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Talk Time: Passion for Fashion

By Poornima Apte Email By Poornima Apte
April 2018
Talk Time: Passion for Fashion

Sailee Raje worked in Silicon Valley as a techie until she found an entirely new calling in Ethnic Thread, a platform that allows women to sell and trade trendy desi clothes and services. With over 10,000 users, her enterprise seems to have struck a chord with the South Asian community and others interested in ethnic fashions.

How did you come up with the idea for Ethnic Thread?
Every time I go to India, my suitcases are completely filled. I shop a lot for myself and for my two daughters. These outfits are heavy with zari. I hang them up in my closet, but one day the pole came down and there was a big hole in my closet. When I was picking up all the outfits, I was like ‘Oh, I have so many things that I didn't even know that I had.’ Most places don't even take ethnic clothes. I would rather give it to somebody who loves it as much as I do. I thought if I could even get some money back from selling them, then next time that I shop, I won't have that guilty feeling, you know? That was the start for Ethnic Thread.

You just take a picture of the outfit and upload. People got on board immediately. We launched the iPhone app, then Android. That's when I decided to quit my day job and then focus on Ethnic Thread.

How has the reception been so far?
The very first version came out in like 2015. At that time, it was just invite-only. It was early 2016 when we announced it to the world. It grew word-of-mouth. We've got about 10,000 users.

Why do you have a team in India, too? What is that about?
The app is global. We have users in India, the U.S., the U.K., all over the world. The marketing team is also in India. Most of my user base is in India and in the U.S. because I am familiar with the marketing techniques in these two countries. But it's open for everybody to use.

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There are other places that sell and trade Indian clothes. What makes you stand out from the competition?
We solve a problem, as opposed to just making money out of each other. The app is completely free for anybody to download. It's free to connect to people. I'm focusing on the community aspect so women can [search for clothes in their area]. There are women who share their services through Ethnic Thread [including henna, photography, make-up, rangoli, alterations, and custom stitching]. We have a lot of women who actually became friends over the app, because they kind of have similar tastes, and they exchange [clothes] among themselves. My money just comes from advertisements. Most others take up to 15 to 20 percent out of each transaction.

You sometimes host physical meetups as well. How do those work?
I tried that in Mumbai and also in the Bay area. Basically, people drop their ethnic and partywear outfits, and then we sort them out and open the event for a couple of weeks for everybody to come and shop. There are some people who like a certain line, and then there are some who actually want to feel and touch the outfit before they buy it. I can advertise for that event on the app and sometimes people come by and turn into app users. So it's a win-win.

Sometimes Indians have a superstition about buying used clothes. Have you run into that issue?
No, not really. I did have somebody walk in and say they only want new clothes. We have new and used. There is stuff that is just worn once or twice and that might still work with this group. The clothes all look brand new. And especially at $25 to $30 dollars, people are more receptive to the idea.

You started out as a techie, and now you have your successful business, so what should other people learn from what you're doing?
I always knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I couldn't figure out what I liked to do. I would recommend talking to people with diverse strengths. I could take this step only because I could find the right people. Each of them brings something to the table: design experience, marketing, fashion. If you want to make a change, people are there for you; find the time and find the right people.


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Poornima Apte is a Boston-area freelance writer and editor. Learn more at WordCumulus.WordPress.com.



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