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“You don’t need to blend with others when you have an option. You can go from an aspiring to inspiring person just by wearing a unique dress!”

Kevala is an online platform featuring unique dresses from emerging designers around the world. Working directly with emerging designers, they introduce new fashion talent to stylehungry shoppers who refuse to blend in. The result is an original collection of pieces unavailable elsewhere.

The designers they showcase are chosen for their imaginative skill, each one using rare fabrics and finely honed techniques. Focusing on style, quality and fit, they insist that each piece we carry be exceptional.

Smita Deshpande, Kevala - Founder & CEO

MO: You’re previous background was all based around IT and web development. What made you decide to take the leap into fashion and did you have any background in the industry before founding Kevala?

Smita:  Prior to Kevala, my background has been in either Electrical Engineering or Computer Science, a far cry from the world of fashion. However, the inspiration for Kevala stemmed from my tenure at the MIT Media Lab where I worked on a project called SourceMap that enables to people to visualize the supply chains of products they consume on a daily basis. One of my projects was to map the entire supply chain of cotton industry in India. I travelled to different parts of India interviewing farmers, designers and everyone in between. It was during this time, that I realized there is an enormous opportunity to simplify this complex supply chain while reduce costs for consumers, while introducing extraordinary and otherwise inaccessible designs and fabrics to the average American consumer.

MO: How long did it take from having the initial idea of Kevala to launching the site online?

Smita: It took about one year from the initial concept to launching it. To get from concept to launch, I spent significant time getting feedback from prospective customers, collaborating with designers from around the world, soliciting and reviewing potential designs for our first collection, working with models, and building our web-store. Though I did not have significant experience in many of these areas, my background in web development helped tremendously in speeding up the webstore development.

MO: How do you find and decide what designers that you want to work with?

Smita: I have always kept an eye on the fabrics and designs found by mainstream retail stores, and found their offerings to be pretty cookie cutter. The whole purpose of Kevala is to differentiate from these offerings at a competitive price.

Therefore, I actively seek designers on three attributes:

First, I look for designers who offer dresses that significantly stand out from retail offerings in terms of both fabrics and the design itself. For example, one designer, Amrich, in our collection specializes in the ancient Japanese hand-made tie-dye technique of Itajime Shibori. You cannot find anything like this in any other store.

Secondly, I only accept designers who never comprise on quality. Particularly as an online-only store, Kevala can only thrive if customers can trust us on deliver quality products that match their expectations when they order through our website.

Lastly, I only consider designers who can offer their dresses at prices competitive with retail outlets. There are many options, both online and offline, where consumers can purchase exquisite designers similar to ours but at far higher price points. Kevala is unique because not only because of our collection, but also because it is priced within reach of the average consumer.

MO: Do you think that there’s a growing trend of women really wanting to stand out from the crowd?

Smita: Since time immemorial, women have always wanted to stand out from the crowd. That has not changed. However, what has changed is that women now have more choices than ever and can more easily stand out.

Previously, the average women could only purchase what was available in retail stores or go to boutique stores for dresses at unaffordable prices. These days women have a plethora of choices through online stores like Kevala which makes it easier for them to standout.

MO: What’s been the most challenging aspect of creating Kevala? And what’s been the most rewarding aspect?

Smita: The most challenging aspect of Kevala is getting the attention of our target market. Kevala is competing for the attention of the consumers against big brands like Ann Taylor, Anthropologie and Something else. We are confident that Kevala is an attractive alternative to these standard large brands, but we do not have the same marketing resources as them. However, I am confident that as our customer grows, our brand will continue to grow as well.

The most rewarding aspect of Kevala has been wearing all the different hats required as a founder. In a single day, I am the CEO, the web developer, the catalog curator, the business development executive, and the delivery person. I would not have had an experience like this anywhere else.

MO: Many cutting edge fashion companies are based out of LA and New York. Do you feel that working from the Boston area has any specific advantages?

Smita: While most of the fashion buzz is around LA and New York, there are a number of advantages for working out of Boston. Its easy to get attention and standout as a fashion start up here compared to LA and New York, where they are a dime-a-dozen. Also, Boston has a greater entrepreneurial scene with tremendous support for first-timers like me. Lastly, Boston has a largely outgoing college and post-college women population that serves as a great seed market for us.

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