Little India situated in the neighborhood Rose Hill, from 25th to 30th street, has become known as Curry Hill of Manhattan. Neighborhood developed rapidly between 2000 and 2010 as Manhattan’s Indian population nearly doubled. Among many restaurants and spice shops, there are two shops with authentic Indian clothing. Both shops abound with colorful clothes and golden jewelry. I chose to examine Lexington Saree Palace on 29th street. From the outside shop looked very modest but I was encouraged to go inside because I saw many women in Indian ethnical clothing trying jewelry and saris. Once I entered, full range of colors, sweet smell of lightened incense sticks, and oriental music showed the true colors of India.
Owner of the shop is 43 years old Indian women, Kareena, who is managing that shop for the last 23 years. When she opened, initially it was tailoring shop, where women could choose the fabrics and she would sew the top or long skirt. In the last few years, Kareena orders tops for saris from India, because she finds it cheaper and more profitable then sewing it herself. Shop is full of textile; walls are cover in shelves which are full of colorful material. Kareena told me that it is mostly used for saris. Textile that Indian women will choose varies.
Usually wealthier women will choose silk which is the priciest and they will combine it with golden pieces of jewelry that Kareena will sew into their and teach them how to wear it. The most common style, among others, is for the sari to be wrapped around the waist, with one end then draped over the shoulder baring the midriff. Other textile that is very popular for sari is velvet and chiffon. Lately, with the increase of the young indian population and their attempt to assimilate with American fashion, Kareena’s store doesn’t sell as much as it was in early 2000s. Nowadays, women mostly buy cotton fabric which is considered as a boring textile used for day outfits.
Sometimes, if she is lucky, she prepares women for Indian wedding, which could count up to 100 women. Kareena showed the whole assortment of tops that are worn under sari. They are all imported from India, handmade out of cotton, with golden ducats or crystals, made to reach woman’s waist. Price of each top is $50, but Kareena told me she bought it for much lower price from India.
Mostly she imports fabrics and tunics from India. She said that it is very cheap comparing to United States. Tunics are the best sold items, because they can be combined with other clothing items easily, but also Indian women wear the whole year long.
Kareena almost never orders from the U.S. market, not just because it is more expensive but also it is not fashionable. Indian women give a lot of attention to their look and especially younger women want to be dressed up to date. Moreover, New York, being such an international mecca, puts a lot of competition on Kareena’s way. Her first neighbors, The Indian Village store is her biggest threat because owners are young American-Indians who step out of the ethnic frame by introducing more casual clothing line for women. However, Kareena thinks she is still preferred better by customers because of her longevity in the neighborhood. Furthermore, often her store makes outfits for Bollywood movies that are filmed in New York. Probably the best income she gets is from the film industry, because they buy a lot and want the best and most popular clothing and jewelry details.
In the last few years, there is big number of American customers who travel to India or go to Indian celebrations for which they need a “costume” to assimilate. Kareena said that Americans laugh when she puts half a pound of jewelry on them. “Indian women love to look like peacocks. They love colors and jewelry.” Bijouterie is very cheap, under $5 for the pack of bracelets or rings. However, Indian women rather wear gold that they get as a dowry on the wedding day. Imitation jewelry is mostly for unmarried girls, the more they put on themselves will make them more attractive in the eyes of men.
The last but not least detail are shoes. The most popular are shoes called ‘jutis’. The commonly shoe-style worn in India is in leather with beaded work, mirror work, thread work and hand embroidery work
From my conversation with Kareena I concluded that women in India crave for silk and chiffon, while they do not cherish cotton due it its accessibility and very afordible price. When comparing it to the western world in which women want to turn to organic way of living and would like their clothing to be organic but cheap, where clothing producers rise the price of clothes and it started to be hard to find something that is made out of cotton and cheap. Kareena told me that each tunic cost less than $5 in India, and here she feels resonable to sell it for $50 because the lack of cotton made women appreciate quality.