Anjali Kamra of Rungolee: “There is no shame in asking for help”

There is no shame in asking for help. I usually try to find solutions myself, but I have learned that it is useful to reach out to the right resources. And, surprisingly, people are happy to help. The COVID19 Pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s […]

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There is no shame in asking for help. I usually try to find solutions myself, but I have learned that it is useful to reach out to the right resources. And, surprisingly, people are happy to help.

The COVID19 Pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the Pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Anjali Kamra.

Anjali Kamra is the founder and creator of Rungolee, a small batch, “global travel-inspired” women’s ready-to-wear brand based in St Louis, with own its manufacturing atelier in Mumbai, India.

A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology in NY, Anjali’s business is in its 11th year. Design and creativity run in Anjali’s family. Her aunt ran an international fashion house in the ’90s creating couture-beaded gowns for department stores, Parisian society, and Bollywood stars. Building on her aunt’s legacy’s small batch and artistic heritage, she debuted her first collection 11 years ago in her home.

This first collection sold out that night, and the rest is history. Today the label is sold online, through independent boutiques, and a direct-to-customer network of hosts and ambassadors at private events around the country.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up among a kaleidoscope of color & culture In Kolkata, India, relishing in the brilliant mix of taste, texture, and heritage permeating my beautiful city. As a child, I would scourge around for old sarees and get on my Mom’s Singer Sewing machine to create pieces to dress up my doll collection. As a teenager, I yearned to go to NID(The National Institute of Design), the best design school in India. However, my parents would not allow me to leave home and go to another city for college: it was simply not done.

Fast forward several years: my husband and I moved to the United States. As first-generation immigrants, we set about building a new life, bringing strong determination, cherished heritage, and hard work. As a young mom, raising my two kids in NYC was both exhilarating and challenging. I loved the luxury of being home with them, yet I craved creative expression. With my husband’s encouragement, I enrolled at The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and threw myself into the fashion design program. It was a childhood dream come true!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“We are constantly invited to Be who we are”-Henry David Thoreau.

As a first-generation immigrant to this country, I felt the pressure to adapt and to change. But, whatever upheavals life has thrown at me, I have always tried to be authentic and true to myself. Whether it is in my relationships, style, or collection, I believe that staying true to my core has led to my success with my professional life and happiness in my personal one.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

“The God of Small Things” by one of my favorite authors Arundhati Roy, centers around a well-off family in Kerala, India. Through the relationship between the twin children and their mother Ammu, the novel explores binding social traditions and power structures within a patriarchal society. In particular, one character Velutha, the God of Small Things, gives him the ability to notice the little things, see the beauty in the smallest details, and take the time to craft beautiful objects that give joy to others. He pours that love into his work.

While I came from a background of privilege, as a woman growing up in a patriarchal society, I faced constant struggle against social norms and expectations, both spoken and unspoken. I was a bit of a rebel and continuously battled through these pressures to strike my own path. I always wanted to be a creator. Beautiful things gave me joy. Even though I was unable to convince my parents to allow me to go to design school, I dove into a career, and many years later, when the opportunity presented itself to go to Design School, I grabbed it. I envisioned creating a small batch label, pieces that are crafted with love and bring joy and beauty. It’s the smallest things, the little details that give me the most joy, like Velutha. I carry this thought with me whenever I am working on a collection.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

After graduating from FIT in NYC and working in the fashion industry for some time, I decided to follow my family’s heritage in taste-making fashion.

For decades my Aunt Swaran ran an international fashion house in Mumbai, creating exquisite gowns and finely-embellished pieces for European and American design shops. Her designs were coveted by some of India’s most notable film stars and European royalty in the early seventies.

I launched Rungolee in 2009, out of my Richmond, VA, home with her counsel and support. I hung my debut collection in our guest room, on an antique four-poster bed that I had brought back from India. I opened a bottle of bubbly and invited 20 friends over. The pieces sold out that day.

