Dressing for Indian and Pakistani events can be expensive.
Saris, lehengas, salwars, kurta pajamas and other items can run upward of $200 each. And with so many parties in the Indian and Pakistani cultures, you need a lot of outfits to avoid wearing the same thing all the time.
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Dina Patel, 36, of Westmont, said she and her friends always used to borrow clothes from each other's closets for Indian weddings, baby showers and Diwali celebrations. Ultimately, it led Patel to launch the online business Didi's Wardrobe.
Didi means "sister" in Hindi -- as in, you can raid the sisters' closets.
Her company sells new and gently used South Asian clothing for women, men and children at prices up to 80 percent off retail. A sari that originally cost $200 might be priced at between $40 and $100 on DidisWardrobe.com
"The response has been phenomenal," Patel said of her booming, 1-year-old business. "You can definitely dress yourself for under 100 bucks."
The priciest item sold to date has been a sari for $129. Some kurta tops have sold for as little as $8. Nice necklace and earring sets are priced from $10-$50, Patel said.
Much of Didi Wardrobe's inventory is consignment items. People from all over the world send their clothes to Patel and get 50 percent of the sales price. She turns down anything that's not good quality or is in poor condition and gives each item a quality rating so customers get a better sense for what they're buying.
"There is so much inventory out there -- nice things people wear once or twice and put it in the closet," Patel said.
A business like Patel's connects two key groups of people affected by a shaky economy: those who need to make a few extra bucks selling their clothes and those looking for quality clothes at discounted prices.
The 2008 recession expanded both of those groups and also erased any remaining stigma of discount and resale shopping, said Peter Gill, spokesman for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. As a result, more thrift and resale businesses are popping up statewide.
"The recession changed people. Now people figure, 'Why spend that money when we don't have to?'" Gill said. "Saving money is something that's incredibly important to shoppers. People don't want to be priced out of the lifestyle they were used to before. They want to find a way to stay in that."
The idea for Didi's Wardrobe was born during an after-work, "You know what we should do?" conversation between Patel and her friends. At the time, India-born Patel was living in New York City, working long hours as an investment banker. So she put the idea on the back burner. Now, living in Westmont with her husband and two children under age 4, she decided the timing was right to make the idea a reality.
The business launched in November 2012 with the first 800 pieces of clothing coming from the closets of Patel's relatives and friends.
Didi's Wardrobe competes with eBay, consignment stores and other online resale businesses, but so far, she's experiencing high demand for secondhand Indian and Pakistani clothing. Her inventory is now at 2,000 items and growing -- with some items coming from as far away as London, India and Australia.
As Patel's business expands, she's booking Didi's Wardrobe at bridal shows and other events to attract different segments of the market. That includes non-Asian customers who are going to Indian weddings, or traveling to India or Pakistan.
"I've grown up with the Indian wear," Patel said. "I love my culture. And I love the clothes."