Q & A with Diana Barr in the St. Louis Business Journal

Anjali Kamra brings love for travel and art to Rungolee clothing line.

Q: What’s been Rungolee’s business model? 

It works through three different sales channels. Before the pandemic, 75% of our business was really trunk shows around the country – it’s like the whole champagne-and-shopping circuit – 15% was e-commerce and about 10% was wholesale to boutiques. While we had always wanted to pursue the digital model, we were so busy and doing so well with the trunk show models that we had put it on the back burner. And the pandemic literally just forced us to rework our entire model.

Q: What changes did you make? 

The most important thing we did was we completely revamped our website. We hired a team, started from scratch and we built a much more beautiful, easier to shop platform and migrated to Shopify, which integrates much more cohesively with Facebook and advertising and also greatly improves the e-commerce shopping experience for the customer. We hired a marketing team out of Seattle, and we really made a huge push on our marketing with Facebook and Instagram ad buys. We've seen an amazing ROI on our marketing spend as a result of all the work that we did. We also hired Blish Connor out of Kansas City to help us connect with the right influencers. We signed up with a rewardStyle (an influencer marketing platform) to sell to influencer groups.

We also diversified our supply chain, from sourcing all the way to fabrication. We added a new atelier in Kolkata, which is the city that I grew up in, to take advantage of the talent, the artisans, the rich textiles history of the area, as well as cheaper costs of space in Kolkata versus Mumbai, where I have my original atelier. And this has helped us with upping production and having more unique fabrics as well.

Q: How would you characterize the Rungolee line?

The line is very versatile and we try to make it as season-less as possible. We create small-batch pieces that are unique and easy to wear, so you can dress it down during the day and dress it up at night. The age range for this line is anywhere from 30 to 65 and above. The price point is between $124 to $400 for an embroidered blouse and about $400 to $450 for a long silk dress or an embroidered jacket. So it's an accessible price point because we own our own atelier. All of our prints are exclusive to us, we're not licensing the prints or buying them from anyone. Our projections this year are at least a 50% growth over 2019, which was a very good year for us.

 Q: How often did you go to India before the pandemic? 

About three to four times a year I would travel to India because there's nothing like being there on the ground. I get so much inspiration from being around my team. I'm just waiting to go, but the situation in India right now is very difficult, because they've had a huge (Covid-19) resurgence. We’ve been able to keep our factory safe, employees safe so far. During the lockdown last summer, when everything shut down, I continued to pay all of my employees, here and in India, all through that pandemic. I felt that it was my obligation, my duty, to do that because they depend on that income. We had to do everything digitally this year. I think that made us much more streamlined.

Q: You and your husband emigrated from India to the U.S. initially for his education and then work. How did you come to start Rungolee?

After graduating from FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York and working in the industry, we moved to Richmond, Virginia, and I had to quit my job in fashion. I always wanted to have my own line as a young kid. I would sit on my mom's sewing machine and sew garments for my doll collection. My aunt ran an international fashion house in the ‘90s, creating couture beaded gowns for department stores, Parisian society, Bollywood stars. I went to India and with her help, I launched the first small-batch collection, and I returned to Richmond. I hung it up on an antique four-poster bed that I brought back from India in my Richmond home, invited some friends and opened a bottle of champagne. The first collection sold out and the rest is history. We had been about a year in business in Richmond when my husband’s job moved us to St. Louis, and I got about relocating everything here to St. Louis.

 Q: What’s in the future for Rungolee? 

The exclusivity of our prints is something that has helped us think about our future. It's opened up so many possibilities. For example, taking our beautiful prints that people have responded to so well, and we are in the process of thinking about doing a tabletop line. And then refocusing some of our excess fabrics to do children's (clothing) as well, and doing limited edition collaborations, perhaps with design schools out of India. Being more size inclusive as well; we would like to do extended sizing as we grow.