COVID took a lot from us. With thousands of businesses closing, indie retailers, artists and other creatives bore the brunt of the economic devastation. In the midst of all this, Danielle Sallinas and Shriya Bisht Misra saw an opportunity to help fellow makers and designers. Just a week ago the two opened Project Gaia, a luxe curation of some of the world’s most sustainable and fashionable brands including their own label, Maison De Papillon.
Names: Danielle Salinas and Shriya Bisht Misra
Store name: Project Gaia NYC
Store address: 57 W 21st St, Manhattan, New York
Store insta: @projectgaianyc
Tell me about Project Gaia NYC. How is it different from your clothing brand Maison De Papillon?
SBM: We are the founders of Maison De Papillon which is a clothing brand and we’ve been in the luxury industry for 8 years now. Project Gaia NYC is a new initiative which sprung up during COVID and it’s a multi-brand storefront. We still have the brand and still carry the brand in the store. We wanted to create a retail experience during this time, especially when all stores are shut down in New York. All the designers have lost their homes. People are mainly shopping online but they still want that hands-on experience in a store.
DS: We’re using Project Gaia NYC as our flagship store but we’ve converted it into a platform to discover the new and the next talent as well as other talents that deserve recognition for their sustainability efforts, creativeness, philanthropic elements. This is our home and we wanted to convert our home to the home of many other designers that share our ethos.
During COVID, we tried to mentor smaller brands or independent designers that didn’t know what steps to take to support themselves financially. Whether it was sharing the fact that they could get workman’s comp, unemployment benefits, or PPP loans. After the initial shock of COVID, a lot of brands were homeless, losing their stores or place in a big brand store. New York City is the hardest city to tap into as a designer, so we decided to create a platform for designers that had really incredible stories to come to without charging them a fee to put their clothes up for sale. It was completely risk free. Our only ask was that they had a good story that we could share.
SBM: It is a purpose-driven venture. It’s an experience where art meets fashion.
You both curated this store. Did you approach brands or did brands approach you?
SBM: Both. We scouted brands that had unique stories or products. We did a lot of research too.
DS: We actually worked with The Accessories Council. They sent us a huge list of brands they thought would be a good fit for us. We still haven’t gotten through the full list.
Are the brands you’re carrying New York based?
SBM: They’re from everywhere.
You officially opened last week. How did that go?
SBM: It was good!
DS: We’re super excited about all the support we’ve been and are getting in the fashion industry.
You both met when you were attending Parsons. Whose idea was it to start a fashion brand?
SBM: It was pretty organic. We both wanted to start a brand of our own because we have a very diverse background, we both are entrepreneurs. We wanted to start a new brand and we thought ‘why not together?’
DS: We have very similar aesthetics. We know what each other wants, but we also see things in a different way. We’re more of a yin and yang dynamic where we’re thinking the same thing but she sees it probably more from the left brain and I see it probably more from the right brain and it really works.
Did you have your Maison De Papillon online store first or brick and mortar?
SBM: Online. We are now in 200 stores across the world, with most stores in the US. We are in luxury hotels and spas. Hotels are a big part of our business and we are the authorized vendors for Four Seasons Hotels.
What are 5 skills or qualifications you think are important to know or have before launching a storefront?
DS: You need to have a vision and a plan. You need to know what your customer wants. You should have good partners whether that’s a landlord or vendors. Lastly, a good team is very important.
SBM: For us the three most important things are the people, planet, and product. People are the team, vendors, and even the customers. The planet obviously, which is huge for Project Gaia NYC. The product has to be a quality product. We do not compromise on the basic foundational guide that we stick to.
Speaking more towards helping out and doing your part for the people and the planet, Maison De Papillon supports the Indian Dreams Foundation right?
SBM: Yes Maison De Papillon and Project Gaia NYC do but not every vendor in our store donates to them. We have all sorts of vendors who support their chosen organizations and charities. I actually sit on the board of that charity and a chunk of our profits go towards them.
That was actually my next question. What was the reasoning behind choosing this organization?
SBM: Danielle and I both are associated with a bunch of charities. I am from India and Danielle has always supported me 100% so it was a no-brainer. It’s a smaller organization which needs much more support. What I liked about the Indian Dreams Foundation was every penny that they collect goes towards the actual charity and programs, instead of into marketing or something frivolous. Because it’s a smaller organization, our involvement could be much larger compared to joining a bigger organization.
What’s the most effective marketing tool you’ve been using recently?
Both: Social media.
DS: It’s so important. People are still lifestyle driven and we are a lifestyle brand, so we resonate with people on social media. We sell everything from a toothbrush to a beautiful rocking chair to incredible swimsuits.
SBM: Organic social media in general. Everyone we reach out to, press, marketing, everything is very organic and story driven.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in running your business?
SBM: Forming a good team. Luckily, we have an amazing team now but to get to this point, it has been a challenge.
How many people are on your team?
DS: We have about 10 employees but we have interns helping us as well and that’s been very much appreciated.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start their own brand or curative brand?
SBM: I would say plan to the end! It’s so important. There will be things that throw you off, like COVID, but stick to the plan as best as you can.
DS: And do your research!
If you’re in New York, stop by Project Gaia NYC in The Flatiron District and keep up with them on Instagram!