Saisha Shinde is an Indian fashion designer. She is known for being the first transgender fashion designer in India. In 2022, she participated in the digital reality show ‘Lock Upp’ hosted by the famous Indian actress Kangana Ranaut.
Saisha Tulsidas Shinde aka Swapnil Shinde (former name) was born in 1981 (age 41 years; as of 2022) in Hindu Colony, Dadar, Mumbai.
She did her schooling at St. Joseph’s High School, Wadala, Mumbai. In 2003, she pursued her graduation from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Mumbai. Saisha did a six months internship in fashion at House of Versace, Italy.
Height: 6′ 2″
Hair Colour: Brown
Eye Colour: Brown
She was born in a conservative Maharashtrian family.
Parents & Siblings
Her father, Tulsidas Shinde, owns a chain of restaurants (including Hotel Rishi in Dadar, Mumbai). Her mother is an artist. She had an elder sister, who died of chronic kidney failure.
India’s First Transgender Fashion Designer
She was born in a male body, but she had various feminine features for which she was bullied by her classmates. In an interview, Saisha talked about it, she said,
My schoolmates used to tease me by saying “aye, baila.” They bullied me because I was shy, and had feminine features. Those were the worst years of my life. The church on the school premises became a refuge, where I would wait in a corner until everyone else had left for the day.”
After spending much of my school life feeling like less of a man, I decided to make my behaviour and appearance hyper masculine. It was a 100 per cent conscious decision. We are talking of the early ’90s when gay men were reduced to a caricature.”
While she was in her 20s, she realised that she was attracted towards men and not women. Initially, she accepted herself as gay, but after a few therapies with the doctors, she realised that she was a trans woman. In an interview, she shared that she was suffering from gender dysphoria (distress a person feels due to a mismatch between their gender identity) in her 20s. She further talked about her life as a gay. She said,
I come from a privileged family and was financially sorted as a designer. It was easier to live in denial, but I realised that something was not right. That I had to finally live for myself. My friends didn’t know that I was wearing makeup and heels and dressing up behind closed doors. I was living between genders; I felt like a woman who dressed up as a man in rugged boots and a stubble, not the other way around.”
During an interview, Saisha shared that she was very afraid to tell her parents that she was a trans woman, but when she told her parents, they were quite normal about it. She said,
I was struggling to find the right terms in Marathi, to articulate what I was feeling and who I was going to be. My father is extremely liberal minded. He has always been there for me, from buying dolls when I was a child to supporting my career in fashion, and standing by me when I decided on gender transition, even having a say in the doctors I would consult. She couldn’t recognise me when I met her dressed as a woman for the first time. She helped me choose a new name [the designer shares the name Saisha with her niece]. We now exchange tips on hair and makeup.”
In 2020, she decided to opt for gender reassignment surgery. The procedure started with various sessions with the Indian psychiatrists Dr. Neha Shah and Dr. Armaan Pandey. She then had hormone replacement therapy with endocrinologist Dr. Dheeraj Kapoor at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Mumbai followed by a hair treatment at Metamorphosis Clinic, Mumbai. Saisha had to attend voice modulation training as her voice was too manly. She had a few more surgeries to completely change her looks like a woman. During an interview, she said,
My genetic physiology may not eventually allow me to appear like a ‘delicate’ woman but I will be an out and proud woman nonetheless, who will publicly wear makeup and heels. Mala bhiti nahin ahey.”
After doing an internship in fashion, she started working as a sales boy at the Kimaya Fashion Store in Mumbai. She was then promoted as a visual merchandiser in the same store. Saisha made her debut as a fashion designer in the 2006 Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) as part of the Gen Next class. In 2007, she started her fashion label ‘Swapnil Shinde.’
Her work was liked by the fashion critics, and soon, she started getting popularity as a fashion designer among Bollywood celebrities. She has designed clothes for various Indian actresses such as Kareena Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, and Aditi Rao Hydari. Her clothes have been showcased at various renowned Indian fashion shows.
Saisha has worked as a costume stylist for various Hindi films such as ‘Fashion’ (2008), ‘Guzaarish’ (2010), and ‘Laxmii’ (2020). In 2015, she participated as one of the contestants in the famous American TV show ‘Project Runway Season 14.’
The gown worn by the Indian model Harnaaz Kaur Sandhu (winner of Miss Universe 2021) in the final round of the beauty pageant Miss Universe 2021 was designed by Saisha. In an interview, while talking about the gown, Saisha said,
There is a certain expectation from Miss India at an International pageant. She has to look elegant, exquisite and the gown needs to look delicate and dainty but at the same time powerful, strong, which incidentally my brand has become now after I have transitioned into a woman. The gown is embellished with embroidery, stones, and sequins. Harnaaz believes in sustainability, so we used embroidery material that was lying around at the studio. Also, since she is from Punjab, we incorporated phulkari-inspired motifs in the ensemble. The geometric patterns which are synonymous with the phulkari patterns are given a modern twist.”
In 2022, she participated as a contestant in the online reality show ‘Lock Upp’ hosted by Kangana Ranaut and produced by Ekta Kapoor.
- Saisha is a religious person and has a deep faith in Lord Ganesha.
- She is an animal lover and has a few pet cats. One of her pet cats named Mimi Shinde had died in 2020.
- She has got a few tattoos inked on her body and one of them is on the left side of her neck.
- In an interview, Saisha shared that she wanted to keep her name Mastani (after her transgender treatment was over), but everyone in her family hated the name, so she opted for the name Saisha. She said,
Saisha means a meaningful life and I plan to make mine an exceptionally meaningful one. I had a really tough time selecting it. There were four options and the one that I actually liked was the one that everyone else hated! It was Mastani. But then Saisha is what we went with. It does define me a lot.”
- During an interview, Saisha shared that she used to have anxiety issues while she was suffering from gender dysphoria. She said,
I was on panic attack pills. The panic attacks shot up the moment I thought I don’t want to do this and stopped when I went ahead with my decision. This is when I finally found peace. My features started to change because my medication dosage was already on the higher side. Initially, people would scare me, saying you would have reactions and side effects, mood swings, vomiting and headaches. But I think it is all just a state of mind. I did not have any of these. My body started to change, my features started to change, hair growth started to change.”
She further shared how she coped with that problem. She said,
It has just been a year for me transitioning and it is still very fresh and there are still days that are very heavy on gender dysphoria for me. Something as simple as dressed up head to toe in a woman’s attire with full make-up and hair done and still someone would call me sir. There’s nothing wrong in that. He is being very respectful, he just doesn’t know the pronouns and the terms but obviously those are the days that dysphoria hits me heavily and the way I combat it is therapy and my amazing bunch of family and friends (help me do that). And of course, talking to other fellow trans women who talk about their experiences, I feel I am not alone and can deal with it.”
- Before her transition as a trans woman, she used to smoke more often.
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