If you had to describe the typical pre-pandemic shopping experience for South Asian clothing, you’d probably use the word “old school” to sum it up. Do you remember the suburban strip malls, awkward haggling and unpredictable customer service?
In 2020, the global pandemic forced thousands of traditional retailers and consumers online in their search for a perfect lehenga or saree. But as frustrating as in-person shopping was, many took comfort in being able to touch and feel the items they were buying.
Sofi Kassam, Founder and Chief Creative Officer at The Saree Room, understands this struggle all too well. It’s why she founded The Saree Room in the first place. Her goal was to design beautiful, versatile pieces, offered with a modern and - dare we say it - enjoyable shopping experience that South Asian women deserve.
Ishleen Kambo has also experienced the woes of purchasing South Asian clothing online, both in her personal life and professionally as The Saree Room’s Customer Experience Manager. She really has seen it all! We asked her to outline the 3 biggest mistakes women make when they shop online, and what to do instead.
1. You cut the timing too close. It’s hard enough to pick a South Asian outfit online, it’s even harder when you rush into the decision because you’re crunched for time. While it may be tempting to order an item with a cursory swipe of product photos, you will likely end up disappointed.
What you should do instead: As soon as you get an invite to an event, start thinking about what you want to wear. If you have less than a week, consider digging into your closet, or borrowing from a friend instead of buying new. When purchasing last minute online, be sure that the retailer is reliable and can deliver on time. Firstly, you should find out where your items will ship from. At The Saree Room, we ship all of our pieces from Toronto, so there's no need to worry about a package being drop shipped from India. The second thing to ask yourself is, are the items readymade or custom? A last minute custom option is more than likely going to lead to disappointment when you don't receive it on time. Finally, read the FAQ's and be sure you select a shipping method that is going to reach you on time. No point in finding the perfect outfit just to have it delivered after your event. If possible, select express shipping to be sure you won't be left without an outfit.
What you should do instead: Measure your size based on website size guides. Be realistic, instead of aspirational, about your size. Purchase items from retailers that include extra fabric that can easily allow a size up, offer free size exchanges. or free returns. At The Saree Room, our size chart is displayed in garment measurements as opposed to body measurements. Why? Because this allows you to compare our size chart with a blouse or skirt you already have that fits well. This simple comparison will allow you to be sure you're ordering the right size, as opposed to struggling to measure yourself!
Pro tip: Top brands including The Saree Room design their pieces with adjustability in mind. Extra material inside the blouse that allows for it to be taken out at home and no need for a tailor, skirts that have a tie around the waist to allow for slight size adjustments.
3. You buy from unverified websites. Many women base their purchase decisions solely on pretty photos, but unfortunately, too many have been burned this way. The item you thought you bought arrives is often nothing like what you thought - if it ends up arriving at all!
What you should do instead: Opt to purchase only from companies that are well-reviewed or recommended by people you trust. If you land on a website that has different size product images, difficult to navigate return policies and no customer reviews, you're likely going to regret your purchase. The biggest red flags come form any online retailer that doesn't offer returns or exchanges. Would you shop for a dress or a pair of jeans online if everything was final sale? Probably not, so don't accept that when shopping for South Asian clothing. Most importantly, ensure that the website is safe to handle payments. If you're suspicious, or the company asks you to e-transfer payment - don't.
Purchasing South Asian clothing online can be daunting, but if you can avoid these 3 common mistakes, you can start shopping for a killer lehenga or saree with confidence.
Let us know some of the best and worst experiences you’ve had shopping for South Asian clothing below!