakum, we knew we wanted to do something in bridal, but in a way that would shake up the industry and cater to the modern woman. We spoke to friends and friends of friends who had been recently married to find out about their shopping experience, and how they selected their wedding gown. In essence, what we discovered is that most women selected a look they thought they SHOULD wear as opposed to a look that allowed them to feel like themselves while walking down the aisle. We created Lakum to give the woman who is utterly self aware the opportunity to be her authentic self on her wedding day and throughout her entire wedding weekend.”
What inspired you to start your own brand, and what continues to drive you?
HG: “I worked at Marni and then I went on to work at Miguelina, and for me it wasn't the right fit. I ended up turning into a corporate sales person. I originally worked for small brands where there was creativity, actual communication and relationships with the people I was working with. So now, the stores that carry us are our friends. We get to build this relationship and have this be our shared vision. We just want to do this for us. Once we decided that, which was around year two and a half, we opened the store. We’ve been here about a year and a half now. We decided that we’re going to work one-on-one and that’s the feedback that we’re going to listen to, instead of anyone else. It’s hard, going out on your own. It’s a big deal. But we have a lot of gratitude. We call ourselves the Lakum duo because even though we're different in many ways, the vision for the brand is exactly the same.”
Where were you located before your Brooklyn showroom?
HG: “We've actually always been in Brooklyn. Our origins are in Cobble Hill, but prior to this space, we were located just down the street. When we began to get requests from brides from across the country to come and make appointments with us to shop the line, we realized we needed a true retail location. We were so fortunate to find this gorgeous loft space with a roof deck just a few blocks away. So we now have a Lakum Boutique, the first of many we hope.”
Did you have any challenges finding investors for your very first collection?
HG: “We know how to stretch a penny and relied solely on our own financing as well as small gift from our family to create the first collection. We are one of the small businesses out there who can say we are fully owned by the founders.”
What makes a Lakum bride?
SB: “It’s the modern bride. She’s in control of this, it's now her vision. It's not like the industry or society telling her that she needs to wear a long, traditional, corseted white gown. She wants to wear something that’s gorgeous and beautifully made that she can wear again and again.”
HG: “Yes! Totally her. We have plenty of city hall brides, same-sex brides, women who just don’t want to wear dresses. Separates have been a huge part of our business. Now, it’s 50/50 between gowns and separates. We have some beautiful suiting, and it’s becoming one of the hottest things we have…We never know what our brides are going to gravitate towards. For appointments, brides can bring as many people as they want, but what’s very cool is a lot of our brides come solo. She's utterly self-aware.”
SB: “She doesn’t need the feedback. She just knows what she wants.”
What are you working on next?
SB: “The next collection that I'm working on, the theme is 'non-linear.' The path to love is not a linear path, that’s what I’m envisioning. I'm trying to work out elements that go against the grain, whether that's going to be brought from texture or fabric. I always look at what’s working in the collection and I talk to Heather. It’s about marrying the concepts that I’m thinking about to what we need to enhance what we already have.”
From a young age, I was fortunate to know what I wanted my career to be.
Many 12-year-olds say they want to be a movie star, pilot or professional athlete, but I knew that I wanted to be a realtor. Growing up in an era when Miami's real estate business was exploding, I watched the city grow before my eyes. I wanted to have a part in that growth, which is why I decided to obtain my real estate license as soon as I turned 18.
Today, I run a luxury real estate group under Cervera, with sales of over $400 million within Brickell, Biscayne Bay, Key Biscayne, Design District, Midtown, Coconut Grove and Coral Gables. I've found a niche with penthouses, having sold Brickell's most expensive penthouse to date, along with two other penthouses in the past few years.
However, reaching this point did not come easy. I owe my success to two things: hard work and the people who took a chance on me. Without the former, there could never be the latter.
Here are the key reasons I was able to grow my business to over $400 million in sales by age 30.
You've heard it before, but I can't stress this enough. Every person you meet is a door to a new opportunity. In real estate, as is the case with most other professions, people want to work with someone they trust and connect with. My team and I put a large emphasis on not only going to work, but also finding meaning in the work we do through personal relationships. That can mean a lot of things, whether it be finding the perfect first home for a couple or helping a family move to an area with the best schools.
Real estate is personal, and your clients should always be treated like people, not numbers. Whether someone has a $100,000 or $10 Million budget, I treat them with the same respect.
As a result, nearly all of my clients come from referrals or return to me as repeat clients.
Become An Expert In Your Industry
My team and I put a strong focus on truly knowing the neighborhoods we work in. We've become local specialists, making sure that we have a strong understanding of the ins and outs of the listing, the area and the potential buyers.
We familiarize ourselves with every aspect of an area, including: the neighborhood, the local housing market, the inventory, the schools, community issues and traffic concerns. Being knowledgeable on these aspects help us guide the potential buyer in making an informed decision.
That same approach should be applied to every profession. People are choosing to work with you for a reason, so try to maximize the value that comes with that.
Find Time To Do Nothing
We live in a go, go, go world, with not much focus on slowing down. You're responsible for your own mental wellbeing, so be sure to put in the time for yourself. For at least one hour a day, I allow myself the space to do nothing and truly live in the moment. That hour may be spent meditating, curled up with a book or watching my favorite Bravo show. The point is: that time should be for you, free of any distractions. Doing this allows you to go into work with a clear mind the following day.
It's Not All On You: Empower Your Employees
There's an emphasis put on working non-stop as the only way to succeed. That approach couldn't be further from the truth. While I'm all about working hard, as a leader, working smarter not harder is what will take your business to the next level. Remember, you hire people for a reason, so trust them to do their job and always make yourself available as a resource.
That way, you can spend your time on big picture initiatives, and your employees can own their work and grow in the process.
It Takes Money To Make Money
Don't underestimate the power of good marketing.
In business, especially when first starting out, it's important to spend money to invest in your company's success. Whether it be boosting your website's SEO, creating targeted ads or sponsoring social media posts, effective marketing is crucial when looking to reach your target audience.
Beyond traditional marketing, attending conferences and panels is essential to help you continuously learn about your industry, meet like-minded people and get your name out there.