"If money can't buy happiness, I guess you'll just have to rent it."-from This is the Life, Weird Al Yankovich
While surfing the web, you can rent a Hermes handbag, a Prabal Gurung mini dress and a copy of Blue Valentine, so why not a new designer Indian outfit for your cousin's wedding? Chicago gals Swathi Narra and Swapna Chandamuri thought the same thing after getting five Indian wedding invitations in three months and wondering, "What the heck are we going to wear?" That's how Luxemi.com was born. Think of it as if Net-a-Porter and Rent the Runway were to have a South Asian fashionista love child. The website specializes in chic Indian clothing and accessories that can be borrowed for a specific event or purchased for your own personal wardrobe. The name Luxemi plays off of the combination of luxury and Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess that embodies beauty, grace and charm. The site launches to the public this week. Pink Rickshawhad the pleasure of speaking to founders Swathi and Swapna to learn more.
PR: What are some of the designers we'll find on the site now and in the future? Do you have any personal favorites?
SN: Currently, we feature lines from Satya Paul, Kisneel by Pam Mehta, Nikasha, and Wild Orchid. I love all of them! I will say that I'm obsessed with everything we have from Nikasha by Nikasha Tawadey. She just gets it. Her clothing is festive and beautifully tailored but shows a certain amount of restraint. She knows that you don't need 1000 crystal stones on a blouse to make it stand out. In the future, you might see lines from Anita Dongre, Anand Kabra and many more. You'll just have to keep checking back with us.
SC: I love the romance and drama of Pam Mehta's Kisneel line--uber feminine, flirty, and flattering. Additionally, we scoured India to find stand-out pieces from emerging designers and local karigars(craftsmen). I have so many favorites that really round out the Luxemi line including the navy bell sleeved salwar with zariwork (the silhouette is super flattering, pictured left), the purple ombre saree with aria pitta work (the detailing is truly remarkable, pictured below), and the brocade salwar with cutout applique (simple elegance at its best, pictured above).
PR: What are some of the biggest trends in Indian clothing this spring?
SN: The anarkali style salwars are still going very strong and we're seeing a lot of muted/neutral colors which I'm personally very drawn to. The very traditional ethnic motifs and prints are always in fashion and there are a lot of variation to choose from on the runways.
PR: How do you think Western runways are influencing Indian fashion and vice versa?
SN: I think Western and Indian fashion both draw from each other at different times but they don't necessarily mimic what is happening at a given time. Color blocking is huge from the Western runways for spring but that hasn't translated to Indian fashion...yet. Of course, we Indians love bright color and always use it so maybe it's just the western world is late to the game. We actually have a post on our blog, The Luxe Report, that talks about ombre dyeing in sarees and its parallel in western fashion and beauty.
One feature of the site that may appeal to busy gals needing to get together a complete ensemble quickly is that Luxemi.com recommends coordinating accessories when browsing for an outfit. The site offers an extensive collection of traditional and modern jewelry.
PR: At Pink Rickshaw, we love mixing in Indian-inspired accessories with western wear. Any suggestions for how to use some accessories from Luxemi with some of your regular wardrobe?
SN: While we definitely carry a lot of traditional ethnic Indian jewelry, we made it a point to also offer other pieces that can be mixed easily into your western wardrobe. We have a pair of sterling silver (gold finish) engraved earrings that go with everything. I wear mine with long boho maxi dresses and they just complete the outfit. The diamond bangles (they come in a set) could easily be worn with any black tie gown to elevate your look.
SC: No fair! Swathi took my answer. I do love those engraved earrings, a fact that my Facebook pictures will attest to, but I also have my eye on this turquoise and white sapphire bracelet that will provide a pop of color and fabulousness to any spring outfit. For some reason, I think of Cameron Diaz when I see it. Also, we have so many necklace sets that really elevate and change the mood of any cocktail dress in your closet. One that my girlfriends especially love is the gold kundan collar.
PR: Are your hopes the site will appeal to non-South Asians as well?
SN: We want to appeal to anyone that loves beautiful things. India has so much to offer in the way of great craftsmanship and gorgeous design, whether it be in textiles or jewelry, that giving it a platform for others to discover is certainly a draw.
