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When Niki Shamdasani and her younger sister, Rikita, began shopping at the eleventh hour for something chic to wear at an Indian wedding, they found themselves running from pillar to post.  

Not only did that take up a lot of time, but the garments they found were also expensive. In the past, they’d bought such cultural costumes in India, but they hadn’t made a trip there in a while. They could wear the ones they had in their closet, of course, but they didn’t fit.

To solve the problem, they placed a video-call to their grandmother, in India, who then took them on a virtual tour of the bridal boutiques in her town. But that was a “hard way to shop,” said Niki Shamdasani, chief executive and co-founder of Sani.

Fresh Approach

Sani — named after the last four letters of their last name — is a brand of South Asian apparel based in North Carolina.  

Driving from the Tar Heel state north to New Jersey or next door to Georgia — states with sizeable South Asian populations — wasn’t any more helpful. The stores there had selections that were “outdated compared to what we were seeing on Instagram,” she added.

Technology And Fashion

Disappointed, they ordered something online from a company based in the U.S. But more disappointment was in store. The pieces of clothing that arrived didn’t at all match the ones in the photos. Besides, their quality was shoddy.

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@sanisisters

Things I would wear as an Indian wedding guest part 18381938 #indianwedding #fashion #fyp

♬ original sound – Niki & Ritika from Sani

That’s what motivated the Shamdasani sisters to start their own business. Niki left a career in venture capital and consulting in New York to focus on that. At present, Ritika is a senior at North Carolina State University’s Wilson College of Textiles. Through summers spent with Girls Who Code, Kode with Klossy, and then Amazon, she cultivated an interest in technology and fashion.

Rent The Runway

In February 2020, Rent the Runway, a popular Netflix-like rental company that lets you rent haute-couture at a low cost, made Indian formal wear available to rent for the first time. Sani made its debut on the runway.  

Almost immediately, the “brand took off in a huge way,” said Niki. “The pieces got completely booked out within 48 hours.” One of the greatest challenges a newly born brand faces is to earn the trust of its potential market, enough for anyone to make a purchase. Partnering with Rent the Runway solved that monumentally.  

A lehnga choli from Sani. (sanidesigns.com photo)

Bollywood On A Budget

Sani creates clothing that’s “approachable-luxe,” meaning that they’re high-end, but at prices that aren’t prohibitive. It offers made-to-order lehengas (a toe-length skirt, aired with a blouse called choli), anarkalis (an embroidered, long dress with a flare at the bottom), dhotis and sarees (long fabrics, both of which are draped) that range anywhere between $400 and $500.

The outfits, which offer a touch of Bollywood on a budget — depending on how deep your pocket is — are made in workshops owned and run by women in Delhi.

So, if you need something elegant for a South Asian event, you don’t need to wait to go to India or anywhere else in South Asia to pick up your wardrobe.

Alakananda Mookerjee

Alakananda Mookerjee lives in Brooklyn, and is a Francophile.