Indian-American entrepreneur revolutionises South Asian fashion for diaspora

NEW YORK, Apr 2: From innovative ‘5-second saris’ to power suits embellished with traditional Indian embroidery and patterns, an Indian-American entrepreneur has revolutionised South Asian fashion that caters to a growing diaspora and global audience, blending Western styles with aesthetics rooted in India’s vibrant culture.
Megha Rao, 41, is the founder and designer of ‘holiCHIC by Megha Rao’, a “women-led and Asian-owned” company that highlights India’s rich colours, textures and traditional stories through contemporary styling.
“I’m a daughter of immigrants and that’s where there was an opportunity. When I would go shopping for Indian clothes, I had to either travel to India or I would have to go to some local market where a lot of the options I found were dated and really expensive. I just felt like there was something missing,” Rao told PTI in an interview here.
Rao founded the New York City-based holiCHIC in 2015 with her friend Pooja Desai Shah, who is the company’s Creative Director, to provide the diaspora with a “perfect medium” that bridges the gap between traditional Indian attires and styles that were not dated.
A medium that “was both a little bit of East, a little bit of West, but it was done in a classy and tasteful way where the outfits were relatable, people could wear them to multiple types of events, not just weddings or Diwali. That’s really what prompted me to start the brand.”
Rao, whose parents had immigrated to the US from Mumbai, was born and raised in Queens, New York. She recalls that growing up, she spent her summer months with her Nani (grandmother) in Mumbai, visiting markets and temples with her. “Part of my childhood was in India…I feel like I started experiencing Indian culture at a very young age, the way anyone in India would be”.
“That’s what helped me blend my two worlds,” Rao said, adding that she began combining saris from her mother’s closet with her denim and leather outfits, putting different looks together. “This eventually translated into the brand,” she said.
Rao, who worked in corporate finance for 15 years, recalls that while her career in banking and finance provided her with tremendous opportunities, she “started feeling like I had this void, where I was losing that creative edge I had. I wanted to start creating.”
Rao was simultaneously straddling her corporate career, motherhood and building holiCHIC by “staying up, putting in long hours at night” talking to artisans and her team in India. It was only when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 that she got more time for her brand.
Rao started posting videos of her designs, and styles on social media platforms like Instagram “and at that point, because everybody was home and everybody was watching, the brand blew up.”
“I was able to leave my corporate career during the pandemic and then take off holiCHIC full time. Sometimes these opportunities come in times of adversity where you’re forced to do things that are a little bit out of your comfort zone. That helped us, that was the reason I’m able to now do this full-time.”
HoliCHIC’s repertoire encompasses a gamut of apparel and accessories designed keeping in mind the needs and tastes of a fast-growing multi-generational diaspora in the US as well as a global audience.
“There are so many South Asian women that are now in these incredible positions, powerful roles, the CEOs…and they want to show off who they are, they want to talk about their Indian roots…I’m trying to give them options where you have something that’s rooted in culture and represents their American side as well.”
Among the brand’s best-selling items is the exclusive ‘Rani 5 second sari’ – a design created by Rao as a solution to the conundrum of draping a sari without help, swiftly and with ease. The “pre-stitched wrap sari requires no pins, pleating, draping or petticoat as normally required with traditional saris.”
“The simplicity of it is what stood out. It was a subtle statement. That’s what I try to go for in my designs. I wanted to create something that was easy and it took me five seconds to get ready,” Rao said.
Rao posted the innovative sari on Instagram and “it went viral overnight”. It’s been holiCHIC’s number one seller, garnering over 12 million views between TikTok and Instagram.
Along with the ‘Rani sari’, another design that is among Rao’s favourite from the holiCHIC collection are the power suits and blazers that come embellished with traditional Indian embroidery such as the ‘Zari’ and ‘Resham’ on fabrics like brocade and silk.
“They’ve been worn at such amazing events in the White House, Congress inaugurations, graduations, life events for people and I feel like I’ve been able to be a part of that in some way.”
Outlining her vision for holiCHIC, Rao said currently the brand is targeting a South Asian-American clientele. “That is the customer of today. It’s the woman who represents two identities.” Rao’s goal is to now take the brand to the American audience that is going to Indian events, Diwali parties, and Indian weddings.
“We want to do that solution for them as well,” she said, adding that the brand is partnering with American luxury stores for pop-ups that provide a “perfect opportunity for us” to introduce holiCHIC to customers and clients from all backgrounds and nationalities.
Rao is also exploring possibilities to take holiCHIC to the consumer in India. “I would like to expand the brand to India as well,” she said.
“My whole thing is Indian textiles and fabrics in Western silhouettes. The other thing that I’m exploring is Western fabrics” for Indian silhouette like a sari or ‘lehenga’.”
Rao hopes to see holiCHIC in mainstream US stores permanently. “The Indian culture is growing. Everybody knows what Diwali is, everybody knows what Holi is now. It’s only going to get bigger,” she said, adding that there’s an “opportunity for us to sell a sari” in a mainstream US retail store. “There’s an opportunity for it to be everywhere, for everyone to wear it.”
She said she wants to “really invite everybody to the South Asian culture and fashion world because it really shouldn’t be for a limited audience. It’s so beautiful and I want to share it with everyone.” (PTI)