Tag Archives: Young Professionals

Love, Silicon Valley Style

It was a Tuesday morning, and I arrive at approximately 9.15 am, in San Jose, regrettably late for the start of my day. Parking my car as close to the front entrance as possible, I grabbed my oversized purse, notebooks, laptop, homemade lunch and coffee, while closing the car door with my right foot ensuring that my balance was intact avoiding any disturbance to the overflowing items in my arms. As I rushed into the building, thoughts engrossed in impending meetings, my focused demeanor was abruptly interrupted. “Hey, I’ve seen you around. Are you new in the building?”

Out of the corner of my eye, I suddenly noticed a man, wearing a black suit, smart eyeglasses, Starbucks coffee in hand, with a big smile, walking alongside me into the building. Unusually flustered by this interruption, my thoughts were racing. Who has time for a stroll to Starbucks this early in the work day? He seemed so out of place – an overly confident, well-dressed and well-spoken man did not embody the traditional Valley look-thus my skeptical first impression. T-shirts, hoodies, jeans and flip-flops are clearly the fashion trend here. I clumsily held my to-go coffee container with now cold, and unappealing homemade drip coffee, trying desperately not to drop anything from my full grip. I spit out a quick response.

“Yes, yes, I’m new”. Hurrying to the front door now at an accelerated pace, the man rushes alongside me and opens the door for me. The interruption was now notably worth something. Up the stairs and down the hall, the front door to my office in sight, I see my client through the glass wall, reading the morning’s Wall Street Journal, waiting patiently for me.

Mentally I am already sitting at the conference room table, my client reassuring me that traffic jams are a part of Silicon Valley life, and not to worry. When my daydream breaks with another intrusion; “We should grab coffee sometime!” It is that man, in the black suit, still alongside me! Is he going to invite himself into my office? I do not have time, for coffee, or any other proposal. “Um, sure. Coffee, yeah.” Can he please leave now; I need to go to work! “Well, I have to go now. Bye.” The arrogance of his gesture quickly passed, as my hectic day unfolded.

As a young lady working in Silicon Valley, the revelations of the work culture in the San Francisco Bay Area were quite surprising. Coming from the East coast where I was used to a more formal culture, and even more traditional and conservative Europe (Czech Republic), the first few years in the Bay Area, were an adjustment. Commuting daily from San Francisco to San Jose (a 110-mile daily commute that included most Saturdays), I had a lot to prove. The underlying competitive nature of the Valley (masked by the casual attire), means you are obligated to perform above what the person sitting in the next cube or office is willing to, or you will not get noticed. Clearly, there are limits. The early Googlers, for example, went further than my highest threshold, by working all day and sleeping under their desks at night. I considered sleeping in the office many times, yet managed to drive back to San Francisco, every time, even at 11 p.m.

Reflective of my energetic, and will-do-anything demeanor, my early twenties were full of opportunities that presented themselves such as the one to run the local Berlitz International School language center, and then the daily commute due to a recent promotion. I was involved in all aspects of the local business, with collaboration and some direction from our headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey. An opportunity I could not pass up, even if it meant driving the distance for over a year and a half – one of the many sacrifices I would make. Lost relationships, lost friendships, due to my time spent at work, were all worth it.

The company I founded in January 2015- Our Happy Box (www.ourhappbybox.com) is focused on not only bringing in high-quality products into the US market, but also treating employees well, giving back to our local, and global communities and setting an example for businesses through social responsibility. Well into the second year of operation, the entrepreneurial spirit in Silicon Valley is alive and well. We carry around an insatiable work ethic, which creates the task of finding time for love near impossible.

And, remember the man, at the beginning of this story, in the black suit? He turned out to be…my soon to be husband. Imagine that. About a year after that morning when he so graciously “interrupted” me, our paths crossed again. Working in the same building, it only took another year for us to run into each other for the second, serendipitous moment. Apparently, he walked through that same entrance, at the same time, for many months, hoping to run into me again. The issue with that strategy was, that the fateful morning I was late (with my typical arrival being 8:15to 8:30 a.m. And even though he knew where I worked, he was too timid (unimaginable, right?) to come into my office to ask me on a date.

The day we met again. The Berlitz offices were going through renovations, and I had to walk a different direction to the temporary suite, when my future husband, was walking to, well, um, the restroom. My first thought was, not that guy again! As he got closer, something was different. I guess that first morning I didn’t take a good look at him, since I was too focused on my work. This second time, on a Friday, he wasn’t wearing a suit, rather a lovely blue button down, with dark green corduroy pants, and no glasses so that I could see into his eyes. They say you can see a man’s soul through his eyes.

As we began talking, the place transformed into another time. Possibly carrying me into the future, to the moment now – 12 years later, on a Sunday morning – as he reads the paper on the couch, and I sit across from him, typing this story. We are listening to classical music on the radio as our two young children play in the other room. We will soon be going out on our Sunday morning hike, a tradition we have kept for many years. Even when the children were babies, we carried them in a baby Bjorn, then a large carrier on our back, and finally a double jogger stroller. The love in the house vibrates.

On Monday, as with every Monday, we resume our hectic Silicon Valley life, battling significant traffic. Rushing the kids to school, attending various meetings, celebrating achievements and bracing for disappointments. With my husband running his thriving law practice, and with me running a new start-up company – that will surely beat the odds and become part of the fortunate statistic – the 2% of startups that make it.

Many ask about the keys to successful relationships in Silicon Valley. In our experience, it is trust, respect, understanding, a positive outlook and balance. Allow the other person to be who they truly are, to fulfil their career dreams, or if one prefers to stay home with the children; that will work too. For us, having our careers satisfy us. Listen carefully to understand your spouse, respect them, and maintain a balance by keeping your work at work. Even though my husband is a savvy businessman, and we love to share our passions for business, we ensure that weekends are for family, play and fun. And remember, never judge a person by their suit, or flip flops for that matter.

