Thank you very much for taking the time to learn about Haathi Cloth. We’re very excited to give you the long version of the story.
How It All Started
It all started when I went to my first Indian wedding in London. In July. Outside. With no coverage. I should mention that I grew up in the Midwest, am East Asian instead of South Asian, and have only heard of the awesomeness that is an Indian wedding. I had literally no info about them – except for that one scene at the beginning of Wedding Crashers and that they are several days long. I didn’t know what to wear, what happens when, or where to buy the clothes (or even what they’re called) – despite the fact that I was living in San Francisco at the time. Luckily, the groom of said wedding very generously bought and shipped myself and other non-Indian guests the clothes we would need while he was in India doing his wedding shopping. This was awesome and apparently the norm. I later went to all of my local Bay Area Indian stores and was so thankful he had already bought me the needed clothing, since the selection was rather minimal and plain compared to what he bought. This is the same case in Chicago. Edison, NJ has a decent selection, but this is still highly localized…and on the other side of the country.
The Pivotal Conversation
Fast forward to the wedding. 10 of us, including my buddy from school, Samit Shah, split an AirBnB. As we are getting ready for the wedding and I’m putting on my kurta, this is how the conversation goes:
Me: “Is it normal that I’m already sweating, the buttons appear to just be for decoration, and do all the pants need safety pins? Oh – and how and where do I clean this later?”
Them: *All laughing* “This is just how it is and good luck finding a dry cleaner who can, but you’d probably have an easier time living in the Bay Area.”
Me: “That can’t possibly be the case. Are there really no breathable, machine washable Indian clothes with buttons that work? India’s a hot place, I’d kind of expect them to be at the forefront of dry-fit fabric and clothing technology…. I’m making dry-fit and machine washable ones for the next wedding.”
Them: “That is an amazing idea. Keep us posted and sign us up!”
Getting to Work
Many plates of food, four dhol drummers, and one amazing wedding later, Samit and I get to work back in the US. Both of us work in tech, myself at a cybersecurity startup in San Francisco and Samit at his dev company in Austin. Luckily, I learned how to sew a pillow and stuffed animal back in 7th grade Home Economics class, so we were obviously set. For real though, thank you Ms. Zaenker and John Burroughs for the education! Through some furious Google-fu, I eventually found a YouTube video in India that linked to a dropbox with a kurta pattern. Time to learn what words like “placket” and “pattern” meant. As you can, I made pattern #1 on some recycled packing paper. We were taking the Silicon Valley mindset and applying it to high fashion. Disruptive! Fail fast! Bootstrap! Lean!
But seriously, we started this the super lean way. Prototype #1 was drawn and hand stitched with some cotton, polka-dotted cloth which I literally found in a bag in the middle of the road while on my walk to the gym. Clearly, it was a sign. Thank you, again, YouTube for the sewing tutorials. The London wedding group thoroughly enjoyed this WhatsApp message.
From San Francisco to Minneapolis
At this point, I’ve moved from San Francisco to Minneapolis to live with my long distance then girlfriend, now fiancee. Minneapolis is apparently an amazing locale for producing clothing. Luck and timing, right? I was lucky enough to find a shop in St. Paul that lets you pay a daily fee to use their machines; plus they’ll give you some tips and instructions on what to do. Here I am, successfully learning how to use a serger machine! And how to pronounce it correctly and why I should use this type of machine!
Many prototypes, sourcing conversations, samples, and a highly entertained now fiancee later – Haathi Cloth ends up winning 3rd place in my Alumni Business Competition, which you can read about here. We got several amazing contacts and prize money to take our prototypes to the next level. Remember how I said Minneapolis is apparently an amazing locale for clothing production? Turns out the expertise behind how to make great fitting athletic apparel lives here. You see, the specialized technical fabric which we use behaves differently than other fabrics (like cotton or wool) so you need an entirely different skillset to make clothing with it.
We also made the decision to produce it locally, rather than overseas, because there are seven different locations for each of the production stages for every single kurta. Due to this, and the fact that no one has ever done this before, it is vital that they are all connected to each other and that we can communicate in person to ensure quality. While this does increase labor costs, because we pay living wages at every stage, we believe that the localized efficiency and high quality craftsmanship make this decision worth it. We also believe in transparency, so, here is how the costs breakdown:
Raw materials + printing + cutting labor + sewing labor + transport + shipping (import duties, taxes, and FDA fees not applicable here) + overhead = True cost
Traditional retailers have a 5-6x markup. We are only a 2-3x markup and sell direct to pass the savings onto you.
We Relentlessly Tested
Like I said before, we operate with a Silicon Valley mindset. Because of this, we put everything through rigorous testing to stand up to everything you might do with our clothing on. For example, here’s our friend hanging out earlier this summer while it was 90 degrees and humid outside – and he’s happy as a clam.
We hope you enjoyed learning more about us and how we’re committed to keeping you comfortable and looking awesome. Check out our shop and thanks for reading!