Student Entrepreneur Brings South Asian Fashions to Rent the Runway

Juggling the demands of being a full-time NC State sophomore as well as running Sani, a South Asian fashion company, may seem daunting. But Ritika Shamdasani bubbles with enthusiasm and energy. Good thing, because the company is taking off in ways she never imagined.

The three-year-old company Ritika runs with her sister, Niki, began when the sisters recognized an unfilled fashion niche while shopping for an upcoming Indian wedding. “We were disappointed that we could not find the outfits, nor a shopping experience that we loved. We realized that many others were also settling for subpar options in this category of clothing,” Ritika said. 

“That summer we designed a collection of outfits to test the idea of what would soon become Sani,” Ritika continued. “We made all the pieces in our size so that if they failed, we would have some outfits to last us for a while. We never planned on starting a business together, but when we saw the response from that collection, we decided to start Sani. It turns out that my sister and I have very complementary skill sets, and while we fight like normal siblings, family is at the foundation of this business.”

Rent the Runway Picks Up Sani Designs

“About a year after creating Sani, my sister and I listened to the How I Built This podcast where Jennifer Hyman (the CEO and founder of Rent the Runway) talked about how she cold emailed Diane Von Furstenberg, her first designer on Rent the Runway,” Ritika explained. “That inspired my sister to cold email Jennifer Hymen because we had always thought they would be the perfect partner for Sani. And she got a response!”

Sani recently had several of its designs featured on Rent the Runway, the prominent national fashion website created to rent high end designer clothing to customers. Sani was rocketed into the national spotlight.

The sisters had no idea that their designs were being launched on Rent the Runway until Ritika came out of a textile class and opened her phone. “There were millions of notifications! I called my sister and we realized what had happened. This was a turning point for us and helped us realize that there is tremendous interest. We had investors tweeting at us and celebrities like Mindy Kaling commenting on the partnership. We knew right then that we had successfully solved a problem.” 

Passion for Fashion Sparked by Sani

Ritika was considering majoring in computer science, but with the creation of Sani she realized her passion for fashion and decided to make it her major. “I had a lot of learning to do very quickly,” she said. 

She and Niki used to go to India at least once a year, where they were inspired by the gorgeous fabrics in the market. While there, they selected fabrics, latkans (ornamental zipper pulls), and jewelry. 

“Now, with COVID, we have to rely on virtual communication with our partners in India, yet at the same time, we aren’t producing as much as we were before because not as many special occasions are happening.”

Overcoming Obstacles Runs in the Family

Despite the challenges with COVID-19, the sisters are resilient, having learned from their entrepreneurial parents who came to the United States in the late 1970s. 

“They built a business from scratch and worked tirelessly to give me the opportunities I have today. They truly made something out of nothing. I am constantly in awe and inspired by their constant determination and commitment to keep pushing no matter the circumstances,” Ritika said.

“I am still learning every day while running Sani, and I have not got it all figured out. However, running this business has taught me that entrepreneurship is all about trial and error. You may go through 10 different iterations to get to the ‘right’ one. The first step to getting there is just starting if you have an idea. Although it may be daunting and you can think of a million reasons why you shouldn’t, sometimes you just have to dive in headfirst and ask for help along the way.” 

NC State, Delta Gamma Sisterhood Provide Valuable Lessons

Ritika Shamdasani pictured in front of the Wilson College of Textiles building
Ritika Shamdasani pictured in front of the Wilson College of Textiles building

During Ritika’s first year at NC State, she joined Delta Gamma, which had a positive influence on her as an entrepreneur and a leader. “Being a part of this sisterhood has already taught me some incredible lessons, and I am so proud to be a part of an amazing group of women leaders,” Ritika said. “Running a sorority is like running a business, and our chapter does an incredible job of appreciating everyone’s individual contributions. They value every member’s feedback and know that understanding each person’s strengths makes for a stronger chapter.”

One of the reasons Ritika came to NC State was because she knew the university could help take Sani to the next level. 

“At NC State, I have met professors such as Dr. West, professor Capps, professor Sheats, and more who have become mentors and people I go to for constant advice,” Ritika said. “I have connected with students who have become invested in the business and are always willing to support me. My experiences and the people at NC State in and out of the classroom continue to push me to be better, and have contributed not only to Sani but to the person I am today.”

This post was originally published in DASA.

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