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Fashion Forward: A Spotlight on Andrews Launch Accelerator Startup

In 2017, two sisters shopping for an Indian wedding spent considerable time and money – only to settle on outfits they didn’t love. Now, they are co-owners of Sani, a brand offering South Asian inspired fashion for a new generation. 

Before founding Sani, Niki and Ritika Shamdasani tried it all: checking out all the South Asian fashion hubs, scouring questionable websites, even video-calling their grandmother in India as she showed them various fabrics. Still, they could never find what they were looking for.

The sisters soon realized that their experience wasn’t a unique one. 

“When we talked to our other friends and family, we realized that their shopping experiences were just as frustrating as ours,” Ritika Shamdasani says. “We realized that everyone was settling for subpar designs and a subpar experience.”

Recognizing the demand for new South Asian fashion designs, the sisters began designing outfits together in New York City. By October 2017, they launched their first mini collection and Sani was born. 

The sister owned and operated brand offers innovative, multifunctional designs – and a seamless shopping experience, too. “We got such a great response that we decided to release new collections,” Ritika Shamdasani says. “It has been a great ride. We love designing the outfits we always had in mind.”

Sisters and Sani co-founders, Niki and Ritika Shamdasani

After launching with a grassroots strategy in North Carolina, Sani expanded nationally and entered into a partnership with Rent the Runway as the first South Asian brand on the platform. 

In addition to operating Sani alongside her sister, Ritika Shamdasani is currently completing her bachelor’s degree in fashion textile management at NC State.

“The concepts I learn in class are tied to real-world applications and have been so helpful in my journey with Sani,” Ritika says. “At NC State, it’s not just about how much knowledge you can accumulate, but how you can ‘Think and Do.’”

In hopes of growing even further, Sani applied for the Andrews Launch Accelerator, a 14-week summer program offered by the Poole College of Management, which is designed to help NC State entrepreneurs take their startups to the next level. The Accelerator also allocates equity-free seed capital to startups that complete the program.

“We knew the program’s mentorship, applied learning and milestones-based model would push us to revisit our core assumptions and accelerate our growth,” Ritika Shamdasani says.

The Accelerator program is also timely for the fashion brand. Since the coronavirus crisis put a halt to large gatherings, the demand for occasion wear has slowed and Sani has struggled to keep its community engaged. On the other hand, the pandemic has challenged the brand to strengthen its foundation.

“Like many other businesses, we have realized that we have to pivot while building up our core business for the future,” Ritika Shamdasani says. “The Andrews Launch Accelerator is a valuable opportunity for us to take a moment and step back from the nitty-gritty of running a business and make sure we are building a long-term foundation based on the right assumptions and experiments.”

Sani is one of five startups participating in the 2020 Andrews Launch Accelerator. Four of the five, including Sani, are female-led. All five represent minorities.

“We are so grateful and excited to participate in this year’s program,” Ritika Shamdasani says. “We hope to soak up and act on as much as possible from the weekly sessions; and we’re looking forward to building a community of our fellow founders, the incredible accelerator staff, and other mentors.”

This post was originally published in Poole College of Management News.