Sofi Kassam launched the Saree Room in 2015 to help guests attending South Asian weddings. Next year, sales are expected to exceed $10 million. Here, in her own words, is how she did it.
“The typical South Asian wedding can last anywhere from two to seven days, and the expectation is that you have a different outfit for every event over that period. Bridal wear is where all the money is when everyone talks about weddings, but the people attending weddings get lost in this industry.
As a guest, the norm for finding an outfit—something that’s $500 or $600—is to go to a friend’s aunt’s basement and spend an hour trying on things they bought in India and brought back to resell, or to go to a South Asian store, which can be intimidating because there’s haggling involved. It was always this daunting experience, but we thought, We need a new outfit, so let’s just get through this hour.
I started The Saree Room in 2015 with Adam Meghji, our CEO, as a passion project. At the time I was pursuing a career in fitness and working at a boutique gym in Toronto. Within less than a year, I realized the demand aligned with my passion and I was able to work on it full time.
Online stores typically post catalogue images on their websites to display outfits. But when the order actually comes in, it looks completely different. To set ourselves apart, we do all of our e-commerce photography and video in-house. Our focus is on always having the most detailed photos and videos, so you can really see what you’re getting.
We modelled our online experience on other sites that we like to shop on—Artizia, for instance. We promote our reviews everywhere, as best we can, and added a feature allowing customers to upload photos of themselves in the outfits to the reviews.
Shifting customers from their usual shopping behaviour to a more streamlined approach was a challenge. When everything moved online during the pandemic, it helped focus our efforts on the site. People who weren’t used to online shopping were now more comfortable. And it was an easier shopping experience for non–South Asians.
We have a lot of people who say they’re attending a Hindu wedding or a Punjabi wedding, and there’s different rules for different weddings. We have a lot of customers who aren’t of a South Asian background—in Canada, there are a lot of interracial marriages, and people have diverse groups of friends. So, brides send their friends to our site because it’s the easiest to navigate and closely aligned with any other online shopping experience. You don’t need to wait six to eight weeks to get your clothing—we fulfill the order the same day it’s put through. We have a return and exchange policy. And our repeat customer rate is 40%.
Now, we’ve started getting into more modest options for an older clientele, too, after influencers we work with told us their moms loved our pieces. They’re coming from Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere. But our warehouse is in Toronto, and our next goal is to have global warehouses so we can take a more global approach. We’re also in the process of developing proprietary AI technology that will serve a dual purpose: Customers can create outfit pairings online, and our system can provide tailored recommendations that complement their existing wardrobe.”
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