#40 Fashion Designer, holiCHIC's Megha Rao
From walking to runway to designing for it
Season 4 Finale 🚀 Megha Rao, Founder @ holiCHIC
A renowned global fashion brand, HoliChic offers South Asian-inspired fashion ensembles with a Western twist. Megha’s brand made its runway premiere at New York Fashion Week in 2021, and was also featured in the iconic Jalebi Baby remix video with Tesher and Jason Derulo. Before starting HoliChic in 2014, Megha spent a decade modeling for iconic Indian fashion brands. She also spent 15 years in corporate America at CitiBank, a career she recently left in 2020 to go full-time as a founder. Megha is a graduate of Hofstra University, where majored in communications. Tune in to hear from our first trailblazer in fashion discuss how she broke into the industry and what its meant to outfit some our community's icons, from her mentor Payal Kadakia to actress Mindy Kaling. Excerpts below:
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You began your career working in corporate America. Of course, you had this background in modeling, but that doesn't necessarily mean you can wake up one day and understand how the fashion industry works end-to-end — from supply chain to manufacturing to design. How did you go through that learning process?
Yes, so I’m self taught. I didn't go to fashion school. I majored in communications. I did this because I truly enjoy fashion and style. It was very difficult to get my feet off the ground — not only figuring out how to find people to make my clothes, but there's such a business culture difference between India and here. Fortunately, for me, my husband was born and raised in Mumbai. So when I initially had this idea, I made this one outfit, and it did great. So we went to India, researched where to look, who to go to. We asked family, friends, people we knew, and through modeling I also had a network that helped. But also without my husband, who’s been such a supportive partner, I wouldn't have been able to do this because I wouldn't have been able to set up my first workshop. We were literally boots on the ground together, going from facility to facility and having conversations with tailors. We started with a very small team, and now have expanded into a small factory type of setting. And as you start creating your brand, people also come to you. And that's how it evolves and grows, and you test and learn from that point on.
The fusion of Western and South Asian culture that characterizes the holiCHIC brand feels like a natural progression for fashion in hindsight, but when you founded the business in 2014, there was a massive gap in this market. Can you speak to that gap and your original vision for the brand?
When I was getting married, we had we had no options. There were these major hubs with South Asian formalwear but the styles were dated and expensive. The only other option that we had was to fly to India to find clothes. And to me, that was silly, and it didn't really save us any money at the end of the day either. It's very stressful to shop in India. And so not only was there a gap in relatable fashion, there was a gap in just finding that fashion and having access to it. So I noticed the whitespace.
I originally began designing for weddings, the guests of weddings because that's where the majority of us were going at that time. But from that point many other brands have then come up, which is a great thing. It's great to see people pursuing that fashion, giving us so many different access points to these different types of things.
But from a design and aesthetic point, I felt that there was still this missing link of the in between. People are not only going to weddings anymore. They have Diwali parties, red carpets, baby showers, and they all want this little flair of South Asian culture and tradition within their clothing. And so our niche has evolved now to cater to giving people South Asian fashion that they can wear every day. It's not limited to a specific type of event. For example, when you're on vacation, you can wear a swimsuit that has a slightly Indian flair. It gives you an opportunity to show off your culture in such a cool way, to talk about it with other people. So that is my goal, and how we've evolved to this point.
In the industry, there are ongoing conversations about big issues like cultural appropriation, sustainability, and diversity. As you head up your own brand, how important is it for you to address these issues?
My motto: I'm not trying to solve everything at once. A lot of people try to solve everything at once: ‘Are we sustainable? Are we are we appropriating? Are we being inclusive?’ If we try to consider all of it at one time, we're going to fail. So I’m taking it step by step. One of my #1 goals as a designer was to make sure that people felt included and inclusive, when they wore my clothes. I have made a conscious effort, no matter what we do — photoshoots, collaborations — to make sure that we have faces, skin tones, body types that represent all of us. Once I feel people understand who we are as a brand and that we are inclusive, then we move on to solution number two, right? We can’t solve every single problem, every single topic that comes up because we're all human. We're a small team. We're doing what we can with the resources that we have available, and everything doesn't have to be an overnight solve. So take it step by step, excel at each thing, make sure you take your time, and it will all work at the end of the day.