Sep 1 2011
Almost every person who has purchased a saree for a special occasion has wondered, “I am only going to wear this saree once, do I really need to buy it? Wished I could borrow it, just for the occasion!”
Some designers, who are very myopic, are against “renting”. But most have recognized that it opens up a new avenue and new access to potential clients. Some others believe that the renting will have no effect on their business; because their clientele is so exclusive that they will never get caught renting an outfit. I sort of agree with that.
A dear family friend and a person that I admired a lot, CK Prahalad, talked about “Base of the Pyramid” business opportunities. Many designers focus on the “top of the pyramid”, and are very successful and happy doing that. But there is clearly a need to address the population in the middle or the base of the pyramid and for them renting a saree for an occasion, could be very attractive.
It’s not even about the base or the top of the pyramid; it is just a reflection of how a modern Desi women, especially a diaspora, thinks and deals with her need to reflect her ethnic identity. She wants to wear saree/lahenga, but with lot less commitment; she wants to wear trendy clothes, without having to immerse herself in the fashion scene of India. I know several women who would jump on it. I also know several women who would be disgusted by even the thought of renting a saree, but I think it is a reflective of the cultural values and social stigma attached to renting. In US, it is not just OK, but expected that men would rent from a tux shop and women have equal number of options too. There are several very successful designer gown rental sites, OneNightAffair.com comes to mind, that have been around for at least a couple of years, which is eternity in internet times.
Another place where these services can really be useful is when some of the non-desi friends have been invited to a desi wedding and they want to wear ethnically appropriate clothing at the function. I have personally loaned or arranged to have my friends get sarees and sherwanis, but understandably, they were very reluctant and it was a bit awkward. I know for sure that if I had told them about the saree rental places, they would have really explored it. To them it would have been no different than renting a tux, with a little spice and color added to it.
Interestingly, over the last few months, there are there have been at several online saree rental services that have started. They are SariCloset.com, BorrowitBindaas.com, and Luxemi.com.
This is not a formal review/rating of these services, more of a general introduction to them. I like the concept of “night to remember the saree” or more appropriately “saree to remember the night”. You may not be aware of these services and might not even have thought about them. So next time you need a special saree, at least consider these options.
Each one was independently conceived and developed and they all did their own market research, bringing in their own fashion and business sense in to it. They all thought about the issues and problems and nuances of renting a saree. It’s not just the six yards of saree, one has to worry about the petticoat, blouse, accessories and fits and logistics of everything else. And they all solved the problems in their own unique ways, which is really good for you because now you have a whole spectrum of choices and you can explore what works the best for you!
There are differences in terms of how the actual transaction takes place, but I am not going to focus on them because all of these businesses are new and they are trying to establish and conquer a niche. The pricing, the structure, the offerings and dealing with nuances of saree wearing will change over time. But I am glad that a business approach has been applied to this outstanding problem and I wish all of them well.
Borrow it Bindaas:
For Borrow it Bindaas, the saree rental cost varies with the type of saree that you rent. They have a range of versatile sarees and their rental rate is between $40 and $80. Their sarees are available for both borrowing and buying. I was pleasantly surprised with the range of their collection.
Their site reminded me of RentTheRunway, but that is not necessarily bad thing.
With each saree rental customers get a matching petticoat, the main matching blouse that is semi-custom fitted, and a second neutral back up blouse with slightly different measurements. I liked that idea of the second blouse. Especially since the rental is for five or ten days, you don’t really have time to get any fitting done, so things have to fit perfectly, well almost perfectly, so you can at least wear the saree in public.
They also have a matching accessories available and they will match them for you to enhance your look. Including bindis was a nice touch, I thought. They also have full-fledged bridal and bridesmaids collection. Typical rental is for 5 days or 10 days and can even reserve one up to 6 months in advance.
Unlike tux rental places, there is no extra cleaning fee and return shipping is included.
By the way, if you don’t know, Bindaas used to be a slang in Hindi. Probably original in Mumbai. Now ofcourse, you can find the word in Oxford Dictioary. It used to mean carefree and cool, but I think now it only means carefree. The word has a special meaning and I think Bindaas clothing makes a lot of sense for saree rental company.
