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Indian American engineer-turned-entrepreneur Sailee Raje is the founder of Ethnic Thread, a free mobile app where women can exchange, sell or rent ethnic outfits like saris, lehengas, kurtis, accessories and home decor. (Som Sharma/India-West photo)

One of the foremost preparations one does for a special occasion like an engagement, marriage, anniversary or even a party, is to find that perfect dress and matching accessories to go with it. But if that perfect outfit for you happens to be a traditional Indian dress, and you don’t have the time to scour the racks at the local malls, plus you don’t want to end up with a drained wallet, Ethnic Thread can come to your rescue.

This online fashion app, which recently launched on the iPhone and Android markets globally, gives women a chance to exchange, sell or rent personally owned/designed clothing, accessories and home decor.

Through this free mobile app platform, women can monetize their closets by selling new and gently used party wear outfits, or clothes that see very little utilization, and buy different ones from other women in the community at a great bargain.

The idea of for a fashion rental portal was born when San Francisco Bay Area-based Indian American engineer Sailee Raje returned from India with a ton of ethnic wear, the weight of which her closet could not bear, and came crashing down.

“All through this time I had this voice inside me that kept saying you have to start something of your own,” Raje, founder and CEO of Ethnic Thread, told India-West. “I kept thinking I am not doing something that I am supposed to be doing. When I was on my family bonding leave with my adopted daughter, I thought of this idea.”

She said when she looked at all those intricately designed garments she wondered, “What do I do with my clothes that are just sitting in my closet? They are not going to fit me, but they were still lovely, so I thought someone could give another life to them.”

After mulling over the idea for some time, Raje decided it was time to swap her cushy job in the semi-conductor industry for a shot at entrepreneurship. After working for almost a decade for high-profile IT firms, Raje realized she had to take a chance. After she gathered her thoughts, she thought to herself that something as simple as a mobile app could provide an easy and guilt-free way to keep one’s closet simple and organized without compromising on style. Assisted by a team of five people from India and the U.S., Raje moved ahead with making the app a reality. She created an interest list, conducted surveys, research and spoke to several women in order to figure out the best way forward.

Aptly titled “Ethnic Thread,” the platform, Raje told India-West, serves as “a thread that binds all of us together as a community.”

Ethnic Thread, which began as a fun and simple way to buy and sell ethnic clothes, soon became a space where South Asian women could rent items, exchange them or provide an array of services, including henna, photography, make-up, rangoli, alterations and custom stitching.

“I thought it would be good to bring that talent on the app because ethnic clothes don’t come in standard sizes,” she said. “You could find a product, and find services around you who could help you get ready for an occasion. It became a social network for South Asian women.”

On the fashion resale app, women can sell directly to consumers and also set their own price. The company has certain guidelines in place, and when someone creates a profile, they can set their own terms and conditions. Raje noted that this formula has worked fine and they haven’t encountered any issues so far.

There is no fee to list or buy a dress, nor any commission made on any sale. Ethnic Thread does not play any role in the logistics and the transactions. For all the product-related queries, the app has a chat interface through which people can connect directly and get answers.

“Women are smart enough to handle their transactions,” she told India-West. “I am giving it more of a social network approach where I am connecting people directly so that they can chat with each other, because a lot of times people want to touch and feel the product before they buy.”

Disappointments are minimized since all photos that are uploaded are real, she added.

Through Ethnic Thread’s hashtag #RealPeopleRealModels movement for self-acceptance, users are encouraged to post their personal style, embracing their own body shape and size, as opposed to catalog or magazine pictures. It uses a social network interface where users can follow, like, and comment through a thread of images.

“Because it’s like a social network, people take their own photos, mostly from cell phones, which are more realistic that what happens online where there are photo shopped models with zero figures and great backdrops,” Raje explained.

The location-based app, which differentiates itself by allowing buyers to search for dresses within their current city, has been downloaded in countries like the U.K., Canada, Fiji and Malaysia along with India and the U.S.

“I am trying to build a community so that community itself will become my asset,” Raje elaborated. “I am not trying to make money out of the products, but focus more on the people aspect of it. Once I have a good presence on the app, it’s pretty much going to work similar to Facebook or Twitter.”

In addition to the app, a physical platform for fashion and talent exchange is also being offered through meetups currently held on a monthly basis in Delhi, Pune and Mumbai.

Raje said about 2,000 people are currently using the services of this primarily women-run startup.

“I plan to reach about 25,000 to 50,000 users by the end of the year,” Raje told India-West. “My vision is to create a trusted global community of talented desi women to grow their network and net worth through this social networking platform.”

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