Sonia Whitfield was born in the Czech Republic, escaped the communist-ruled nation with her family at the age of 8 and received asylum in Salzburg, Austria. The journey was an adventure for Sonia and her brother, while it was a terrifying process for her young parents. She and her mother are writing a book about it to not only pass on to the children, and grandchildren, but also to educate readers on the dangers of becoming a refugee. Living in many countries, Sonia explored countless cultures. With English becoming her third language her appetite for new languages and cultures is forever ingrained in her character. Now, living in Silicon Valley, her passion for business allowed her to move up the corporate ladder, complete her Bachelors of Science Degree in Business, and ultimately helped her start her company, Our Happy Box. Sonia lives in the city of San Jose, with her husband Travis, daughter Chloe and son Calvin. When she is not working she is spending time with her family, hiking the Silicon Valley hills, or spending long weekends in Tahoe. Sonia also enjoys running, yoga and dance classes.

 

Erasing the Accent

In the late seventies, Mumbai-born Persis Khambatta cried after she had to lose her lovely, beauty-queen locks so she could play the role of Lieutenant Ilia, the bald Deltan alien in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Last year, Priyanka Chopra had to lose her Indian accent for her role as Alex Parrish, FBI recruit, in ABC’s Quantico. As Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins could tell us, losing the accent is no easy task. Priyanka, acknowledged in aUSA Today interview: “The one thing that I did have to work on for Alex was definitely my American accent, which was a task, man. That was one big thing.”

Priyanka Chopra’s hybrid accent has drawn attention in the Indian media. “Her accent is that of a shuddh desi Splitsvilla aspirant—you know, the one that sounds like a cross between Sonia Gandhi and Salman Khan,” wrote Piyasree Dasgupta of First Post. “What’s with that accent Priyanka Chopra?” queried a Hindustan Times headline after the Quantico trailer came out in May of 2015.

It seems that despite all that work with a dialect coach, when she says “My name is Alex Parrish. Protecting my country has always been my dream” you could be forgiven for asking: which country exactly?

But that’s just like teasing the new kid in school. And as a daughter of physicians in the Indian Army, used to frequent moves as part of Army ‘postings’ in far-flung bases such as Ambala and Ladakh, she’s been that new kid a lot. She also spent her teenage years in Boston, here in the United States. Priyanka recalls this time as a difficult one in a 2012 International Business Times article, “I Was Bullied in High School for Being Browny: Priyanka Chopra.” Possibly, she was teased for her Indian accent. And her Indian name.

Erasing the Old Country
While her Muslim on-screen colleague Raina is literally draped with identifiers of her faith, Alex does not wear a bindi and instead sports an all-American persona. Raina Amin, played with a brittle anger by Yasmine Al Massri, speaks English with a strong accent and rolls out her prayer mat in a convincingly devout fashion. Alex Parrish, by contrast, appears to have assimilated completely into America. So enthusiastically has she erased the old country that rather than being a second generation half-Indian, she could easily have arrived, Star Trek style, from outer space.

It is only when she is accused of a terrorist plot to bomb Grand Central Station that ethnic origins of Alex Parrish come under closer scrutiny, as the media interview her “Indian mother,” and speculate about her time in Mumbai. Parrish begins to wonder if her mother was part of ISI, the Pakistani intelligence wing, but the file that might help her find out disappears from her bag.

While nothing at Quantico is as it appears, it is still somewhat disheartening that the main context so far within which cultural identifiers exist is that of terror, with religiosity serving as a convenient proxy for terrorism.

“Whether or not Indian characters are a way of safely avoiding the specter of other, more ‘dangerous’ brown people, the fact that South Asian actors can easily pass for Middle Easterners may very well be contributing to their professional development.” Says Nina Rastogi in a Slate article “Beyond Apu:Why are there suddenly so many Indians on television?” Given that American audiences seem to have an insatiable appetite for watching terror-themed TV shows, this could mean that the search for browner skins could spread the casting net wider.

Enter “safe” Alex Parrish from Oakland, California, unthreatening brown FBI cadet, scrubbed clean of all cultural identifiers.

The series also provides Raina’s sister, Nimah, with a more assimilated persona. She does not wear a head-covering garment, is seen drinking alcohol, and making snarky statements about not wanting to spend her holidays stuck in the kitchen cooking for the men. Unlike Raina, who appears inscrutable and somewhat more sinister, Nimah is the safe, assimilated Muslim girl who is in the inner circle of friends for Alex Parrish, another safe, assimilated immigrant.

Discussing Priyanka Chopra, Quantico, Bangladeshi co-writer Sharbari Ahmed confirms that Quantico is “not focused on her ethnicity.”  She adds: “I’m also Muslim, so I can harness that to write the Raina and Nimah Amin characters.”

Issues of Representation
That geopolitical anxieties inform popular culture has been in solid evidence since the genres of “stop that terrorist” like 24, or Homeland. To do so with a multicultural cast that is a nod to the audience takes additional skill. Quantico’s cast is diverse in a way that the Oscar nominations this year weren’t.

A small challenge to the premise of the #OscarsSoWhite movement is a Pixar short film called Sanjay’s Super Team, directed by Sanjay Patel, which was nominated for the Best Animated Short, but did not win. In the short, a shape-shifting demon is pitted against Hanuman, Durga and Vishnu. “Now I can talk about how awkward and ashamed I felt about my identity and my skin color and my parents’ culture,” says Patel in an interview with Charles Solomon for theNew York Times.  Patel adds, “A father wanting his son to appreciate things that are old and a child enamored with things that are new is a universal experience.”

Another, even smaller challenge to the #OscarsSoWhite: following in the footsteps of beauty queen Persis Khambatta, the first Indian to present at the Oscars in 1980, comes beauty queen Priyanka Chopra who presented at the 2016 Academy Awards.

Sanjay Patel’s reference to universal themes with cultural specificity appear to be the emerging trend in other recent films. Mahesh Pailoor, director of Brahmin Bulls makes a similar point. Says Pailoor, “The goal was to tell an American story that had a multi-cultural cast. Although the lead characters are Indian American, their Indian heritage adds a specificity to their respective characters, but it doesn’t define their central conflict.” This formula seems to reflect the programming philosophy of at least one network, ABC, which has been praised for comedies focusing on people of color, such as Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat and the Shonda Rhimes shows.

As the first South Asian woman to headline an American network series, Priyanka Chopra seems unconcerned about the weight of collective South Asian expectations that fall upon her. While praising ABC for its push for diversity, she stated in an article penned by Reid Nakamura for The Wrap: “I wanted to do a show which gave me the respect of being an actor, instead of casting me for the color of my skin or what I look like.” She would prefer that people look at her in a colorblind way.

