While taking an entrepreneurship course at New York University’s Stern School of Business, Ashika Kalra was assigned a project that would change her life forever. Just 21-years-old at the time, the Chicago native developed a full-fledged business plan that combined her passion for fashion with technology.
“I have always been intrigued by the intersection of fashion and technology,” Kalra said. “I especially admire companies like Warby Parker and TOMS, which have successfully blended a powerful social component at the core of their brands. I thought it would be interesting to take that concept one step further and create a truly nonprofit brand by using an on-demand production model through which we can direct the majority of our profits to a greater cause.”
With the help of emerging designers, Kalra, now a New York City resident for five years, aspired to create a brand that allowed consumers to make a difference and simultaneously serve as ambassadors to powerful social issues simply by wearing our products.
So, in 2014, Kalra successfully launched The Unity Closet.
“I never imagined this project would translate into something tangible, but after participating in various entrepreneurial workshops, understanding the emerging fashion market, and wrapping my head around all of the resources available in New York City, I realized that this shouldn’t just remain an idea on paper,” she said.
Kalra describes The Unity Closet as an umbrella for multiple designers who believe in fashion with a purpose. Her goal, she said, is to incorporate designers from different regions around the world, using The Unity Closet’s collection of silk scarves as “a blank canvas to convey various social issues.”
“Fashion is one of the most powerful forms of personal expression we have today, and this is exactly why The Unity Closet strives to use fashion as a mechanism to convey a social message,” Kalra added. “The designers digitally create their artwork, and we use a digital textile printing manufacturer to bring these designs to life in a wearable, stylish product.”
“An important element to note in our production process is that we hold very limited upfront inventory,” she goes on to say. “We essentially produce our items on-demand as a customer or corporate partner orders. This allows our organization to limit our initial capital investment, focus on managing our operating costs, and, therefore, donate 100 percent of our profits to the overarching charitable cause we choose to support.”
To date, The Unity Closet has worked with nine designers, hailing from countries like the United States, Turkey, India, South Africa, Brazil and the United Kingdom.
“I think we have grown quite a bit from a strategy perspective throughout the past year,” Kalra said. “We launched our first collection of silk scarves featuring five designers–who each represented a different social problem, ranging from women’s rights to water scarcity.”
“This year, we decided to opt for a more focused approach and will be emphasizing one social issue: education for youth. We are partnering with the international nonprofit, BuildOn, to help construct a school in a village of Nepal,” she added. “This is an exciting partnership for the brand because our designers also sense that there is a tangible, truly visible impact as a result of their contribution. This enthusiasm has been very rewarding and definitely helped us grow closer as an organization.”
Kalra offered some advice for any young individuals who aspire to start their own business.
“Perhaps it’s a bit cliché, but just do it,” she said. “I often try to surround myself around people or read about others who inspire me–especially entrepreneurially. The one common trait I observe among these role models is their ‘can-do’ attitude. I admire people who not only believe in their ideas but also do something about them.”
“Of course, at the same time, it’s equally important to be prepared and do your research,” she added. “This is an ongoing process for me. Since I have limited formal experience in the fashion/social enterprise space, everything has been an intense learning opportunity so far. As a result, I found it very crucial to do my homework.”
For more information about The Unity Closet, you can visit their website at TheUnityCloset. You can also follow the nonprofit on Twitter or Facebook. From now until November 1, India.com readers will get 15 percent off their purchase when they use code INDIA15.