Rochester’s Tanvi Asher emerges as a local indie fashion leader
story and photos by Erin Scherer
As a child, Tanvi Asher watched her grandmother meticulously craft seed-bead jewelry, and always admired the way she carefully chose each bead for the pattern. A seamstress as well, her grandmother sewed colorful saree blouses for herself and her sisters. “She was the queen of multitasking and had a keen eye for detail-oriented projects,” recalls Asher. “She was a true artisan.”
Today, her Grandmother’s love of color and pattern is reflected in Asher’s casual clothing line, Peppermint, sold at Asher’s boutique in Rochester, Shop Peppermint. The boutique specializes in indie clothing and jewelry from all over the world.
In 2013 she launched Asher Bridal, and hosts a fashion show, Sewn Seeds, every year as a platform for local fashion designers.
Finding her way
She was born in India, but spent most of her childhood in Oman’s capital city of Muscat, and Dubai. In 2001, she enrolled in SUNY Buffalo’s graphic design program; in part because her paternal aunt and uncle were already settled in the Buffalo area. “I thought I would have a good network of people to support me as I was transitioning to a new country,” she recalls.
After graduation in 2005, she moved on to The University at Buffalo’s architecture program, hoping to eventually apply architectural knowledge to product design. “When I graduated, my thought process was that I wanted to do product design, but I didn’t have the financial resources to go to a private university,” she says. Although Asher still considers her time studying architecture valuable, she found a better fit at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) a-year-and-a-half later, when she enrolled in its industrial design program.
At SUNY Buffalo, Asher made and sold scarves to earn extra money, but at RIT, she began to take fashion design more seriously. “What people wear plays such an important role in making a first impression,” she says. “I wanted to be able to apply the knowledge that I had and make clothes that were accessible to everyone.”
She taught herself to sew by reading, watching videos on YouTube, and taking apart garments she bought in thrift stores. She was influenced by designer Hussein Chalayan (“Fashion’s arch avant-gardist,” says Vogue), and visual artist Lucy Orta, whose sculptural work investigates the boundaries between the body and architecture.
Asher began crafting a thesis that revolved around “clothing as shelter,” – essentially pieces of clothing that could double as a temporary shelter, which remains a cornerstone of her design philosophy to this day. “Because I did my homework, I can take a look at the things I did in my past whenever I’m stuck for an idea.”
In 2008, as the completion of the coursework portion of her degree was nearing, Asher relocated to New York City to pursue a co-op (paid internship with housing) set up by RIT. During this time, which Asher characterizes as, “The happiest years of my life,” she was introduced to many people in the fashion and beauty industries, although she didn’t realize at the time how fortuitous those connections would become.
Living in New York gave Asher access to a diverse array of fabrics, and she continued to create scarves. What was originally intended as a three-month apprenticeship became 18 months, and at the end, she returned to Rochester to complete her degree.
She began dating her now-husband, Jeremiah Parry-Hill, an instructional designer at RIT, and continued taking her scarves to craft shows, mostly in Upstate New York, and selling them at places like The Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester.
After graduation, Asher worked for Bausch & Lomb on a contractual basis, but the job was not the creative outlet she desired.
Creating and selling
At one craft show, she connected with a clothing manufacturer based in New York City. Soon after, she submitted samples and patterns to the manufacturer, and the label Peppermint was born.
Peppermint began as a home-based wholesale operation, but over time outgrew the space. “My house wasn’t a sacred space anymore,” she recalls. Utilizing some of the connections she made during her RIT co-op, she opened Shop Peppermint at 121 Park Avenue in April 2012. Sales on opening day paid the store’s rent for two months. Six months later, Shop Peppermint moved from its original 450-square-foot space facing Meigs Street to an 800-square-foot space in the same building, but facing Park Avenue.
Shop Peppermint’s customer base, according to Asher, like to drink, eat, and shop local, and they care about where their clothing originates. Almost every week, Shop
Peppermint has new items in stock, and the production process from start to finish takes between six to eight months. Asher attends a textile show, Texworld USA, to pick out the fabrics she uses. She has them shipped to her manufacturer and emails him her patterns.
She considers her industrial design background an asset when working with her manufacturer, a family-owned business with about 20 employees. Thanks to the manufacturer’s two- to three-dozen other clients and the limited number of garments Asher orders with each design, she is able to keep the prices down.
Every August, Asher travels to Las Vegas to exhibit at The Magic Marketplace, a trade show for the fashion industry. While she’s there, she scouts the wares of new talent to sell at Shop Peppermint back home. She has also found designers through Etsy, and says that sometimes designers will approach her. On occasion, Peppermint will issue a “Capsule Collection,” a collection of pieces that can be worn throughout the year.
Inspired by some of the challenges she faced finding the right dress for her own wedding in 2012, Asher launched Asher Bridal the following year. Unlike Peppermint, every item in the line is custom made. “When I was getting married, I really wanted an independent artist or designer to make my dress for me, but I found that it wasn’t very accessible for me to do so,” she says. Instead, she and her fiancé went to Kleinfeld Bridal in New York City to pick out her dress.
Among past clients are breast cancer survivors who would otherwise be uncomfortable in a normal bridal store. She relishes being a part of their lives, and being able to give them personal attention. “They consider me a therapist in some ways,” she says.
Business at Asher Bridal was suspended for a time when the store relocated to new space on Culver Road, but Asher has new clients lined up for 2018.
As a former student of architecture, Asher followed the renovation of the former National Guard Armory on Culver Road over the course of several years, and at one point even inquired about space there. Finally, Asher was contacted in 2016 by the building’s co-owner Fred Rinaldi, Jr., who informed her that they had space available. Like kismet, her lease on the store’s Park Ave. space was ending, and her business was growing. The new location opened in October 2016 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony conducted by the City of Rochester.
Asher treasures her employees, strives to build a supportive environment, and makes a point to pay them more than what they’re worth. “It’s a way of showing gratitude,” she says. Right now, she’s working toward offering health insurance to her employees, noting that they often leave because they turn 26 and age out of their parents’ insurance, not because they want to.
At a time when mall retail and corporate labels like Ann Taylor, ModCloth, and J. Crew are downsizing or shutting their doors altogether, the fiercely independent Shop Peppermint not only survives, but thrives.
Now, fans and customers no longer have to drive to Rochester to check out Peppermint’s merchandise. This past fall, Asher launched a mobile version of Shop Peppermint, ROC The Mint, to take to events, festivals, and wineries. She hopes to take it to New York City next year. For all her ambition, though, Asher aims to keep things small. “When I started this business, I had no desire to get so big that I couldn’t manage anything anymore.”
Since 2014, Erin Scherer has written for several Finger Lakes and Rochester area publications. She lives in Geneva.