This piece originally appeared in Badger Vibes, a partnership between Madison365 and the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association.
Bhavana Jain never envisioned herself launching a clothing line after declaring a biology major, nor when she went on to pharmacy school. But today, more than 15 years after she graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison with a degree in biology, Jain’s Chicago-based Bhavy J Designs offers women a one-of-a-kind look in American contemporary wear.
“The thing that interests me most about fashion is the many ways to express yourself,” Jain says. “Fashion is not defined, it’s always evolving. I used to think that you had to be on trend with fashion, but really it’s a creative platform of expression.”
Jain unveiled the Bhavy J Designs e-commerce website last year: a different kind of career accomplishment than she once expected. She went to college thinking she would apply to medical school to become a doctor one day.
“My father is a physician, so I always struggled with which path to take,” Jain says. “I truly had a genuine desire to pursue medicine and so my parents suggested that I stay on the health care track for job security.”
Jain remembers her interest in art and design beginning in childhood. She grew up in Chicago as a first-generation Indian-American and credits her parents for exposing her to the many facets of Indian culture, which inspired her personal style.
Today some of the inspiration for her work continues to stem from her culture. When she began designing clothes, she found herself enamored with Indian attire and culture.
“The color of Indian attire is very bright and lively, and I enjoyed wearing Indian attire and had so many ideas on designing and styling Indian clothes,” Jain says.
Originally, Jain considered designing Indian wear with western influences. “But then as time went on, I decided to design women’s [American] contemporary wear and incorporate a little of my Indian heritage,” she says. “I did this because I could relate more to this as I was a first-generation Indian born and raised in the U.S.”
Growing up, Jain admired her father’s profession and never truly considered a career in fashion. Coming from a family of doctors, Jain felt her life was all planned out.
“When I was admitted to Wisconsin, I had my mind set that I was going to do health care. I convinced myself [on] just focusing on biology and getting into med school,” she says.
At the same time, she struggled because of her love and knack for art and design. Still, Jain enrolled in courses to prepare her for medical school. Although the coursework was grueling, she enjoyed her time spent on campus.
“I think you just have to find that balance of studying and having a social life,” she says. “Overall I did a pretty good job of balancing that.”
Walking down State Street, attending Badger football games, and working on shows for the India Students Association (ISA) made her time at the UW some of the best years of her life.
“I knew I wanted to come back to Chicago to do pharmacy school,” she says. “When I was admitted to pharmacy school in Chicago, I met quite a few students from Madison. We had a lot of things in common and would go back to campus as alumni.”
After receiving a doctorate of pharmacy degree from the Chicago College of Pharmacy at Midwestern University, she landed a position as a clinical pharmacist at a hospital, where she worked alongside doctors and nurses — a role she enjoyed. Jain liked being part of an integrated team; she felt like she was making a difference in people’s lives.
Jain worked as a full-time pharmacist for 12 years, but her schedule began to feel monotonous early on in her career.
“I’d go to work in the morning and go home at night,” she says. “I was so exhausted. I didn’t feel like I was doing something outside of work.”
Jain decided to shake things up by exploring different interests. She enrolled in evening classes that taught her the basics of sewing and design while she continued working as a pharmacist full time.
“With fashion design, I just love how you can create any kind of garment,” Jain says. “Whatever you may be thinking, you can create.”
As her knowledge of and love for fashion grew, she continued working in the hospital. However, designing clothes gave Jain the creative outlet she longed for, and she wanted to see where her interest in fashion could take her. As a result, she decided to give selling her clothes a shot.
“When I decided to create my company, I continued to work full time in pharmacy until the company was launched,” she says.
Juggling the two was tough, but she devoted every free moment she had to her business. Shortly after launching her company online in 2018, she transitioned to a part-time pharmacist role.
“Right now, I’m focusing on growing my fashion business. I’m currently working on my second collection due out spring of 2019,” Jain says.
Looking Forward, Reflecting Back
Moving into the future, Jain hopes to create relationships with customers and sell her clothes to other local boutiques in Chicago. For Jain, the opportunities are endless, and she’s decided to take each step one day at a time.
“One big lesson I’ve gained through this journey is if you have a vision and drive, then you will be successful in whatever you do. I had to learn about an industry that I had no connections with, nor did I understand the fashion business landscape,” she says.
Throughout her life, Jain learned to embrace her challenges and failures in order to become a true self-starter. Now, she expresses all facets of herself and celebrates her dualities as pharmacist and designer, Indian and American.
“Never ignore what you’re passionate about,” she says. “You will always succeed at [that].”l