INDIANAPOLIS — There were only two things Chinmayi Calcuttawala wanted to do in 1998: get her driver's license and open her own business.
She was two years into marriage at that time and had recently moved 8,000 miles away from her home in Gujarat, India to Indianapolis. She was 21.
"So I finally thought, I'll start something on my own," Calcuttawala said.
What started as a small, stylish corner of a grocery store in the 90s, grew little by little to what is now known as Sai's Boutique.
"I'm very proud of myself," Calcuttawala said, as her boutique is now going on 23 years in business.
Now open on Indy's northwest side, near Costco on Michigan Road, the walls of the boutique are stocked from the floor to the ceiling with immaculate jewels, fine threads, and premier Indian fashion.
"I import everything from India," Calcuttawala started. "Everything traditional, like cut from custom jewelry, to handbags, to saris — it's a long piece of fabric we drape around the tops — tunic tops, kids dresses, boys dresses, little kids dresses. Men's kurta pajama, and basically, many sizes in ladies dresses."
Traditional Indian clothing is a rising trend in western culture — especially among celebrities. From Nick Jonas' kurta pajama sets, Oprah wearing a sari on the cover of Elle, and Beyonce dressed in a couture Lehenga, it's hard for their millions of followers not to tune into the rich and diverse clothing ensembles native to Indian culture.
Sai Boutique's specially imported threads are not only for the Indian community, Calcuttawala said, they're for everyone. She adds that she doesn't think it's a form of cultural appropriation when people outside of the Indian community wear her culture's traditional clothing.
"It's a compliment, I feel," Calcuttawala told WRTV.
The boutique owner says she has definitely seen a rise in requests for custom clothing, especially for weddings.
"Because our Indian dresses, like it's a lot of bead-work, a lot of like sparkles, and our stuff are basically perfect for the special occasions. It will make you stand out.
Calcuttawala used to make several trips from Indianapolis to India to secure her inventory. For the last two decades, her Indian-American community and customer base in central Indiana relied on her to make such purchases, saving them on trips or shipping prices. Since the start of the pandemic, however, her inventory trips stopped and she had to make a large investment.
"That has been a challenge this year, to get the inventory from India because of their lockdowns," Calcuttawala said.
"Last year, I was at that point, also because the business was so slow, I almost thought I should just close the shop, or what should I do?" Calcuttawala said. "Because I was putting money out of my pocket to pay rent and stuff every month. But then my husband just said, like, 'hang in there, it's just matter of a few months, don't get panicked and all.'"
Shipping currently remains the primary challenge for Sai's Boutique, especially as India is again seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
As almost all small businesses were forced to do during this time, Calcuttawala had to look for creative ways to stay afloat. One included not renewing her lease at a location she had been at for many years in Indianapolis. She instead moved closer to Brownsburg, near her client base.
"More my customers are moving more towards Fishers, Carmel. And I basically started asking customers what is a convenient location for them to come and shop and they all suggested this area, so I decided to start looking for the shop in this area and it's a more central location," Calcuttawala said.
Since moving to Indianapolis 25 years ago, Calcuttawala has felt completely accepted in central Indiana, she says, it's something that she hopes all Hoosiers feel, regardless of culture, when they come to see her at Sai's Boutique.
"Our customer service, it will be like one on one," Calcuttawala said. "We will take care of them (the customers) ... even if they don't know what they are, you know, dealing with. I will be there, or one of my staff members will be there to help them, guide them. And then we will find them the perfect piece for their occasion."
8840 Michigan Rd Suite 102
Tuesday - Sunday: 12 p.m. - 6 p.m.