In this context, NY Times TV critic James Poniewozik argues for “the decline of the idea of “colorblindness”—art exists to help us see, after all—in favor of color awareness.” He goes on to state that “sometimes that means diversity across TV rather than within every show.”

To his credit, Aziz Ansari’s Master of None does not try to carefully erase his Indian-American identity “Sometimes race comes to the fore—as in the episode “Indians on TV,” which, according to Poniewozik, critiques the idea that “there can only be one” character of a given minority background on a show.”

In another instance, Ansari mentions how little money his father had when he arrived in the United States and compares the sum to the cost of cold-pressed juice. There is awe in his voice. He is proud of his immigrant dad.

Likewise, Mindy Kaling’s frequent forays into the world of ABCD (American born confused desi) alienation acknowledges this hybrid culture while providing fodder for her comedy. Mindy Kaling’s character Kelly Kapoor invites her Office coworkers to a Diwali party, where people wear kurtas, take off their shoes and listen to Dwight Schrute explain the religious significance of Diwali.

No Diwali in Quantico, where the four cadets who haven’t gone home for the holidays bond over alcohol. Assimilated Nimah joins Shelby, the Southern belle, Natalie Vasquez, the Hispanic cadet, and our very own half-desi Alex Parrish, for a foursome of dorm-room drinking. Merry Christmas! Cue the beer ad.

Industry Structures and Strategies in a Global Landscape
Clearly, issues of immigrant identity are not a central concern for Josh Safran, the writer and executive director of Quantico. The New York Times reports that “In 2014-2015, according to the Directors Guild of America, 69 percent of TV episodes were directed by white men. And few drama creators at cable’s prestige networks—HBO, Showtime, FX, AMC, et al—are minorities.” These statistics remain troubling insofar as the push for diversity, both on-screen and off-screen, was an attempt to include a greater variety of stories of people of color. “If we don’t tell our stories, no one else will,” Mira Nair said emphatically in an interview with me, (published in this magazine) back in April 2013.

As for Quantico, it appears that looking hot is one of the main expectations from Priyanka Chopra. So, while Karthik Ramkrishnan, professor of public policy and political science at the University of California at Irvine and founder of AAPI Data, a resource for statistical information on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, wants the world to know that Indians are not exotic, not in the monkey-brain eating way of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Priyanka Chopra is cast as exotic in a super-sexy sort of way, much like in her music video, Exotic. This is a pity. For an actor of Priyanka Chopra’s caliber, whose roles as an autistic girl in Barfi or the femme fatale in Saat Khoon Maaf  or as an aspiring fashion model in the film Fashion show a versatility and spark, the role of a hot female Jason Bourne seems rather underwhelming.

Many factors contribute to international casting. Commenting on the influx of actors from outside the United States, Richard Hicks, the New York-based president of the Casting Society of America and a member of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, told the New York Times that “a lot of actors from overseas are scoring in America” because of training … Hollywood is also focused on the world audience in a way that it wasn’t just a few years ago.” Finally, he says: “I’d also add technology as a reason. Casting people have been able to cast a much wider net, if you will, as video has advanced.”

Unusual casting choices abound in popular culture. Aishwarya Rai, who, like Priyanka, is a recipient of India’s highest civilian award, the Padma Shri, was cast as Sonia Solandres, a mysterious diamond expert in the film Pink Panther 2. Amitabh Bachchan had a cameo as Meyer Wolfsheim, a Jewish gangster in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.

Then there’s Venkat Kapoor. Ring a bell? A STEM star in The Martian. Played by Nigerian-British actor Chiwetal Ejiofore. Not what we pictured a  product of a “Two States” type North-South India romance.

In Peter Brook’s Mahabharata, the diversity of actors caused consternation. Used to seeing Ramanand Sagar’s comfortingly familiar Ramayana characters, the sight of the global cast that included the Senegalese Mamadou Dioume playing Bhima, the African-German Miriam Goldschmidt playing Kunti and other Greek, Italian, Polish and English actors was received with some trepidation.

Art transcends boundaries. And in a global media landscape, global talent roams the world, seeking the best opportunities. “I want to go wherever my work takes me,” says Priyanka Chopra to Lorena Blas in a USA Today article. “I want to be able to tell stories globally, entertain globally. Hopefully, this is a step in that direction.”

Perhaps a closer look at changing demographics would be fruitful. There were less than half a million Indian-Americans in 1980, the year that Persis Khambatta became the first Indian citizen to present an Academy award. By 2010, that number had grown to 3.2 million, according to Karthick Ramakrishnan and the US Census Bureau.

Reception of Quantico
I asked several forty-something female friends who watched the Oscars what they thought of Quantico and Priyanka Chopra. Reactions to Priyanka Chopra were mostly positive, but to the show itself, less so. Shaila Menezes of Santa Clara described Quantico’s structural characteristics of multiple, non-chronological timelines as ‘dizzying.’ “The show Quantico was all too confusing for me. Not a big fan of this genre. I found it hard to keep up with the lightning fast twists and pace and the mind games, but that’s exactly what the younger generation craves for, I am guessing.” And Priyanka? “Priyanka Chopra is gutsy and gorgeous.”

Shaila’s friend Radhika Sarang of Cupertino echoed this sentiment: “In a show where there are more twists, turns, dips and dives than I care to remember, Priyanka Chopra brought much needed clarity with her glamor, acting—yes acting and Bollywood pizzaz.” But Radhika thought that the other actors on Quantico were so bad that they needed to “move to Bombay to learn how to emote without facial paralysis.” Radhikha said she would watch Quantico again in the upcoming season, “not to figure out who the bomber is but to check out stylish, credible FBI agent Parrish.”

Another friend, Leena Sujan, was excited at the possibilities opened up by Priyanka Chopra’s “tough and sexy” character. “Priyanka Chopra has broken the stereotypes of Indians in Hollywood. Priyanka’s character is of a powerful, tough, well educated, smart, sexy woman who is not scared to have sex with a stranger in a car just because she feels like it. Typically, Indians have been cast as nerds or doctors. Indian women have been depicted as victims of abuse or quiet wallflowers in the background.”

