DURHAMRent the Runway, a clothing rental startup, is offering South Asian fashion for the first time. And there’s a North Carolina connection, one backed by the NC IDEA Foundation.

The online service that provides designer dress and accessory rentals recently signed a partnership with fashion brand Sani – the brainchild of sister duo, Niki and Ritika Shamdasani, who are based between Raleigh and Fayetteville.

“Sani has always been about celebrating our culture on a global level and increasing the visibility of the craftsmanship and culture behind South Asian fashion,” Niki told WRAL TechWire by email. “Rent the Runway is an incredible partner for that mission — it is helping us not only continue to provide more access to South Asian Americans but it’s also helping bring other people into it in a respectful and informed way.”


Dress by Sani

It all started two years ago when Niki was working in venture capital in New York City, and Ritika was a rising junior in high school. At the time, they were struggling to purchase high-quality, multicultural designs that were also modern and easy to access.

“Sani came from a personal need,” Niki explained. “We soon discovered we were not the only ones that experienced that need.”

Neither women had a fashion background, but that didn’t stop them. Other than receiving an NC IDEA’s SEED Micro Grant, they’ve bootstrapped the company.  Niki left her job in New York and moved back to her home state of North Carolina. In a few months, they had created their first designs, found a manufacturing partner in Delhi, and started the brand.

Then over a year ago, Niki “cold emailed” Rent the Runway’s CEO Jennifer Hyman, who launched the company with Jennifer Fleiss in November 2009 to much success.

“It was after hearing her on the podcast ‘How I Built This,’ where she talked about how she had cold emailed Diane Von Furstenburg, and it inspired me to do the same with her.”

Dress by Sani

It worked. They pair launched their collection this month on the site. They say they create designs rooted in their heritage, while also infusing them with the perspectives of first-generation South Asian American women. At the same time, they are aiming to elevate the “end-to-end experience” so South Asians don’t feel like they need to go to India or abroad for the best selection of our cultural clothing.

“We want to make South Asian fashion more accessible and give it a global platform.”