Sari Closet takes a different approach. They have sarees that are chosen to be in certain class, typically in the retail range of $300-$600. So their prices for rental are fixed, somewhere around $80, which adds certain simplicity to the renting process. The point being that if it is inexpensive saree, why would you want to rent it?
For blouses they have a twist. In a way it is a compromise between people feeling uncomfortable in renting a blouse but wanting to try out saree rental. For some, renting a saree is OK, but renting a blouse is an issue. To them, the blouse is an intimate apparel and shouldn’t be shared. In response to that concern, they have a different solution. You essentially buy a generic gold or silver blouse from them; it is semi-custom made for you, so it will fit nicely. You can use that blouse for other sarees in your collection or for with a subsequent rental from Sari Closet.
As a saree snob, I don’t know if I like the idea of having a non-perfectly-matching blouse, but this service is not designed for saree-snobs, so it doesn’t matter. I have seen generic gold or silver blouses paired nicely with various sarees. Especially if you drape it right, you can de-emphasize the blouse. And then you have a blouse to keep, which you can mix and match with other sarees.
Luxemi is another site based on similar premise. They have segregated rental and for-sale catalog, which makes sense. Some of the sarees were interesting; some recognized designer brand and some other high end sarees. Rental prices range from $80 to $300. I saw some sarees/lahenga with rental rates of $300+ for 4 day rental and $400 for 10 day rental.
For blouses, they include two adjustable blouses with each saree rental. Saree selection for borrowing is modest, but I am sure they are adding new things periodically.
For a wedding party, or for a special gathering, if you have a budget of $300-$400 for a saree, chances are you are not exploring the rental route, but it could be perfect for a very special occasion. The rental costs of a wedding gown at local tux shop varies from $100-$500, so this is not out of the line – just addressing different needs and different market. I am glad that they are probing the different segment of the market and more power to them.
I liked the name Luxemi a lot. It combines an allure of luxury with Indian goddess Laxmi, cool!
The whole saree rental idea has potential for sure. And I am happy to help it grow.
All these companies have dynamic leadership and thoughtful and passionate founders, and they are all thinking about how best to address your need. If you need something specific, contact them directly or leave a comment to this post.
I don’t want to say that one service is better than other based on their current offerings, because I have no doubt that by the time the holiday season rolls around, all of them would have changed.
Here are some screen shots from different stores:
Sort of reminds me of Rent the Runway site.
Sari Closet Site
Luxemi Site : Typical rental screen
Collectively, I was expecting a few “designer names” to be prominently featured. For sarees, if you are not an expert, it is hard to judge the real value. Really cheap ones are easy to spot, but once you go above $200, it is very difficult to tell them apart. The way to address this issue might have been to focus on known saree designers and brands. Many of the Satya Paul sarees cost $150-$200; I can imagine an iconic pretty desi women, renting Satya Paul for $40-$60; or an authentic Sabyasachi that can be had for $400-$600 and one can price the rental appropriately. Tuxedo rental places have figured this out. When you rent a tuxedo, it is not just any tuxedo, it is a Calvin Klein tuxedo or Ralph Lauren tuxedo!
Sooner or later some of them would offer the NetFlix model of monthly fees; you get to keep one saree and rent new ones up to six times a year or something similar. Not sure if it would succeed or not, but it may be worth trying.
I wish them great success and I hope if an occasion arises where you need a saree for a special day, or a non-desi friend needs a saree for a special occasion, I hope you will at least think of these services.
Here are the links:
If you have a suggestion, leave a comment or write to them directly. If you decide to give any one of them a try, tell us about it and share your experience with your fellow saree drapers.
I am aware of a few others, Laxmi’s Closet and Rent-a-saree, but they seem to have very limited selection as yet and hence I have not included them here. Iif you know of other saree rental places, in US or in India or any other part of the world, leave a comment or send us an email at sunny at sareedreams.com or ria at sareedreams.com.
I expect that we will review the saree rental sites again in a few months, so come back and visit us.