Thanks, Mr. Safran
So Mr. Safran, thanks for the diverse cast of Quantico. Thanks for an African-American FBI director played by Aunjanue Ellis, an only slightly more maternal version of Viola Davis in How to Get Away With Murder. Thanks for Muslim twins who keep the good-cop, bad-cop dynamic within the family, a Mormon, a Jewish guy, a gay guy, a Hispanic couple and a female Vice-Presidential candidate. Thanks for giving us the fierce and resourceful second-generation half-Indian Alex Parrish. Thanks for casting Priyanka Chopra, Army brat, product of modern India, who grew up with a working mother and an incredible work ethic. Quantico challenges low levels of representation and stereotypes for women of color.

But here’s the thing. I can deal with a self-hating Alex Parrish who makes fun of her mom and refuses to wear a bindi.

Just don’t erase her Indianness like it doesn’t exist.

Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D. is a frequent contributor to India Currents magazine. Thanks to frequent moves as a child, she now feels at home pretty much anywhere.

Does Investing in Gold Make Sense?

For many of us, purchasing gold coins during Diwali is considered auspicious. So it begs the question: does it really make sense to invest in gold?

PowerPoint Presentation

Historical Gold Trends
Generally speaking, gold has been regarded a safe haven for many people. In recent years, gold prices have been volatile. In 2013, the gold price dropped more than 25%!
Looking at the chart above, you can see that if you invested $1 in gold in 1802, its value would be $3.21 in 2013, a mere 0.6% increase. Stocks, by comparison, would turn your $1 investment from 1802 to $930,550 in 2013.

Does this mean investing in gold is a bad idea? Not necessarily. Given the right economic conditions, gold can be a great investment! The key is to have the right mix of investments, gold being one of them.

How is Gold Priced?
Gold prices are fixed twice daily in US Dollars by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA).

There are ten price participants who have been accredited to contribute to the LBMA Gold Price. This serves as an indicator and basis for the market price, also known as the spot price.

When you search “gold price today” in your favorite search engine, what you see is the spot price for gold. The retail gold price is generally greater than the spot price for the following reasons:

Cost to Create Gold Coins
When you purchase physical gold coins, gold bars known as bullion are melted and molded into coins. This leads to an additional cost that is passed to the purchaser.

Brand of Gold
The four well-known brands of physical gold are the American Gold Eagle (most expensive), Canadian Maple Gold Leaf, South African Krugerrand and Credit Suisse Gold Bar (least expensive). What you pay for is the brand and there is no difference in the “quality” of gold. Unbranded gold rounds are also available from private mints and cost less than branded gold coins and bars.

Gold Purity
Karat (symbolized as K) is a measurement for gold purity with 24K being the purest  and most expensive form of 100% gold with no mixed metals. 22K gold has 91.6% pure gold that is mixed with 8.4% of other metals. Similarly, there is 18K (75% purity), 14K (58.5% purity), 10K (41.7% purity) and 6K (25% purity) gold.

Ways to Invest in Gold
There are many different ways to invest in gold each with it’s pros and cons.

Gold coins, Bars and Rounds
Branded and unbranded physical gold can serve as a safety net against inflation or should physical currency ever disappear.

Gold Jewelry
Gold jewelry serves as a fashion accessory and also an investment. However, there are additional costs associated with making gold jewelry, which makes the net price per gram of gold significantly greater than the spot price.

Exchange Traded Funds (ETF)
A Gold Exchange Traded Fund is a marketable security that can be traded like a common stock thereby removing the need to store and secure physical gold.  Generally, there are additional fees and commissions associated with ETFs, which may offset any potential upsides in gold prices. You can also purchase stocks of gold mining companies. However the rise in gold prices may not necessarily correlate with the increase in stock price of a gold mining company due to factors such as mismanagement, flooding etc.

What Experts Say
When it comes to investing, you may have heard about asset allocation and diversification. What this means is that you diversify your investments across various asset classes such as gold, commodities, stocks and bonds and allocate specific percentages of your money to each of these asset classes.  In his book, Money–Master the Game, Tony Robbins, a motivational coach and personal finance instructor, discusses Ray Dalio’s all-season portfolio. Dalio is the founder of the investment firm Bridgewater Associates. Dalio’s portfolio consisted of 30% stocks, 40% long term US bonds, 15% intermediate bonds, 7.5% commodities and 7.5% gold.

The key here is to remember to regularly re-balance your portfolio. It is also important to note that gold prices are very volatile and it is hard to predict the right time to buy and sell gold. Whether gold is the right investment choice for your portfolio depends on your tolerance for risk and investment goals. Happy Investing and Happy Diwali!

Kunal Sampat is part of Sampat Jewellers Inc., a family owned business based in San Jose and Mumbai. This article was inspired by Kunal’s own personal curiosity of what it means to invest in gold.

The Dil Mil-lennials

I peered into the screen myopically. There were pictures of girls swishing backwards and forwards. My son’s finger moved at a demonic rate. “Look at this app, Amol.” He was in a meeting with his intern, an intern hired by my millennial son to experiment with the factors that went into snagging a date. “It’s a match!” flashed the screen.“Your picture from your college days is getting more matches.” Amol had been experimenting with different photographs to see which one had a higher success rate. “What! I don’t like my picture from UCLA. I look too fat in that one.” The girls apparently disagreed, going for the rounder Disneque profile.  While the intern was re-engineering the online dating profile, optimizing it for algorithmic love, sending kisses down the wire, however, turned out to be not so easy.14

Repeated use of the stock email response locked the app into loops. It came to the conclusion that a robot had created the profile and it shut out the user. Thus ended the very short internship.

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“Millennials are undermining tried-and-true dating rituals,” lamented The New York Times’s writer Alex Williams. “Raised in the age of so-called hookup culture, millennials—who are reaching an age where they are starting to think about settling down—are subverting the rules of courtship. Instead of dinner-and-a-movie, which seems as obsolete as a rotary phone, they rendezvous over phone texts, Facebook posts, instant messages and other “non-dates” subverting tried-and-true dating rituals.” “It’s one step below a date, and one step above a high-five.”

“The new date is ‘hanging out.’” Denise Hewett, 24, an associate television producer in Manhattan, who is currently developing a show about this frustrating new romantic landscape, was told by a male friend: “I don’t like to take girls out. I like to have them join in on what I’m doing—going to an event, a concert.”

