Cover image: Laura King | Written by Delisha Hinton and Maggie Kimmett

At the age of 16, Ritika Shamdasani and her sister, Niki Shamdasani, co-founded Sani from their personal experiences of trying to access their cultural clothing as first-generation South Asian Americans.

Shamdasani, a first-year fashion and textile management major who is also minoring in cognitive science and computer science, chose the Wilson College of Textiles because of its emphasis on both fashion and technology. “It has been the perfect place to grow personally and professionally” she said

Describe your experience of being a young and successful entrepreneur. What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

 At my age, I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to have my own business. It has made me more mature and taught me life lessons that go beyond something you would learn in a traditional classroom environment. It has come with its share of challenges, one of which is having an effective school and work balance. When running a business, issues will arise all the time and it’s hard to ignore them even if I have an exam the next day. I continue to find ways to balance school and business responsibilities by preemptively preparing for peak times when possible with my business partner (and sister). We have a strong relationship and she is extremely understanding of when my priorities adjust while balancing school and work.

What motivated you to develop Sani? Who has been a mentor or has given you and your sister advice about starting as young entrepreneurs?

We started Sani because 82% of South Asian Americans continue to go abroad to shop for cultural clothing, and we wanted to bring the best of South Asian fashion to the United States. We continue to work to remedy this challenge and it has been an exciting journey. From the start of Sani, our best mentors have been our parents. My dad is in the textile industry and my mom has an interior design background. They have been there for all the highs and lows of Sani from when we thought of the idea sitting in my sister’s apartment to when we launched on Rent the Runway (RTR) and beyond.

You’ve proven success already, by starting a company, having some of your pieces on Rent the Runway and winning the Lulu eGames. What can you tell us about those experiences, how have they impacted you and your company, and what’s next?

Launching on RTR and winning NC State’s Lulu eGames has given us the opportunity to grow and increase brand awareness. With RTR we can provide people with a new way to experience Sani and hopefully convert them to lifelong customers. With Lulu eGames, we will be able to continue to develop Sani and specifically our online experience.

One of our goals for Sani has always been to make South Asian clothing a part of mainstream fashion. We want our clothing on mainstream platforms and widely recognized by everyone, not just South Asians. We want people to know there is much more to South Asian clothing than a saree. These are tough times and have required all businesses to adjust their plans, but our values continue to guide us in service of our mission.

What experiences have been the most impactful during your time at the Wilson College of Textiles?

So far, the best and most impactful part of the Wilson College of Textiles is the people. My peers in my classes constantly push me to be better and inspire me with their creativity. They are always collaborative in their mindsets. My professors genuinely care about doing everything they can to ensure their students succeed and are willing to help in whatever ways possible. The alumni of this college are so willing to chat with current students and share their wisdom. There is so much to learn from the Wilson College of Textiles community.

Tell us what you wished you had known as a first-year student and what you’ve learned about during your first year.

As a first-year, I have a lot more to learn, but I would recommend going beyond the interactions in the classroom as much as possible, whether that is by talking to professors outside of class, sitting down with older students, or reaching out to alumni. There are thousands of resources out there and it can be overwhelming to navigate them by yourself!

I have learned how to find inspiration from new places and apply that inspiration to a design process. I also have a strong understanding of the effect that textiles have on every facet of our lives, from the tires in our cars to medical supplies. The applications are endless and every single product is complex, from sourcing to production to distribution.

What creative projects have you made that give you a great sense of pride?

A creative project that I am proud of is our most recent collection for Sani, the Udaan Collection. This collection was inspired by a box from the Kashmir region of India/Pakistan that was given to my grandmother on her wedding day. We picked up on the colors of the bird on the box, which was a Kashmiri Kingfisher bird. The colors were bolder and brighter than most of our pieces but we were really happy with how it all came out and it was a great learning process.

I have not come to the point where I have a distinctive creative style, but I have realized that a focus on every element of the design process is crucial to cohesiveness. It is not only about the product you create, but also about how you take photos of the product, how you market it, and how you make people feel when they wear it. That is still a work in process for Sani and we continue to learn more every day.

Tell us about the extracurricular activities  you are involved in on campus.

 I am involved with the NC State Entrepreneurship Department and the Entrepreneurship Garage. I would highly recommend getting involved with them! One of the best parts of the department is that it brings together students from all disciplines – textiles, engineering, agriculture, and more. There are always so many networking and mentorship opportunities that can help you whether you want to talk about how to execute an idea or find a collaborator or figure out how to improve your business.

What experiences have been the most impactful during your time at the Wilson College of Textiles?

So far, the best and most impactful part of the Wilson College of Textiles is the people. My peers in my classes constantly push me to be better and inspire me with their creativity. They are always collaborative in their mindsets. My professors genuinely care about doing everything they can to ensure their students succeed and are willing to help in whatever ways possible. The alumni of this college are so willing to chat with current students and share their wisdom. There is so much to learn from the Wilson College of Textiles community.