Being a people person, I loved the intimacy, ease, and personal connection of this shopping experience. In addition to being a creator, I’m a caregiver — both of these identities give me immense joy; I’ve always loved being able to create with my children through fun projects here and there throughout the years. When I meet people through trunk shows, I feel the same enthusiasm for those relationships. It’s a special privilege that I have to be able to meet new people and have them trust me to dress them. Good design can empower us.

This seemed to be the most sustainable and natural way to sell my small-batch, wearable pieces. Generous friends opened up their homes for trunk shows. I started participating in Charity Boutique shopping events around the country — so I began the Champagne & Shopping model- direct to customer and small batch. We grew this model to include Hosts around the country and Ambassadors that helped sell our pieces at small intimate, elegant gatherings around the country. While we launched e-commerce in 2012, our primary focus was building on the direct-to-customer model.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

Our spring/summer collection, inspired by the beauty of Venice, was off to a great start until this Pandemic hit in March. Not only did all of our Trunk shows around the country get canceled, but our Atelier in Mumbai was also abruptly shut down as India went into lockdown. We immediately recognized the importance of shifting into the digital space. We began a three-pronged approach:

  1. Building out a brand new website on Shopify to greatly improve the online shopping experience
  2. We engaged an agency out of Seattle to help us with our Facebook/Instagram marketing campaigns and Google shopping
  3. We hired a consultant to help us build out our social media outreach with influencers

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

In fact, there was no “aha” moment. It was a pivot born out of necessity. We are backward integrated all the way and own our own factory in Mumbai. We had workers that depended on us for their livelihood, inventory sitting on our shelves, and a dead-stop to all our events. We knew this was the only way- we had to move forward.

How are things going with this new initiative?

The response to our new website has been amazing. We have seen a 10-fold increase in web sales since the launch in September. Our Facebook/Instagram marketing campaigns have exceeded expectations, as well. And we are making slow and steady headway into the influencer world.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My Aunt Swaran has been a true inspiration. From inspiring me to leap launching my independent label 11 years ago, with the same small-batch, slow fashion aesthetic she embodied in her business, she is such a force to her constant support over the years. At 86, she is still the first to get into our Mumbai atelier every day, and her eye does not miss a thing. Her tenacity and grit reminded me constantly through the Pandemic, when things were down, that we could and would get through it. An exciting story about her. In the ’60s, when she started her design house, she would ride all over Mumbai on the top deck of a double-decker bus, searching for workshops and karigars (skilled workers) for her new atelier.

On a recent sourcing trip in Mumbai, she took me through myriad lanes and bylanes looking for a supplier for some sandals we were trying to manufacture. I was exhausted, but she kept going from Karkhana(workshop) to Karkhana till we found the best “karigar” (artisan) for our project!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Delegate. Delegate. Delegate. It’s the only way to grow. You are not the only one that can do things perfectly.

There is no shame in asking for help. I usually try to find solutions myself, but I have learned that it is useful to reach out to the right resources. And, surprisingly, people are happy to help.

There will be highs and lows in the business constantly. And usually, a bigger high follows the biggest low. Maintaining your composure and not giving up is crucial to continue to keep sight of the end game.

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

Maintaining a work-life balance has been vital. Both my husband and I have now been working from home since March. It is so easy to blur the lines, but I have tried to sign off at the same time every day. I love to cook and entertain. Taking the time to make a meal, setting a beautiful table, and eating together has helped me return to work renewed and refreshed to take on the next day and any challenges it might bring.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Global sustainability. Our planet is under siege, and each one of us has to do our part. I am trying to do that with my company. We produce in small batches, repurpose leftover fabrics creatively, and continuously think of ways to be more sustainable.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Freida Kahlo! As both a collector and an avid art enthusiast, Freida has always intrigued me and captured my imagination. She has been my muse, inspiring several aspects of my collections over the years. I remember fondly our visit to her home and Museum in Mexico City several years ago. Her creativity, fierce sense of independence and authenticity as an artist, and her courage under all odds, have always been an inspiration. I am sure a lunch conversation with her would have been a one in a lifetime experience!

How can our readers follow you online?

Follow me on Instagram: @rungolee

Our website:

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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