As conscious consumerism is on the rise, sustainability and circular fashion have become new buzzwords in the Indian luxury sector. Following the trend, fashion entrepreneurs Pernia Qureshi, Shehlina Soomro and Omar Soomro have co-founded Saritoria- the first global platform to buy and sell pre-loved South Asian luxury fashion. The e-store, currently operational in India and the UK allows consumers to buy better, sell more and wear more of the biggest South-Asian designers. Through its unique model, Saritoria promotes longevity of luxury couture and celebrates the impeccable artisanship of South Asian designer pieces. In a conversation with LuxeBook, Pernia and Shehlina talk about their inspiration behind Saritoria, the rise of sustainable fashion and setting up a business during the pandemic.
What is the idea behind Saritoria and how did it take shape?
Shehlina: The pandemic allowed us to reflect on the important things in life. A lot of us realised just how much stuff we had accumulated over time. During the lockdown, many of us decluttered our wardrobes, which also served as a much-needed mental detox. What became clear was that South Asian clothes as compared to western outfits take up a lot of closet space and are hardly re-worn, despite the huge amount of human and environmental resources used in creating these garments. Reports claim that climate change is going to impact South Asia a lot more than other parts of the world, which is why we need to take ownership as a community and reconsider our choices. There has been a lot of talk around building back better after the pandemic and we wanted to create Saritoria as a solution to empower the 1.8 billion South Asians to promote circular economy. Given that 85 per cent of textiles ultimately end up in land-fills or are incinerated, it was, both, amazing and shocking to discover that, unlike for western brands, there was no easily accessible solution to extend the life of regional garments, and so Saritoria was born.
Why the name ‘Saritoria’?
Shehlina: Saritoria is putting the ‘Sari’ into Sartorial. We wanted a name that represented the craftsmanship and skills of our South Asian fashion industry’s and sounds modern and elegant.
What are the unique features of Saritoria?
Shehlina: Saritoria’s products are available at a much lesser price than its original value. Saritoria provides a solution for, both, buyers and sellers. Beyond sustainability, another advantage of shopping on Saritoria is finding one-of-a-kind pieces that won’t be available in the market. Saritoria also aims to be as accessible as possible to Indian residents and NRIs. We also have concierge services in Mumbai, Delhi, London, which offers complete end to end assistance. We can photograph, upload the garments and create a profile on behalf of sellers. If someone wants to upload an item themselves, easily. We have an inbuilt artificial intelligence programme that removes the background from a product’s photograph. The outfits listed on the site undergo a rigorous authentication process and attain the Saritoria seal before being sold.
How do you ensure that the products listed on the platform are authentic and of premium quality?
Shehlina: At Saritoria, our team of experts vet each garment carefully. Sellers are required to list any defects in their listing so that buyers know exactly what to expect. We want to provide as much transparency as possible to our consumers.
Is the Indian market ready for pre-loved garments?
Pernia: Culturally Indians are very good at reusing just about anything and not wasting. We have a long-standing tradition of passing down heirloom. At Saritoria, we help South Asians rediscover a world where we can buy high quality designer garments and pass them on when we are done with them. However, this time around, instead of passing your clothes on to your family, you can have the option to sell them to others and make some money as well. This way your fashion and money can constantly be in a cycle, and you will never feel like you are running out of either. We encourage Indians to adopt slow fashion and help couture gain longevity and relevance for a longer period. Also, are not things more special when they are shared?
Shehlina: We think people all over the world now believe that fashion needs a revolution. More is no longer more, it is wasteful. And the world should not have to deal with that. It is crucial to savour, save and celebrate what we already have. Sustainability is no longer a choice; it is a necessity. Fashion accounts for 10 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, 20 per cent of wastewater and 35 per cent of microplastics. Consumers are aware of this and are looking for solutions accordingly. We are delighted to have built a business that supports the buyers, sellers, and the environment.
What were the challenges in setting up a business in the pandemic?
Pernia: The challenges of setting up a business in the pandemic were not anything we could not readjust to or work around. To start off, I had never met my co-founders in person. That may seem like a huge challenge, but it was okay for us.We made it work, thanks to technology. We trust other because we were introduced by an incredible mutual friend, and because our style of working is very similar. Our attitude has always been to do whatever it takes to make this business a success.
However, we had to postpone our launch by just a little to wait out the second wave of the pandemic.
Do you think circular fashion is a short-lived trend?
Pernia: Circular fashion is here for the long run. Even in the West, many high-street fashion brands are encouraging reusing and re-wearing pre-loved clothes. Circular fashion is here to stay and we can’t wait for it to evolve in the coming years and play a key role in educating more people about it.
Pernia, you have already tapped into the sustainable fashion market with GurOrganics, has it been a conscious decision to promote such initiatives?
Pernia: I have come to realise that I love setting up new businesses. It is something that I have an eye for and keen interest in. Revolutionary ideas excite me and bringing them to fruition is a challenge I thoroughly enjoy. Sustainable fashion is the inevitable future and I definitely love playing an instrumental role in changing the face of fashion.
What are the most important lessons you have learnt as businesspeople while setting up this business?
Shehlina: Patience. The most valuable asset of any organisation is its people. Hence, appointing the right team is crucial. It’s also important to stay true to your values and not cut corners. Consumers appreciate the extra effort in the long run. It’s important to go that extra mile.
Pernia: In the process of setting up Saritoria, I have been reassured that a business that is good of clients, the industry and the planet will always touch a cord with people and do well. We’ve been overwhelmed with the response to Saritoria. Like they say, having your heart in the right place is the most important thing. South Asians are emotional people so they will always appreciate genuine enterprises.
How do you plan to expand the platform, are there any new verticals you wish to introduce?
Shehlina: Stay tuned for an exciting app launch in a couple of months. This is the core of Saritoria and will have some amazing features, which will create a community of pre-lovers.