How to Style South Asian Fashion With the Designers Behind Sani

March 2, 2020

How do you get a business off the ground?

First, you need a good idea. Next, you need an audience. And finally, you need the grit, determination and support that it takes to build something out of nothing.

Niki and Ritika Shamdasani of Sani—a South Asian Fashion brand that just launched on RTR—have all three of these things. 

The sisters started the label in 2017 as a way to modernize the traditional styles of South Asia, giving women a way to experience the beauty and cultural importance of garments like the lehenga and anarkali. (Insert: comfy lining and everyone’s favorite formalwear detail—pockets!)

We spent an afternoon with the co-founders, drinking tea, laughing at outtakes, and learning the ins and outs of how to style South Asian occasionwear.

Learn more about this dynamic duo and their budding fashion empire below:

On starting Sani:
We built this brand from the ground up—in part to solve our own struggle to find high-quality, multicultural designs. We quickly realized we were not the only ones—there were about 80,000 (and growing) South Asian weddings in the US and Canada annually, each of which usually has multiple events and hundreds of guests that need South Asian clothes. We knew there was a real gap for us to tackle. So, we started Sani to create the outfits and experience we always wished we could find.

On working with your family:
Our dad and his six siblings started a business together when they came to the US, and they continue to run it to this day. They have always taught us that family comes first, and that principle is at the core of Sani. As sisters, we know how to frustrate each other unlike anyone else, but we also know how to build on each other’s strengths to create the strongest partnership for the brand.

On their design process:
Our design process is rooted in heritage and fused with the perspectives of first-generation South Asian Americans. We start with our culture and the influences that have shaped us. From there, we get more inspiration from fabrics we find throughout India. We infuse both cultures into our designs through the silhouettes, the fabrics, and the way we style the pieces. It’s a very collaborative and imaginative process, especially as we expand our conceptions of what is possible.

On advice for female entrepreneurs:
Starting a business is all about resilience and having the patience to keep chipping away at your goals. How do you know when sticking with an idea is resilient or stupid? You don’t, but you can work on making sure it is the former by constantly learning from what you are doing and adapting.

On misconceptions of South Asian style:
There’s a common misconception in Western culture that all South Asian styles are considered and labeled as sarees. “Saree”—also spelled “sari”—is often used as a catch-all phrase for South Asian fashion, but it is actually one of many popular styles. Sarees have been one of the most visible South Asian garments in mainstream culture for many reasons, one of which seems to be because it is often the style of choice worn by South Asian dignitaries during trips abroad.

On building a revolutionary brand:
We feel proud to celebrate South Asian culture through fashion. Growing up, we hardly ever saw South Asian culture represented in the mainstream in non-stereotypical ways, but that has really changed through the efforts of women like Mindy Kaling, Payal Kadakia and Reshma Saujani. Role models like them have paved the way for businesses like ours, and we hope we can continue to boost up the work of others before us.

Just because:
Last Google search: 
Ritika: “fiber density of polyester” (that college life) 
Niki: “how to get a four letter twitter account”

Favorite IG handle: 
Ritika: @costco_doesitagain
Niki: @commentsbycelebs

First fashion memory: 
Ritika: My collection of princess heels that I wore everywhere 24/7.
Niki: My lime green power woman pantsuit from the 2nd grade. 

Personal fashion icon: 
Niki: Rupi Kaur. 
Ritika: Sonam Kapoor. And our mom — that woman can ROCK a saree. 

Best advice you’ve ever received: 
Never forget where you came from. 

Best advice you’ve ever given: 
If it’s meant to be, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.