As we celebrate Navratri in full swing, we see fashionistas flocking into shops to buy new outfits for the many garba nights to come. As India’s unofficial fashion week, Garba nights see everyone put their best foot forward and even competing for the title of the most fashionable. Garba or not, buying new clothes is a part and parcel of most festivals in our country and the clothes are just as exciting as the festivities. So this year, before you go shopping, read about this new perspective on fashion.
This article is a part of the campaign ‘9 mindful women entrepreneurs who are building a healthy future’. Each day, we’ll feature an inspiring entrepreneur and her journey towards a more sustainable future.
Not many people manage to hold on to their old friends and even less are lucky enough to go into business with them. In July 2014, Prithvi Rao and Sai Sangeet Paliwal turned from friends to business partners when they started Exchange Room – India’s first curated wardrobe swap community. Based in Bangalore, it started with the immense passion by four friends who loved fashion.
Prithvi wears many hats. She’s a design consultant with over a decade of experience with leading fashion retail brands in India. A certified yoga instructor, Prithvi also indulges in other passions like music, travel and raising her 3-year-old daughter.
Sai Sangeet on the other hand describes herself as a bit old school and a lover of anything vintage. She studied women entrepreneurship from IIM-B and is a creative and curious soul who thinks deeply about every action. She doesn’t just bring passion to her career but every single thing she does.
I read somewhere that most successful companies in the world have their beginnings in college friendships
Prithvi: Sai and I took an epic Goa trip in 2008 with a group of common friends and we just hit it off. Sreeja, Sangeetha, Sai and I were sitting in a coffee shop talking about our fashion woes and how no matter what problem you had, you could always wear your friend’s clothes. And that’s how Exchange Room was born. Sreeja and Sangeetha are silent partners but it’s truly a blessing for me to work with them. The love, respect and support I get from my friends turned business partners make every challenge worthwhile.
Sai Sangeet: I read somewhere that most successful companies in the world have their beginnings in college friendships. Working with friends definitely makes things more fun. Prithvi and I met in 2002, she was my junior at National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). Over 17 years, we went from being acquaintances, friends, best friends to business partners. Since we’ve known each other for so long, we know the different skills we bring to the table. And when you’re friends going into business together, you need to be professional and be respectful in the workplace. She’s very professional, committed and so passionate about everything she does.
When we shared our idea most people were thrilled that we had something like this in India
Prithvi: Exchange Room aims to bridge the gap between fast and slow fashion by designing sustainable shopping experiences. We introduce fellow “swappers” to the concept of swapping and shopping great quality pre-loved fashion pieces. We have a great circle of designer friends who are well travelled and are from the fashion industry, so our first event was hosted for them. It was easier to explain the concept to them and most of them were thrilled that we have something like this in India.
Sai Sangeet: In 2014, we had 10 swappers and now we’ve grown into a lovely community of over 1400 like-minded women. We were encouraged by the initial overwhelming positive response and decided to host events for a wider audience. The most surprising thing was that so many people were open to the idea of recycling and a revolving wardrobe. From there, it’s been a very organic growth for us.
Girls just wanna have fun and a swap event is definitely fun
Our focus is on fashion that promotes sustainability and keeping the experience as simple and hassle-free for the swapper. Pre-event, we contact our swappers and request they send their items in advance. Our team then selects, curates and assigns each swapper their points. When the swapper comes to the event, they literally indulge in some money-free shopping. We believe in human interactions and experiences and encourage swappers to turn up with their friends. They touch and feel the products, do some sustainable shopping and make a day of it. Girls just wanna have fun and a swap event is definitely fun.
Prithvi: A sustainable wardrobe comes from a sustainable mindset, or a willingness to embrace change for the greater good. One can have a sustainable wardrobe in many ways.
Sai Sangeet: In fashion, upcycling means creative reuse and transforming discarded or vintage products into something new and giving it a second life!
FASHION UPCYCLING 101
- The most sustainable clothes are the ones already hanging in your closet. Keep clear of the “I have nothing to wear” feeling by curating your wardrobe better or planning outfits in advance.
- Swap! It’s the easiest way to get new stuff without breaking the bank or the environment.
- Read the fine print, look at the packaging and educate yourself on ethical and local brands.
- Reuse, repair and rewear your clothes. Find a local tailor who will resize, repair and mend.
- Maintain your accessories. Improper storage or not airing them out is as good as wasting it.
- Shop pre-loved clothes. At Exchange Room, we mostly stock branded items in great condition and some with their original tags.
Our biggest challenge was to change preconceived notions
Sai Sangeet: People had all sorts of preconceived notions about wearing pre-loved clothing. Some worried about cleanliness others didn’t want to wear a stranger’s clothes. We have high standards of selection and always ensure that all our pieces are freshly laundered. When people come and see the quality, hygiene, care and overall curation for themselves, they warm up to the idea.
Fashion & textile industry are the second largest polluters in the world.
Both: You need 20,000 litres of water to produce 1 Kg of cotton, that’s equivalent to a single pair of jeans. The fashion and textile industry are the second-largest polluters in the world. That is alarming and there’s a dire and immediate need to change the system and its mechanics.
Prithvi: Our Indian values help us out a little as we’re taught to use, reuse and reuse some more until something can be thrown away. We wore handmade clothes and would only shop during special occasions. Things have changed so much now with shopping being recreational and handmade products being a novelty.
Sai Sangeet: Many slow and homegrown fashion brands are popping up and Indians are fast becoming ethical fashion consumers. In the past 5 years, we’ve seen some impactful Indian celebrities and designers who use their voice to support our concept and promote sustainable fashion. We’re off to a great start and slowly the movement will grow.
A community can bring about a change and that’s what we are building
Sai Sangeet: Our community is a beautiful mix of women from all walks of life. Fashion designers, influencers, entrepreneurs, homemakers, IT professionals and many others who are eco-friendly, value this recycling system and thereby help the community.
Prithvi: We are slowly and steadily building a movement, a revolution of sorts. We hope to build momentum and shake the foundation of fashion consumption. We want to educate fast fashion consumers about the environmental benefits of buying pre-owned clothes and help them embrace slow fashion. We want Exchange Room to be recognized as the best platform for experiencing a wardrobe swap and the quality of our pre-loved collection.
Clothes are personal and have memories and stories attached to them
Prithvi: Sangeetha and I, have this very fond memory of swapping a pair of beige pants in the 9th grade. So we figured others would have such memories too and encouraged people to share their stories of clothes on our social media. When we shared someone’s story of clothes picked from Exchange Room, the previous owners would message “I’m so glad my boots are being re-loved” or “So happy to see someone else loving something that I loved for so long!” We encourage these moments where fashion meets expression and storytelling.
Start ventures that you’re extremely passionate about and set your own definition of success!
Prithvi: For a social entrepreneur, the road is challenging and exciting. Stay positive and make sure you love and truly believe in what you do. The world will follow eventually!
Sai Sangeet: I realized that my passion for fashion went beyond people and spread to homes and spaces. I started a quirky and fun lifestyle brand called SODA by Sai Sangeet Paliwal. I’ve grown and transformed along with SODA and have stayed true to myself. Exchange Room is my second venture where I revisited my passion for fashion. My advice would be to start ventures that you’re extremely passionate about and set your own definition of success! Never stop building meaningful relationships. At the end of the day there’s no guarantee in this business so approach it with humility and keep learning and improving along the way.
Sai Sangeet and Prithvi are the most fun and delightful people who are paving a very fashionable path to sustainability. For more updates follow @exchangeroom on Instagram.