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The millennials or the generation born roughly between the year 1980 and year 2000 are also known as generation Y, generation we, and the Peter Pan generation. The oldest members of this generation are approaching age 34; the youngest are approaching adolescence. This generation now making their passage into adulthood are confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change, says Pew Research Center’s report that looks at the values, attitudes and experiences of America’s next generation: the Millennials. These young adult “are the first generation in human history who regard behaviors like tweeting and texting, along with websites like Facebook, YouTube, Google and Wikipedia, not as astonishing innovations of the digital era, but as everyday parts of their social lives and their search for understanding.”

They have a phone strapped to them as an adjunct body part. They fall asleep texting and wake up with their finger on the smart phone button. In fact they live their lives in a world of online chatter. As per Experian, U.S. smartphone owners aged 18 to 24 send 2,022 texts per month on average—67 texts on a daily basis—and receive another 1,831. Pew found, “It’s not just their gadgets— it’s the way they’ve fused their social lives into them.” The smart phone is used less to make calls and more as a hook into the web of social networking and conducting their love lives.

Integrated Innovation Institute at Carnegie Mellon University suggests sixty-seven percent of American millennials and seventy-five percent of online Indian millennials say they’re in love. These “digital natives” are happy to announce it to the world, sharing their love on Facebook. Forty-one percent of American millennials who are in love update their Facebook status weekly. Sixty-one percent of Indian millennials in love say they update their status (at least) weekly. Millennials between the ages of 28-32 are more likely to report being in love than millennials ages 18-22.

“Online websites and apps are the tools my generation uses to meet up,” explains my millennial son. Websites like OK Cupid and Coffee meets Bagel and apps like Dil Mil and Tinder match thousands of boys and girls. Grouper arranges a group date. Three men and three women meet at a restaurant in the hope that at least a couple of people in that combination will click. Coffee Meets Bagel sends members a “bagel” every day at noon, which is basically the pictures and profile of someone who fits the criteria that they had picked. If the bagels like each other, a private line is created where they can message each other.

The fastest growing free dating app in the United States is Tinder. It has gamified the dating game. Users download the app on their iphones, sign in using their Facebook ids thus sharing their name, photos, age and sexual orientation with Tinder. They are immediately shown dozens of pictures of persons of their preferred sex. They can swipe right if they like what they see or swipe left if they don’t. According to Bloomberg Business Week: “Tinder is a pathologically addictive flirting-dating-hookup app.” The average Tinderer checks the app 11 times per day, seven minutes at a time, thereby spending more than an hour a day “swiping” potential mates and chatting with matches in the app, according to Rosette Pambakian, vice president for corporate communications and branding at the app’s Los Angeles headquarter. The app makes 22 million “matches” per day, processing a staggering 1.5 billion “swipes” left and right daily. The company says it knows of 50 marriage proposals to date.

Tinder is available in 24 languages with approximately 22-24 million users. It is estimated that Tinder will reach 50 million users by the end of 2016. According to CNN, Tinder is growing its user base in India by 1% per day and is a huge hit in cities like New Delhi and Mumbai. The difference between the Indian online millennial and the US one is that Indian online millennials remain more traditional in as much as they are either single or married, says Peter Boatwright of the Integrated Innovation Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.  In the U.S., living with a partner is higher than in India.  There are many more in the U.S. who simply say they are “in a relationship.”  Online millennials in India are having children earlier than are their U.S. counterparts as well.

In a highly mobile world migration from India to the United States is swelling the ranks of the millennials in the US. Behavior and values mingle and create new dynamics.

On one date, that was arranged online, a girl showed up for the date wearing a sari, surprising the 27 old Bay Area resident of South Asian descent.

This generation has embraced the responsibility of arranging their marriage themselves. Dusting off their glasses, they are hitting the beauty parlors and the hairdressers. Clicking their pictures and making their profiles, they are fixing rendezvouses and meeting boys and girls on their own terms.

“Because millennials don’t respect authority, they also don’t resent it. That’s why they’re the first teens who aren’t rebelling,” says The Times. MTV president Stephen Friedman, 43, who now includes parents in nearly all the channel’s reality shows says, “One of our research studies early on said that a lot of this audience outsources their superego to their parents. The most simple decision of should I do this or should I do that–our audience will check in with their parents.”

They are mindful of their parents’ opinions. Dil Mile is an app specifically designed for the South Asian millennial. It aims to help every desi “20-something-year-old find someone who Mummy and Papa will approve of,” says Brown Girl magazine. 24-year-old Kamaljit (“K.J.”) Dhaliwal, who launched the app wants to help his brethren find someone “easier and faster.” K.J. worked in NYC and Philadelphia in the investment and trading industry before he moved to the Bay Area and closed angel funding valuing Dil Mil at 5 million USD.

Inter-racial marriages are not frowned upon by these citizens of the flat world. However, Cameron Okeke, senior at the University of Chicago believes that the notion that their age group is the most “tolerant” generation should be taken in context. “I think that love may be blind, but I think relationships aren’t,” Cameron Okeke, senior at the University of Chicago said. “Relationships don’t just run off your love, they run off understanding and reasoning and compassion. I feel that we may be progressive cognitively, but we’re still programmed the same way, we’re still exposed to the same insecurities of different races and how they’re supposed to be,” Okeke said to the University of Illinois Daily.

“Let’s have a look at online dating,” says Amne Alrifai, 20-something-year-old-Muslim-Lebanese-Australian-Daughter-of-Migrants scientist in her blog Unveiled Thought. “You realise you’re ready to find Mr. Right (or Mrs. Right—this is an equal opportunity blogsite). Your friends convince you to sign up to a dating website … So how is matchmaking by your parents or their friends different? I … I can’t believe I’m actually saying this—but I think it’s exactly the same … My dad and I have our ups and downs, but he’s my hero and loves me so much and knows me so well. Having him as a bouncer for my heart is sounding like a great idea. Knowing that he’ll interrogate any potential suitors and ensure that the man I end up with comes from the top shelf and not from the bargain basket is pretty comforting.”
“If my parents introduced me to a suitable boy,” says a Fremont twenty-four-year old resident not averse to being introduced, “it would take the work out of it for me.”

Shuttled from activity to activity with no down time to just hang out, they didn’t learn the art of flirting and romancing. According to researchers at the University of Michigan, from 1981 to 1997, “free” or “unsupervised” time in the typical preteen’s day shrank by 37 percent. As they enter adulthood, smart phone in hand, they scan the room to see if “it’s a match.” “You’ve got mail” is so passé.

