We’ve all been there. An upcoming big, fat Indian wedding and you’re racking your brains to figure out what to wear. A quick peek in your closet and you realize that last year’s lehenga is already out of style and that saree blouse doesn’t quite fit the way it used to. So, what’s a girl to do? Shop, of course. You brave it out and head to the east or west ends of the city in search of something new and shiny. You spend hours sifting through stacks of beautiful sarees and racks of gorgeous lehengas, inevitably spending way too much money on an outfit you know you’ll only wear once.
But what if you didn’t have to? What if you could wear a stunning lehenga at your next event without breaking the bank?
Enter MeeraMeera Rental Boutique.
When Sonny found herself trekking to the ends of the city trying to find the perfect lehenga for yet another South Asian wedding, she knew there had to be a better way. It wasn’t just the inconvenience of shopping, but also the sticker shock of some of the high-end outfits that she’d wear once or twice at most—it was just too expensive. Driven to find a solution to a problem faced by so many fashion lovers, Sonny launched MeeraMeera Rental Boutique.
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While this is her first venture into South Asian fashion, Sonny is no stranger to entrepreneurship. Sonny started her own consulting firm as an accountant nearly a decade ago. Through the years, she’s learned a thing or two about building a successful business. This past May, MeeraMeera opened its doors, aiming to help women across the Greater Toronto Area look and feel their best without breaking the bank.
And, she’s done just that. In a mere five months, MeeraMeera has already partnered with local jewelry designers and event planners, styled dozens of women (whom she affectionately refers to as “M|M girls”) and has even been featured on local television networks such as CP24.
MeeraMeera customers wear their M|M girl badge with pride while sharing their experiences. “Sonny was so helpful and gave us her honest opinion when we tried the outfits on. If something didn’t look good she would tell us. She was very genuine. You could tell she cared more about how we looked and felt in the outfit over making the sale,” Naa Merley, a recent customer, shares over Instagram.
The boutique, located north of Toronto, is filled with natural light, perfectly showcasing MeeraMeera’s stunning lehenga collection. As beautiful as the collection looks on the website, the pieces are just drop-dead, inexplicably gorgeous in real life. I was fortunate enough to interview Sonny about her experience launching MeeraMeera and about being a female entrepreneur in a space that seems relatively untouched for decades.
What is MeeraMeera?
MeeraMeera Rental Studios is a Canadian-based, woman-founded company in the business of renting South Asian formal wear for all of life’s special events. The rental revolution that has benefited so many other sectors is starting to gain traction in the apparel industry creating a win-win for our wallets and the environment. Renting allows us as women to look our best without having to splurge on one-wear pieces, and to consciously consume less without sacrificing personal style.
Tell us a little bit about what brought you here and what inspired you to launch MeeraMeera.
The idea for MeeraMeera came from my own personal experiences of desperately trying to find the perfect outfit for various South Asian events. I often found myself running all around the city through the chaos and clutter typical of South Asian retail stores, and spending a lot more than I was comfortable with for an outfit I knew might only be worn once. I realized there needed to be a service where women like myself can access high-end pieces for a low-end price and support sustainable fashion all the while.
In the end, whether it’s helping my clients with their financial statements or helping a bride look her best for her big day, clients are clients and I’m in the business of making clients happy, every time.
Walk us through the MeeraMeera process. After we’ve fallen in love with one of the stunning pieces shown on your website, what happens next?
The process from there is very easy:
- Come visit our studio in Vaughan and try on different options to see which outfit you love most. (Alternatively, you can give us your measurements over the phone as well.)
- Reserve your favourite outfit for the dates you need by signing a rental agreement and submitting payment via Square with any major credit card. (Online bookings coming soon!)
- Just before your event, pick up your outfit or have it shipped to you. Keep it for four days (wear it twice if you have two events in one weekend!)
- Enjoy your event knowing you’re looking and feeling your best
- Return the outfit on the 4th day before 6 p.m. We take care of the dry cleaning
It’s that easy.
How do you deal with custom sizing, particularly of blouses?
Our goal is for every client to look their very best. For blouses, we are happy to make any alterations possible including taking them in, adding a lace-up option to the back, adding or removing sleeves, taking out the built-in cups, and so on. We also offer solid sequin blouses as an alternative that can be mixed and matched and in future will offer more such transitional pieces.
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Tell us about MeeraMeera’s Lend-A-Lehenga campaign and your role in supporting sustainable fashion.
In the world of fast fashion, we know that many women in the South Asian community have amassed large collections of outfits that they cannot or do not want to wear again. Unfortunately, the clothes you donate don’t always end up in the hands who need them – or to anyone at all. In fact, it’s been reported that over 80 percent of unwanted garments make their way to landfills and incinerators instead. In the spirit of being environmentally conscious, I introduced a lend-a-lehenga campaign so women could share their outfits as a donation or in exchange for a free rental and be sure that their garments are in fact being reused. Thank you to those that showed interest in this campaign, we hope to run it again in the near future.
[Read Related: Designer’s Den: Ridhi Mehra Chats About Her Exclusive Label and Contemporary Fashion]
High-end South Asian designer wear rental boutiques are ubiquitous in India, London, and in many big cities in the US. Why do you think there are so few options here in the Greater Toronto Area?
Yes, there are certainly some larger markets that have successfully adopted this idea and joined rental revolution, and their success is inspiring to me. From a business perspective, the rental business is a low margin, high volume game that larger markets can support more easily. Also, new ideas take longer to be adopted in smaller markets like Canada but we believe the large South Asian population could benefit from a service like this.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting MeeraMeera?
I’ve learned that you can’t be everything to everybody right out of the gate. It took deliberate restraint for me to take the ‘slow and steady’ approach in an effort to build a business with a strong foundation that’s anchored in long-term development and stable growth. I decided to centre the focus around lehengas and then work towards building a plan for expanding into other product lines over time. It’s hard to keep this discipline when the demand is there and customers are asking for sarees, suits, salwar kameezes, sherwanis, kids clothing, and the list goes on. It’s hard to say no, but I realized that it’s important to stay focused on the initial offering and on delivering exceptional service to customers, and build on this foundation, one step at a time.
Female entrepreneurship has increased tremendously over the last 20 years, but women business owners are faced with a variety of challenges, primarily around securing funding, mentorship, and support system. What are some of the challenges you have experienced as a female entrepreneur?
For me, entrepreneurship began almost a decade ago when I started my own consulting firm as an accountant. Having worked for many years at a large accounting firm under the leadership of talented women and men, I had the opportunity to start building a strong professional support system. I am so grateful to all of those early day sponsors who willingly referred me to their clients when I was just getting started. I still rely on this professional network to continue doing what I love. In a country like Canada, I believe to this day, that despite being an immigrant, and despite being a female, that hard work, dedication and a positive attitude are rewarded every time. These experiences have carried me through to my new venture, MeeraMeera. To me, the challenge of entrepreneurship is doing the homework and then taking the leap all in the hopes as they say of luck favouring the brave.