Estimated reading time: 2 minutes
Riya Collective, the “South Asian luxury stylist for US-based clientele,” started off as a Rent the Runway for Indian clothes. Since COVID, it has pivoted to made-to-order fashion from Indian designers, whether that's streetwear or fancy wedding attire. In this fireside chat, co-founder Arian Agrawal shares her thoughts on how Riya Collective is engaging in holistic and sustainable fashion.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Since launching Riya Collective, Arian highlights the importance of thinking beyond environmental sustainability and focusing on the social impacts of our fashion choices.
What inspired you to launch Riya Collective?
Growing up as an Indian-American, we're living split lives. One is our "American" life during the week and one is our cultural life with our family, family friends, and other Indian events. We never wanted those lives to overlap until recently, when we found it important to share our culture.
Riya Collective was spurred by my other co-founder getting engaged and having 5 other Indian weddings happen in that same time frame. The life cycle of Indian clothing is wasteful—your aunt or some random Indian relative ships clothes from India or brings them when they visit. It's an extremely wasteful process because you don't generally wear the same clothes twice.
We realized that this model is terrible for everyone involved—the overworked people who make the clothes and the people who buy the clothes, only use it once, and keep them around to take up space.
How is Riya Collective engaging in sustainable fashion?
Once COVID hit (only a year into us being full-time on Riya Collective), many stores sent back inventory to designers and didn’t pay them full-price. Designers are at the mercy of retailers.
Riya Collective wants to fix this with made-to-order clothing. Plus, if you do want to sell your outfit after a couple of wears, we make it very easy for you to do so.
How is Riya Collective helping other designers?
We push group buying—this makes sense for designers AND Indian weddings since there's always a ton of people attending. We’ll batch the orders and then send them to the designers. We take care of all the process and logistics, so designers can fully focus on their expertise.
Also, fun/not so fun fact—karigars are skilled beadwork artisans. During COVID, they would go back to their villages to be with their family since big cities were so dangerous. (They're often seasonal workers because the wedding season in India is winter when it's less hot.) Many designers decided to house karigars, but they had no work for them. Most buyers are not in India and weddings are winding down.
We recognize that most buyers are not in India and that wedding vendors are booked up till August 2023. So, we drive marketing to these artisans by sharing their stories and helping them increase their orders.
What have you learned since launching Riya Collective?
The rental model is not too dissimilar to traditional retail. This shocked me because rental "feels" sustainable, but apparently there's many of the same problems: stocking unneeded inventory, transportation emissions, having to store 10 sizes of 1 outfit just to make sure it fits, etc.
What’s your vision for the future?
We’re thinking deeply about sustainability from all aspects—the economics, our business model, shipping, living wages for laborers, etc. We’re hoping to bring some level of economic equality to India, but we recognize that a bulk of this work must be done by politics and policy. Our role is to understand our place in this movement and help mitigate a consumption and labor problem in which we have control over.
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