Isadora Life: Innovative Inclusive Fashion

Neha Tandon Sharma,Chief Dreamer

Neha Tandon Sharma

Chief Dreamer

It started with an outsider having an idea, as these things often do. Neha Tandon Sharma is not a fashionista, She is a dyed in the wool banker, B. Tech, MBA (Finance), and more than a decade in the corporate world, specialising in Tech sector. As she wore formals everywhere, she kept wondering whether they necessarily must be so damn uncomfortable for women. When she went to traditional social events, too, she found herself dreading dragging a saree out of her cupboard and wondering whether another dress may work.

"I realised there wasn't much I could do about the high heels, but maybe I could figure out a way to make the saree less of a task", she says. There began her experimentation. It went through some interactions, but finally there was a saree she felt she could wrap in a jiffy. It didn't take long from there for her to ask herself the question: "What if I sell this?"

She first had to figure out a lot of hows. How to reduce cost of making at scale, with consistent quality? How to procure the raw materials? How to Market, deliver, showcase etc. She started with the basics, hired two tailors, and started the process of setting an assembly line in creating wrap in a minute saree. It all evolved from there.

Evolved is really the right word for what happened. It was an organic and iterative process. Her first model was related to one of the tailors. Her first photographers was a friend of that model. The first workshop was a small rented house across the street from Neha's home. Her first IT consultants were the people who had done odd jobs for her earlier, and had to learn how to create an e-commerce website. Isadora Life grew from there and are today a 40+people operation looking for a proper commercial space.

She learned too. She laughs when asked whether her training as an engineer helped her create the masterful drape but becomes
serious when talking about what she learned from her experience in corporate finance. She knew from an early stage that what she had created had huge potential, and that she needs to be open to growth by being open to learn in an industry she has never worked in.

Fashion and textile industries are close cousins with very different mindsets, and she is currently working at the intersection of the two. Her favourite quote is the Steve Jobs one about apple being at the intersection of liberal arts and technology, and she created something that takes real craft to perfect, and technology to take it to the masses, both literally and figuratively.

One thing that didn't change was what she wanted to create. "The dream was always around Isadora Lifestyle, the company, rather than any one product," she says. She wanted to create lifestyle products for the woman that the fashion industry has ignored. Her sarees are still made to order and customised for every customer. This helped her understand what her customers were like. She realised most of her customers were broad and curvy. These women are not being served by even the mass manufacturers, let alone the fashion industry. When she introduced salwar kameez later, she made sure she advertised prominently that large sizes are available. Those are the hottest sellers today.

Serving real women is not limited to just the customers. Isadora Life is a 100% woman-run company. Many of these women have little formal education, some are single mothers, others are supporting their entire family, and for almost half of them this their first job, first bank account, and Neha is their first mentor. For most of them, this is where they have been happiest. At first Neha was perplexed why they enjoyed even small pizza and samosa parties so much, then she realised it. "for most of these women, this is the first pace where they have been treated with absolute dignity, and where being a girl or a woman has not been a disadvantage".

For most of these women, this is the first pace where they have been treated with absolute dignity, and where being a girl or a woman has not been a disadvantage

Her customers can sense it too. Almost all the models in Isadora ads are either employees or friends. They have become recognisable faces for the regulars, a number that's burgeoning. These women are getting packaged and customised convenience instead of having to choose between poor fit or cumbersome draping.

"The future is at the periphery of the pyramid", Neha says earnestly. We have entered the lifestyle category via fashion, and we will keep exploring ideas that seem like common sense to an outsider, like creating Indian dresses that fit Indian women. Couple this with innovation in a thousands of years old fabric, while keeping it looking identical to traditional saree, and a gung-ho team led by someone who knows startup world, and its clear that this is just the beginning. Isadora Life intends to put women centre-stage in creating Fashion, and to put Raipur on the fashion map. It looks like it will disrupt an industry along the way.