Ritu Marwah has pursued theater, writing, marketing, startup management, raising children, coaching debate and hiking. Ritu graduated from Delhi with a master’s degree in business, joined the Tata Group and worked in London for ten years.

Millennials are Crazy in Love at Home and Abroad

 

Pittsburgh, January 30, 2015 – They are the largest generation since the Baby Boomers and are less likely to get married than previous generations, but that doesn’t mean Millennials are afraid to use the “L-word.”

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According to new data from the Integrated Innovation Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, 67% of American Millennials and 75% of Indian Millennials say they’re in love. And these “digital natives” are not shy about sharing their love on Facebook:

·  41% of American Millennials who are in love update their Facebook status weekly.
·  But … 61% of Indian Millennials in love say they update their status (at least) weekly.
·  Meanwhile for those unlucky in love, only 34% of American Millennials and 44% of Indian Millennials not in love update their Facebook status weekly.

·  In both the United States and India, Millennials between the ages of 28-32 are more likely to report being in love than Millennials ages 18-22.

“There is a lot of a discussion today about Millennials, relationships and marriage. This is an interesting look at what Millennials’ views are on romance,” said Peter Boatwright, co-director of the Integrated Innovation Institute.  “Though just a glimpse into two cultures’ young adult population, it looks like they’re ‘feeling the love’.”

The Integrated Innovation Institute’s Millennial Segmentation Study is a first-of-its-kind, ongoing study that takes an in-depth look at the values and behaviors of Millennials in order to better understand and prepare companies and others serving them. The study surveyed 2,000 men and women, ages 18-34, on a variety of topics including professional pursuits, financial habits and purchasing behaviors, health attitudes, beliefs about God and social media engagement, among others. Previous infographics illustrated Millennials’ attitudes toward love, religion and finances.

Haute Stuff

When Indian fashion sensation Tarun Tahiliani was picked by global singing sensation Lady Gaga to outfit her in India, she was not the first celebrity to look eastward for sartorial elegance. Supermodel Heidi Klum, actress Mischa Barton, talk show queen Oprah Winfrey, and a whole host of other celebrities including Liz Hurley, Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears, Scarlett Johannsen, Fergie, Rihanna and Madonna have endorsed Indian fashions. “India is definitely more on people’s radar than ever before. From being a country identified for its exotic religion and palaces, it’s being seen differently today. There is an awareness about Indian fashion and its unique contribution which is different to that of the  prescribed dress forms relevant in the western world,” said hi-fashion designer Ritu Kumar in an interview with Indo-Asian News Service (IANS).

Pimpin’ the Pallu

Every so often Hollywood celebrities pay homage to India’s little black dress, the ubiquitous sari. Boundaries are pushed to redefine and re-innovate the traditional attire. In addition to being one of the most provocative garments, the sari has the weight of history behind it that Indians in the west look for. Fashion designers capitalize on the sex-appeal of the six-yards with models and celebrities displaying dropped pallus, reverse pleats, bandeau blouses and innovative ways to rig the habiliment.

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Chiffons, nets, crepes, cozy up together to create wispy ensembles that are there and yet not there, while natural colors create a homespun handloom mood. At the Wills Fashion Show in February 2012, models wore saris with belted jackets and fitted coats, creating a stark clean look. Cotton, wool and silk fabrics blended into practical and elegant designs. On the ramps, tradition was redesigned with belts snaking around saris, and trousers substituted for petticoats.

Twenty-three year old designer, Masaba Gupta, daughter of cine star Nina Gupta and cricketer Sir Vivian Richards, has reprised  this thousand year old garment, the sari, calling her innovations “old songs in newer beats.” She has overhauled style by moving the pleats to the back, traded petticoats for palazzo pants and made a statement with bold blocks of colors.

Other designers have their own take on fashion. Textile designer Neeru Kumar weaves ethnic handloom traditions into modern silhouettes. Amit Aggarwal creates three-dimensional shapes using “wire mesh, silk, sleeves in silk and jersey, sumptuously molded into touchable looking bubbles, light as air.”

Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s collection showcased by Bollywood stars, Vidya Balan, Rani Mukerjee and Aishwarya Rai, attracts the nouveau riche interest and dollar.

For the local diaspora, Pia Ka Ghar houses the largest Sabyasachi collection in the Bay Area. Pia Ganguly, the owner of the retail collection, has come up with a marketing slogan that unerringly hits the target: “for the unforgettable woman … you.” Based out of her Los Altos Hills home, Pia’s collection embodies an era of Tagore songs and timeless love. For the past seven years, Pia’s has become the go-to place for the well-dressed Bay Area resident planning for a special evening.

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Global designers have now realized the value of the Indian market. In 2011, luxury brand Hermès launched a line of beautiful saris—an extension of their trademark scarves, costing a whopping $6,100 to $8,200. In his fall 2008 collection, Alexander McQueen, the celebrated British designer showcased a red silk and white tulle sari dress. It is rumored that a Bay Area socialite was seen wearing it at a charity dinner in San Francisco.

Tradition and Trends

When Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, rolled out the “Festival of India,” in the early 80s the glitterati of Delhi embraced the traditional arts as haute couture. Dhakai Jamdanis from Calcutta; Ikats from Orissa; Phulkaris from Punjab; the many-layered, painfully embroidered, one of a kind, Kantha saris from Bengal as well as the “inspired by the Ajanta paintings” Paithanis from Maharashtra found a glad welcome in the Delhi social scene. The work of indigenous weavers and traditional artists was in!

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Hindu custom demands that new saris be worn on certain festival days like Durga Puja, Lakshmi Puja, and Onam. “Every year, like clockwork, my clients come and buy a new sari for the occasion. The young buyers like the trendy saris we carry in our Nalli Next collection.

The net saris, hard-to-find Pashmina saris with Kashmiri embroidery, modern two-tone colored Kanjeevarmas saris with patterns from Amar Chitra Katha stories, crystals and embroidery are very popular. But the more mature buyer buys the traditional temple saris from Kanjeevaram,” says Sonya Wadhva, Executive VP, Nalli Silks U.S.A.

