How Canadian Handbag Designer Sneha Varma Turned Her Failures Into Success

The fear of failure is what often holds us back from chasing our dreams. But for Sneha Varma, actual failure is what pushed her to go after hers.

The Canadian handbag designer, who hails from the suburbs of Ontario and is of Indo-Mauritian and French-Canadian descent, doesn’t have a background in fashion or design, but rather accounting and finance.

shena varma
Photography courtesy of Sneha Varma

“[When I was ] in high school… you had to pick something to go and study,” Varma tells FASHION. “I wasn’t really around an environment where getting paid to be creative was encouraged but I’ve always liked things like finance and numbers and accounting so that’s sort of the direction I decided to go in.”

After studying economics at the University of Toronto and working at a public accounting firm, she began studying to get her chartered accounting designation. She describes the process as “gruelling,” as it concluded with a three-day national exam that could only be written once a year and a maximum of four times. Unfortunately, Sneha failed not once, not twice, but three times.

“I don’t like to admit this,” she says of her failure. “[It] was crazy because my career was going very well, I was working in a firm and I was even training other people. I don’t understand why I kept failing this exam.”

However, instead of letting herself be completely discouraged, she looked at the failure as an opportunity to take a break and reevaluate what else she wanted to do in life. After watching an episode of Oprah Winfrey (while pregnant with her second child!), she decided to take the leap and embark on fashion design.

“I wasn’t sure if it was something I could do….[but] I had a lot of heart and a lot of passion and a dream.” — Sneha Varma.

“I’ve always been interested in fashion and I’ve always been creative — that is what’s very authentic to me and feels natural,” she explains, adding her late mother used to design and sew her own clothing. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do but never did because I didn’t have the formal training or I wasn’t sure if it was something I could do….[but] I had a lot of heart and a lot of passion and a dream. I just took those failures and I saw it as a failing forward into something else that maybe I was supposed to do.”

Fast forward five years and Varma has just released her sixth collection from her handbag line. This time around, the fall/winter 2017 line features bags that are more streamlined and minimalistic compared to her past designs.

sneha varma
Photography courtesy of Sneha Varma

“I try to change it every collection [in terms of] aesthetic [and] the actual silhouette,” she says of her line, which produces new styles every year. “In this collection, I think there’s some core designs that we’re going to continue on into the next season, because I find that it really works for the brand. These little canteen bags are a big hit, those little drawstring bags as well and the little moon bags — those are my favourite,” she says.

sneha varma
Photography courtesy of Sneha Varma
sneha varma
Photography courtesy of Sneha Varma

She hopes to continue building out her brand, and plans on a releasing a sister line to her core brand, soon.

And though building her business wasn’t easy, especially while balancing motherhood and her accounting job (which she still has, by the way), Sneha says it’s passion that keeps her going.

“Sometimes you wonder, ‘What am I doing? Can I even do this?’ But the thing is, there’s always that drive,” she says. “I just think if you’re so passionate about something, it doesn’t matter. You’ll find a way to make it work. You just have to love it that much, that’s all.”

Sneha Varma is available at and in select stores in Canada and the U.S.A. For a full list of stockists, click here.

Check out the full Sneha Varma fall/winter 2017 collection below:

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