Denim Redefined: Q&A with Kushan Shah

Kushan Shah is a global entrepreneur focused on making a sustainable impact in the U.S. and his home country of India. Shah is an international student at Grand Valley State University studying Business Economics and Entrepreneurship. Shah enjoys playing tennis in his free time as he is on the Men’s Tennis team at GVSU and is a tennis coach in the summertime. Shah has always dreamed of being an entrepreneur and he is looking to make his mark in the fashion industry.

By: Chad Howell

I recently had the opportunity to virtually chat with Kushan Shah. From sunny Silicon Valley in California, Shah elaborated on his experiences as an entrepreneur. We discussed what it means to be an entrepreneur, how he’s navigated COVID-19 as an international student, and his ongoing entrepreneurship journey.

Q: What interested you in becoming an entrepreneur?

A: It all started when I was deciding between staying in India or attending a university in the United States. My dad is an entrepreneur and has owned his own business for the past 15 years. I get my entrepreneurial spirit from him – he’s always looking to start something new. I began going into his denim factory and working with him on certain projects. I also realized that the U.S. is a great place for entrepreneurs, so when I got the opportunity to attend GVSU and join the tennis team, my entrepreneurship journey began.

Q: What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?

A: To me, it means personal growth. I’d rather work 50 hours a week for myself than work 40 hours for somebody else. I like being my own boss because whatever I do is to grow myself and my business.

“Self-care is very important. To be a good entrepreneur you first have to take care of yourself”

Kushan Shah

Q: Let’s talk about your business, Thigdu. How did it all start?

A: When COVID-19 hit, I went back to India for almost a whole year. I began working closely with my Dad in his denim factory. While I was there, I saw firsthand the incredibly large amount of denim material waste that was going into landfills with no use for it. I realized I could do something about this waste. I started collecting the denim scraps – my sister is a fashion designer – and we started collaborating on what we could do with the material. I began brainstorming, looking for inspiration on Pinterest, researching denim upcycling, and eventually Thigdu was born.  

Q: What is the mission of Thigdu?

A: At Thigdu we see denim waste as a raw material. Our goal is to extend the life of denim by creating unique and handmade products, all while providing jobs for local artisans.

Q: Explain the process at Thigdu.

A: I have my own facility in India. We collect denim scraps from local denim manufacturers and bring it all to our facility. Then we sort through the scraps and have the artisans create the pieces by hand based on my sister’s designs (tote bags, hats, rugs, and more). We will be selling in India very soon and are excited to start selling in the U.S. once we finish working through some legal difficulties.

Q: Explain the difficulties you’ve encountered in entrepreneurship being an international student.

A: Like I mentioned, I haven’t been able to start selling in the U.S. yet. There are a thousand rules and regulations because I’m an international student, which has been very challenging. I’ve been working with business lawyers to figure out the best plan for my situation. We’re being very careful because I don’t want to jeopardize the future of my business due to a misstep in the legal process. But I really love the U.S. and it has always been my dream to come here. It’s just tough – very tough – working through the legal side of everything.

Q: How did COVID-19 impact your business?

A: It wasn’t detrimental because I was still in the early phases of my business when COVID initially hit – brainstorming, researching, and prototyping. But it was difficult to find workers at first. As the pandemic continued, however, I was able to provide good work for local artisans that needed employment.

Q: What lessons have you learned during your entrepreneurship journey thus far?

A: Self-care is very important. To be a good entrepreneur you first have to take care of yourself. I’ve had to change a lot through this process, such as my personal habits and daily routine. I can’t wake up at 10 am or later like most college students. You have to change yourself before you can have an impact on your business and the world.

There are a lot of positive vibes that come from being an entrepreneur too. You’re able to think properly and put your ideas to life. It’s a hustle, but it’s fun. Whatever you do is for yourself, not somebody else. You get to be your own boss – which I enjoy.

Kushan Shah is an inspiring and bright individual. His aspirations of shaking up the fashion industry while helping the environment on a global scale is incredible. Shah was a member of the 77IdeaLab cohort within the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at GVSU, in which he received funding to pursue his venture. We are excited to see what lies ahead for Shah and Thigdu. You can follow along with his Thigdu journey here and reach out to him here.

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