When the young Bharatanatyam dancer is ready to perform the Arangetram (debut performance), the teacher and musical accompanists are usually gifted traditional saris. The summer event pages of India Currents proves that the burgeoning dance community keeps the local sari shops in business. During karva chauth, which comes once a year, Punjabi brides fast all day long for the long life of their husbands and then gift a sari to their mothers-in-law. Young Tamilian girls are given a sari or a half sari when they come of age.

Religious tradition also dictates the time or “mahurat” when new saris should be bought.

“Rahu kalam” must be avoided. At the beginning of the new year I go to the Livermore temple and pick up a calendar which gives me all the days I know no brides are going to come shopping,” says Wadhva.

Anarkali churidaar sets named after the beautiful courtesan who ensnared the crown prince of the mighty Mughal Empire, are the flavor of the season, according to Wadhva. Fitted on top, the shirt flares out over tight long bottoms that gather around the ankles to form “churis” or bangles. Shops all over India and overseas stock Anarkalis in a myriad of colors, the brighter colors being preferred in states like Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, and the more pastel shades making their mark in Delhi and Mumbai.

The new trend of crossover fashion from Pakistan has increased the length of tops to skim the ankles. The churidaar bottom is seen only when the wearer twirls the skirt of her top or gently lifts it up as she steps up or down the stairs.

Prabal Gurung, the South Asian designer famous for outfitting First Lady, Michelle Obama, admits to being influenced by his roots. He was born in Singapore, raised in Nepal and worked in New Delhi, India. According to The Vogue, one of his designs is a “cornflower blue dancing dress over slim, dark pants.” A throwback to the traditional anarkali churidaar, perhaps?

The very successful Bibhu Mohapatra, the Orissa designer who presented his second runway collection during the New York Fashion week this September also played up the “ethereal looking” aspect of his collection.

Convenience Shopping

With the Internet bringing the world to our doorstep, Indian fashion, is now but a click away. With the expansion of the online designer showrooms, Bay Area ladies are browsing the bazaars of Chennai, Punjab, Benares in the new Internet haat. Exclusively.In, a members-only shopping site for fashion, jewelry and home decor from Indian artisans and designers offers convenience to the shopper, who can’t walk into Nordstrom to buy Indian clothes. Flash sales were announced everyday and sent to the email accounts of the Indian diaspora.

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“We sell fifteen to twenty saris a week from our internet site, says Wadhva. “Nalli saris, with their assurance and reputation of quality are available to people everywhere. We load pictures of saris we stock in our United States store on our Facebook page and often people call us, order their saris over the phone, pay with their credit cards and we mail their selections to them.”

Illinois-based Luxemi offers convenience of another kind. They offer Indian fashions  for sale or rent to U.S. consumers. Other online sites joined the same bandwagon. “Most people have a small group of friends and repeating the same outfit at another function becomes difficult.” Says Riddhi Khara from Borrow it Bindaas, a Southern California based company that services the same need.

Due to the omnipresence of Facebook, when an expensive outfit is worn to a wedding or a party, it is being debuted on the world stage. I recently attended a wedding of a nephew in Kochi, India, and when I returned to California, a number of people complimented me on my wardrobe. These are people who are not in my immediate social circle but are my Facebook friends. Now for the next wedding, even if it is not within the same circle of friends, I need a new wardrobe. The high price tag of designer saris puts me in a quandary. To the rescue comes a rental service like Borrow it Bindaas or Luxemi or Devi’sCloset.

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Wearing a thousand dollar sari for hundred dollars becomes feasible with Devi’sCloset, who loans out designer couture by Ritu Kumar or Payal Singhal, with matching blouses and petticoats. In three easy steps you have a sari ordered and delivered to your doorstep.

Unlike tuxedo rental places where the rental clothes need to be returned within two days, online rental companies allow the return of outfits within eight days. “Menswear rental rates are $65 to $80 per outfit, so renting Indian party attire is cheaper than renting a tuxedo.

Bridal packages, where eight of the groom’s or bride’s friends can rent matching outfits, make life so much easier for the wedding party,” says Niddhi Khara of Borrow it Bindaas.

Website borrowers are not limited to the Indian diaspora. When invited to an Indian wedding, Caucasian friends don’t want to be left behind and yet at the same time they may not want to dish out $1,000 for one evening.

This trend is not restricted to clothing alone.

Jewelry

From representing the daughter’s share of parental wealth and a hedge against leaner times or “istridhan” (woman’s wealth), jewelry has now become a must-have fashion accessory. Designers have jumped to take advantage of this consumer need, whether in terms of design versatility or price.

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Brides can now commission jewelry to match the embroidery on their wedding dress. J.J. Vallya, who makes wedding outfits, has been known to encrust jewels onto the wedding dress itself. Girls getting married demand mang tikkas, jhoomars, armbands, rings for every finger, bangles, amulets and anklets. “Brides are still choosing very traditional designs but a new color palette has taken over the age old choice of red,” says Shelly Gupta of Saloni Collection.

For the budget-conscious, this jewelry is available in gold plated silver. Parents balk at the price of what they consider costume jewelry but it is a smaller price to pay for the princess look.

There is the “one gram gold” jewelry where the gold plating is done using real gold, hence the term “one gram.” It comes with a “guarantee card” and looks like the real deal. Anu, a housewife out of Chennai, has her store on Facebook called Anu’s Collection. “ I lived in Sunnyvale for nine years. We moved back to Chennai two years ago and I found the working environment very different in India. Jewelry was my passion. It was also a way to stay connected to my friends in the bay area. I put pictures of some of the jewelry and clothes I can get for them on Facebook. Now they send me a message about what they want from Chennai and I just courier it to them. I am like their personal shopper.” She laughs gaily as she shows me a piece of the latest addition, “terracotta jewelry.”

Tribal jewelry is in great demand by the confident and trendy clientele. “Terracotta jewelry designed by an artist who has experimented with color is popular with the stylish, creative Bengali group who team it up with their cotton saris for an ethnic image. It comes from the South of India. I recently brought some folk pieces in Dokra and Terracotta,” says Gupta.

As the quality of artificial materials improves, it has become harder and harder to tell the difference between a real stone and a glass bead from China. Buyers of jewelry are tempted by the cheaper price tag. The price of silver has shot through the roof as it is a metal used in batteries, cell phones, computer chips, flat screen televisions, iPods, RFID chips, and even solar panels. It even has medicinal applications. With silver becoming increasingly out of reach and newer amalagams and metals offering tarnish-free qualities, the jewelry market is being liberated from its traditional tether.

