Ritika Shamdasani, a young entrepreneur and a class of 2023 Park Scholar to boot, is revitalizing black-tie fashion by providing clothing for an underrepresented sector of America’s apparel industry: South Asian formal wear.
Enter Sani, a South Asian formal wear brand that sells pieces such as anarkalis, a floor-length suit with a long, frock-style top and a slim-fitted bottom, and sarees, a garment that is typically draped over one shoulder and wrapped around the waist. In Shamdasani’s words, “Sani is a South Asian-inspired fashion brand, and our designs are rooted in culture but fused with the perspectives of first-generation South Asian Americans.”
Shamdasani, a second-year studying fashion and textile management, started Sani Designs in 2017 with her sister, Niki, over a self-proclaimed need for quality South Asian clothing for an Indian wedding.
“The process for shopping for an Indian wedding was like finding a diamond in the rough,” Shamdasani said, explaining how she traveled hundreds of miles to big U.S. cities just to find the right fit. “When we…started talking to our friends, we were like, ‘Are we missing something here? Or is it just really hard to access these cultural clothes?’”
It became apparent that no, they weren’t missing anything. There is not a go-to South Asian formal clothing company that’s accessible, affordable and sustainable in the same way that brands such as Madewell or Reformation are. Shoppers have to travel far and wide for a lehenga or a dhoti, sometimes to use it once and never again. Shamdasani is angling to change that dynamic.
“The more we dug into it, the more we realized that first and second generation South Asian Americans in the United States were settling for a subpar experience and subpar designs,” Shamdasani said.
According to Shamdasani, Sani focuses on lehengas, anarkalis and pant styles. The duo wants their pieces to be multifunctional and able to be worn to both an Indian wedding and a Western gala.
The clothing and accessories available on their website definitely appeal to a wider demographic, but they stay true to their original goal by offering clothes with a strong South Asian influence that cater to their target audience. Earlier this year, they reached an even bigger audience and broke a major barrier by becoming the first South Asian brand on Rent the Runway, a popular subscription fashion service which allows customers to rent designer apparel at a much lower price point.
“It’s a funny story,” Shamdasani said. “We didn’t know that we were launching on Rent the Runway that early. I was at a class at the College of Textiles. I came out of my class and saw my phone blowing up with notifications.”
Sani had launched on Rent the Runway much earlier than expected, throwing her and her sister’s plans out of alignment. Despite the quick debut, Shamdasani said she still looks back on the experience with awe.
“It was such an amazing experience, and I feel like that was such an inflection point for Sani,” she said. “That moment really took us from this baby, N.C.-based brand to this U.S.-based brand that people in California and New York knew about.”
Sani’s success has grown relatively quickly since 2017. In the three years since then, they’ve expanded to 10 different clothing categories, gained thousands of Instagram followers and drawn national attention from the likes of Business Insider and NBC News.
“Success is 90% hard work, and we’ve put in a lot of hard work to make Sani what it is today,” Shamdasani said about her company’s sudden popularity. “We’ve seen our hard work pay off.”
Given their recent triumphs, Sani has no shortage of launches planned for the upcoming months, Shamdasani said.
“We are in the process of releasing two new products categories; one’s going to be here mid-September and the other one at the end of September,” Shamdasani said. “We’re really excited because these are not occasionwear, so they’re completely different from what we’ve done. They still maintain the same Sani values, and they’re made for special moments.”
Becoming a successful businesswoman before your 21st birthday is an impressive feat, and Shamdasani said she is grateful for the opportunities she’s had. She urges everybody who has a passion or an idea to put themselves out there because you never know who’s going to have the connections to help you out.
“For me personally, I constantly think about ‘What if this? What if that?’, but in the end, you never know what’s going to happen,” Shamdasani said. “So you might as well put yourself out there. Tell the world about your idea.”