SC: Of course--above anything, we hope to provide great style and easy access, whether you are South Asian American or not, Whether it's finding the perfect pair of earrings to give new life to the navy cocktail dress hanging in the back of your closet or borrowing a saree to wow at your college friend's wedding, we have you covered.
PR: Why was this the right time for both of you personally to start a business? Why was it the right time in the marketplace for a site like this?
SN: Swapna and I both talked about starting a business together for awhile but we wanted it to be the right time and right opportunity. When the idea for Luxemi was conceived, I had recently left a job and we were in the middle of the economic recession. Given the climate, there weren't opportunities that I felt excited by and I wanted my next job to something that was personally fulfilling. In regards to it being the right time in the marketplace for a company like Luxemi, I think people are looking for ways to shop better and smarter. Currently, the way people buy and shop for Indian clothing is extremely antiquated. It's not always feasible to travel to India and if you don't live in the big three India market (LA, Chicago, New York), you don't have many options. I've been shopping online for my western clothing for years and its really served me well, so why should shopping for Indian clothes be any different? I want all the same things: great clothes and easy access.
SC: As I was finishing up my MBA at Kellogg School of Management last year, I was debating what to do next. I came from strategy consulting at Bain & Company, where I learned a ton from super smart and kind people but I knew my heart lies in entrepreneurship. I looked at my father's lifelong career as a serial entrepreneur and while I recognized the constant challenges he faced, I also saw the satisfaction he derived from controlling his own destiny. Swathi and I had been batting this idea around for a few months; we conducted extensive market research which showed that the need was as great or greater than we thought it was. It was time to put my money (and my time) where my mouth was. And let's be honest, how often do people get to build a business in a field they are super excited by with their best friend? I couldn't let the opportunity pass me by.
PR: Rent the Runway just came out of their beta testing phase and is a bona fide success with one million members. Why do you think people are more comfortable these days with renting clothes like they do movies?
SN: I think there are a couple of reasons. First, Rent the Runway has really broken the mold in this category. While they aren't the first to pioneer renting dresses online, they've done an excellent job instilling trust and customer confidence in their services. Also, given the economic climate, people are more receptive and understand the value proposition that borrowing has. An outfit that is 1) stylish and 2) may have been out of your price range in India coupled with the ease of having a ready-made blouse in your size that you can wear once for a fraction of the cost is really appealing to people.
SC: Additionally, I think renting satisfies the variety seeker in you and in a way that purchasing cannot--especially for Indian clothes which are bold and vibrant. My wedding circuit community is small enough where people absolutely notice when I repeat a saree.
PR:Most Indian brides these days are incorporating bridesmaids into their ceremonies but constantly complain about not being able to find stylish bridesmaid saris or outfits. Do you anticipate brides will be able to utilize Luxemi for bridesmaid saris or a bridal trousseau?
SN: Yes, absolutely.
SC: Lots of exciting products and services to come--stay tuned.
PR: As young entrepreneurs, any nuggets of wisdom for those thinking about starting their own business?
SN: Be brave and be adaptable. I'm only just beginning and I still have a lot to learn so if your readers are entrepreneurs, I'd love to hear advice from them.
SC: Make smart decisions but don't over analyze. Conduct the research, evaluate the opportunity, build a great team, and make a plan. But you could plan forever if you wanted to--sometimes you just have to jump!
Some tidbits if you are new to the fashion renting world: Luxemi.com offers two separate collections for buying or renting. Basically that means, you cannot buy something that you rented. When borrowing, you can choose a period of four or ten days. Similar to most rental sites like Rent the Runway, Luxemi.com does require you to join the site for free. You can find more details here. And one tidbit every saree wearer is sure to ask: What about the blouse? If borrowing a saree, the site will send you a blouse is in your chosen size along with a back-up blouse in a different size, to ensure the right fit.
image source: luxemi.com (items featured: glamorous saree with gold sequins, victorian set with green onyx, brocade salwar with cutout applique, diamonique bracelets with diamond patterns, turquoise lotus bracelet with sapphires, bell sleeve zari salwar, Kisneel chiffon jacket with gold embellishment, sterling silver engraved hanging earrings, gold kundan collar and earrings, wedding saree with aria pitta, hot pink silk coat with sequins, tonal saree with modern border, shimmer georgette bridal lehenga saree)