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The market moves at a very fast rate. A designer may take a week to design an exclusive piece but within two hours the design can be copied and reproduced in cheaper materials.   It is a world where “imitation” jostles on an equal footing with “genuine.”

“As I grow older, I see myself reach more and more for my strings of emeralds, carnelians, rubies, and pearls,” says a Bay Area resident. Expensive jewelry remains the domain of the over-forty woman who can afford the price tag.

 

Men’s Fashion

As the mother of two boys who love wearing Indian clothes during weddings, dandiya, and Diwali, I am constantly looking out for the latest trend in menswear. To my delight, Indian men’s fashion has come of age. As I sat in a bridal store on my recent visit to Kochi,  I found my boys trying out silks, cottons, embroidered, pleated and tucked kurta pajamas, matching Punjabi jootis, or pointed toe shoes, and slicking back their hair as they admired themselves in the mirror.

Men and boys can take their pick from achkans, sherwanis, Jodhpuri jackets, tuxedos, and waistcoats. They can team them up with dhotis, Aligari pajamas, churidaars, linen trousers, or Patiala salwars.  Wearing long or short jackets, loose or tight bottoms, they build up their attire to complement their bodies. Adorning themselves with thick karas or bangles, rings on their fingers and kalgis on their turbans, the Indian male doesn’t wear a watch alone as his ornament of choice anymore. Brocade shawls and stoles drape around their shoulders.

Some match the stoles to what their partner is wearing and others match them to those of their friends as they strut around on the dance floor. Complementary embroidered jootis on their feet and in some extreme cases topped by a feathery turban, the Indian male can now match the peacock’s flair to attract his mate. As he twirls on the bhangra floor or just walks into the room, the Indian male now enjoys the stage as much as the girl on his arm.

While the achkan is structured and straight, the sherwani falls over the trousers with a royal flare. The achkan is unembellished; the sherwani comes with detailing of thread embroidery or gold thread (zardozi) work. The achkan can be made from brocade or monochromatic prints.

The “Jodhpuri” looks like an achkan but it is the length of a suit jacket. The Jodhpuri has made its way into the international market and can be rented at tuxedo rental stores in California. It is customarily worn to business meetings in India and is considered formal wear. The equivalent of business casual are the waistcoats with high jodhpuri collars, also known as the “Nehru” jacket. The Nehru jacket is thrown over kurtas or shirts and paired with tailored linen trousers, jeans or pajamas depending on the occasion. Brocade waistcoats have made their way to wedding sangeets while woolen waistcoats make ideal fall wear.

Price

Does the Indian diaspora spend like their counterparts in India? Would you spend $800 to $1,000 on a single designer outfit? “Depends on the circle you move in. If everyone in your social circle wears designer saris then you would spend Rs.30,000 or Rs.50,000 ($600 to a $1,000) on a sari.” says a Los Altos resident.

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“So I bought an outfit From Pia ka Ghar for Rs. 30,000 for my daughter because I want her to wear nice Indian clothes. But that is me. My daughters don’t want to spend that kind of money on an Indian outfit. They would rather put that money towards buying a BCBG dress” says another Atherton resident. “But as far as prices are concerned, Pia’s prices are the prices listed on the Indian designer’s website. For example a Sabyasachi’s retail price and Pia’s price is the same for the same outfit.”

The diaspora market is segmented along the lines of their counterparts in India and tends to shop within the segments. If your social group in India wears new Kanjeevaram silk saris every Navratri and Diwali or invests in new tangail and kantha saris for Durga Puja, then you would too. With the sharing of pictures on Facebook, the fuzzy lines of anonymity have melted and you can show off your new annual collection to friends and family the world over.

Active shopping is done near the festival and charity dinners season starting October.

Wedding shopping happens in summer and winter. Typically, weddings are planned around school vacations. Temples set up Diwali melas, homes host trunk shows, restaurants like Mehran open their doors to Eid exhibitions, and Facebook traffic jumps as photographs are uploaded by sellers and perused by buyers. The like button is as much a mark of wardrobe approval as is a verbal compliment.

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Ritu Marwah is a resident of the Bay Area where she has pursued theater, writing, non-profit marketing, high-tech marketing, startup management, raising children, coaching debate, and hiking. She recently completed a trek across the Siachen Glacier, walking on the highest battleground in the world. Ritu graduated from Delhi with masters in business,  joined the Tata Administrative Service and worked in London for ten years before moving to the Bay Area.

Q&A with Siddhi Khara, Co-Founder, Borrow it Bindaas)

What are the latest fashion trends this year?

This fall, Gotta Borders or Gold Pattis are being used in embroidery on hemlines of kurtas and borders of sarees or lehengas. Brocade is being used in completely different ways, styled as a skirt or a printed jacket. What’s nice about brocade is that it is a print that is classic and adds a touch of regality to any outfit. Another trend we see is a bit more emphasis on the embellishments of sleeves, sequin work & gemstone studded sleeves.

What’s in and What’s out?

Velvet trimmings are out this festive season. Detailed embellishments like chikankari and mirrorwork are in. Bright dual tones combined in a single outfit are popular, for example a hot pink color with bright orange/vermillion. Big, chunky clutch bags are out, small glitter clutches in single shade are in.

On the jewelry front, women are opting for big dangling traditional earrings while heavy neckpieces or bib necklaces are out for this festive season. Broad cuffs and traditional kadhas are up for grabs.

What colors are finding traction?

Unlike every Autumn/Winter, this year, colors like royal blue, purples, emerald green, hot pinks, orange and yellow are finding a lot of takers. In short, think bright while choosing colors. Black, white and burgundy are out; instead different shades of blue are being used.

Do you have to buy every season to update your collection?

Our entire inventory is from India and we work exclusively with designers and suppliers based out there. We make sure to have everything available in the U.S. so when customers place their orders they can get it right away and do not have to wait six weeks to get an outfit! Team members travel to India up to two or three times a year and work with our director of merchandising, Manshi Gandhi, 26, who is based in Mumbai to help scour the market for the latest trends and styles. This way we ensure that our styles and inventory are fresh and current for our customers!