Wedding necessitates four clothes__South Asian weddings appear to be the ideal setting for the fashion-rental juggernaut: Traditional clothing may be costly and take months to custom-make, such delicate garments can also be difficult to clean and preserve.
by nytimes (wedding necessitates four clothes)
Sonya Patel, an entrepreneur who operates a small spice business in Cleveland, was caught off guard when the wedding invitation arrived in the spring of 2021.
It was for an Indian wedding, which might last several days and need not just one dress but a complete wardrobe: four outfits, perhaps, for the weekend’s festivities; two pairs of shoes; three bags; and matching bangles and earrings.
Patel, 40, generally wore lehengas, or skirts, and saris bought by her mother on her mother’s regular travels to Jaipur for these occasions; Patel hadn’t been to India in more than a decade. However, due of COVID, “no one had gone to India to go shopping” that spring, she claimed. “I went to my mother’s place to try on everything, and nothing fit. “I was in a state of terror.”
Her frantic Google searches led her to Borrow the Bazaar and Preserve, two South Asian formal dress rental companies. She picked a white mirrored lehenga from Preserve for the sangeet, a boisterous pre-wedding event, after a flurry of emails and Zoom conversations. “I packed it in a box and shipped it back, and I didn’t have to think about it again – it was great,” Patel added. The rental fee was $110 for seven days.
South Asian weddings appear to be the ideal setting for the fashion-rental juggernaut: Traditional clothing may be costly and time-consuming to have custom-made; such delicate garments can also be difficult to clean and preserve. And who wants to be seen in the same outfit at the next Diwali gala once it’s been shared on Instagram?
Renting is the next natural step for many people. Preserve and Borrow the Bazaar, as well as sites like AllBorrow and the Pakistani designer-focused Almari360 — all launched in the last five years — are part of a new wave of businesses attempting to tackle the logistically difficult and costly problem of dressing for a South Asian wedding.
Rent the Runway, which popularised borrowed clothing, said in February 2020 that it will begin retailing Indian designs by the North Carolina-based company Sani.
“The pieces were totally sold up within 48 hours; then the pandemic arrived two weeks later,” said Niki Shamdasani, co-founder of Sani with her sister, Ritika. So yet, the collaboration hasn’t gone beyond a few wardrobe alternatives, which are frequently unavailable due to being rented.
According to Sonal J. Shah, a New York wedding planner who has handled roughly 2,000 high-end South Asian marriages in her two-decade career, demand may be strong. “Post-COVID, I would guess there are between 6,000 and 6,500” South Asian weddings in the United States each year, she added. (This translates to over 20,000 outfits.) According to her, the typical budget for her clients’ multiday extravaganzas is $350,000 to $400,000, and a designer trousseau can cost up to $60,000.
Guests, of course, do not have to spend quite as much, but the numbers pile up even at less opulent weddings.
“Everyone is weary of spending hundreds of dollars on garments they only wear once,” Preserve’s founder and CEO Lindsey Chakraborty remarked. “In my experience, everyone you know gets invited to every wedding, so you won’t be able to wear the same lehenga for another couple of years — and then it’ll be out of style.”
Chakraborty, 36, created Preserve while dating her husband, Shiv, and finding herself shopping for three Indian weddings in one year. “I required 15 dresses as a normal plus-one visitor,” she explained. When she went the “cheap route” online, she stated the clothing she received were of low quality and did not resemble the photographs.
Chakraborty began investigating the industry using her business skills and noticed how ignored it was, especially given the number of mixed marriages in the Indian community. (She is Caucasian, whereas her spouse is Native American.)
According to Shah, the wedding planner, more than 60% of her couples are multiracial, implying a varied pool of guests eager to look the part but anxious about honouring traditions by picking appropriate apparel and colours — and may lack a personal collection of saris to draw from. “We definitely screened 60 to 70 emails just on the dress and jewels,” Shah said of a recent wedding she arranged in Mexico.
The more Chakraborty investigated, the more certain she became that she needed to intervene. So she invested her whole wedding budget in Preserve and eloped on her Tribeca rooftop in August 2021. That summer, she teased Preserve with two Instagram stories, which she said garnered 500 rental inquiries.
Preserve has attracted over 1,000 new clients since the autumn of 2021, with half of them renting two or more clothes every transaction, she claimed. According to Chakraborty, 50% of her clients are not South Asian.
One of Preserve’s non-Desi customers is Aletheia Orphanidys, a 31-year-old lawyer in the Bay Area. She was blown away when she was asked to a law school classmate’s wedding in 2021. “Everyone else knows the difference between the sangeet and the mehndi,” she explained. “I had no idea what was going on or what colours were suitable. “I didn’t know where to begin.”
Preserve assisted her in styling a designer wardrobe of five ensembles for $500 — a fraction of the thousands it would have cost to buy them — for a seven-day rental term.
Even ladies who have their own Indian wardrobes believe the leasing services provide them the opportunity to explore. “It gives you the courage to explore styles you would not have tried on your own,” Patel says. “I rent outfits that are far more fashionable and that I would never buy in my life.”
Although South Asian rental platforms have demonstrated proof of concept, they face a unique set of challenges. Patel, for example, said there might be a stigma behind preworn clothing in some South Asian families: “My mum was terrified,” Patel said, recalling the first time she mentioned renting to her mother.
Then there’s the issue of washing sensitive items: Indian and Pakistani clothing frequently has embroidered textiles and handcrafted beading, which may degrade swiftly if not properly cared for. Rental firms prefer to focus their inventory on finely woven fabrics, such as banarasi, more durable beading, and different styles, such as sari-gown hybrids – a minor departure from the patterns buyers may be accustomed to seeing.
Sizing can also be difficult for rental firms to standardise, especially for South Asian clothing, which are often cut to a very personalised fit. To address this, Almari360 and AllBorrow collaborate with seamstresses to incorporate adjustable elements such as ties and snaps into each garment; Preserve collaborates with its designers to standardise sizes; and Chakraborty stated that she was developing technological solutions to further eliminate guesswork.
Even as these businesses attempt to simplify their offerings, clients’ post-pandemic social schedules keep them afloat.
“I’m 100% renting again – I was on both sites two nights ago looking out dresses for a March wedding,” Patel said of the websites Preserve and Borrow the Bazaar. She has become a loyal consumer of both businesses.
She’s also spreading the word about renting, much to her mother’s disgust. “I told folks I rented, and my mum asked, ‘Why are you telling people?'” she laughed. “I thought to myself, ‘Because it could assist someone else!'”