Home » She Left Her Office Job in The 90s to Start This Iconic Shop in Little India Selling Saris and Kurtas
Business Lifestyle News

She Left Her Office Job in The 90s to Start This Iconic Shop in Little India Selling Saris and Kurtas

Nestled in a shophouse in the heart of Little India, Dakshaini Silks is a haven for those looking for Indian ethnic clothing – saris, kurtas, Punjabi suits and more – in all manner of fabrics and designs.

“In the 80s and 90s, the landscape of local Indian textiles was vastly different,” said Dakshaini Silks founder Rani Kumar.

At that time, shops provided only one type of product or service, whether it was tailoring, or selling ready-to-wear clothes or fabrics, the 67-year-old Singaporean explained. In 1992, Kumar decided to change this. Her idea: A “one-stop store” that offered a range of services and products related to traditional Indian clothing.

At her shop, customers would be able to buy fabrics like silk or cotton, ready-to-wear Indian outfits, or have their traditional clothes tailored – all in one place.


It all started with family. While Kumar had spent more than a decade doing administrative work as a secretary, she was surrounded by entrepreneurs in her family.

“My late mum had a business mindset even though she didn’t have a formal job,” she said.

“She used to go to wholesale markets to buy spices such as coriander and cumin, and other ingredients, re-package them, and sell them to earn extra cash for the family.

“I got to see how confident and smart she was.”

Kumar also grew up listening to stories about her maternal grandfather, who worked as an insurance agent in Singapore and Malaya during the 1920s. She learnt of how he provided startup capital to businesses in Little India to give them a leg up. The turning point, however, came when she married her husband, then a pilot. A year after their wedding in 1981, Kumar gave birth to her first child, a girl. She had two more children, both boys, in 1986 and 1989.

“I wanted to spend more time with them,” she said. “But it was hard to do so as a secretary where the hours are so fixed.

“I needed to be more flexible. So I thought to myself and my husband, maybe this was the time to start my own business.”


When her daughter was three and Kumar was pregnant with her second child, she resigned from her job to spend more time with her growing family and think about her future business. She had two options in mind: Open a wholesale shop selling food ingredients or educational supplies or dabble in Indian traditional fashion.

“When it came to starting a business from scratch, I had no idea how the business was going to be or whether it was even going to be successful,” said Kumar.

She knew she was good with paperwork but didn’t know where to start when it came to running a business, such as figuring out her business concept, creating a business plan, sourcing for materials, and hiring reliable staff.

“It was hard, but I knew I had to try,” she said. “And it helped that I wasn’t alone.

“My husband was always there for me, and so were my family and friends who helped to check my ideas for feasibility. Seeing my kids also motivated me.”

The closeness she felt to her family and the Indian community helped her come to a decision: Her business had to be related to her heritage and specifically, traditional Indian fashion.

“I love saris. I enjoy wearing them and they make me feel good and look good,” she said. “Fashion connected me to my roots, so I wanted to create something related to it that could bring other Indians in Singapore closer to their culture.”

For five years, Kumar balanced taking care of her children, learning from local business mentors, forging partnerships with textile factories in India, honing her design skills, and recruiting trustworthy staff for her shop. These included tailors, designers and cashiers.

And finally, in 1992, with the money she and her husband had saved, Kumar opened Dakshaini Silks in Serangoon Road. She was then 36 years old. The shop was where customers could buy fabrics and have them tailored into Indian cultural wear, shop for ready-to-wear saris or kurtas, or even get their traditional outfits altered.


Since then, Kumar has catered to a diverse clientele, from the local Indian community to fans of Indian ethnic wear, and tourists.

“To me, the sari is the perfect representation of my culture,” Kumar said. “It has a beautiful history that goes back thousands of years.

“It looks beautiful and elegant, and it’s so versatile. It’s suitable for women of all ages and can be adapted to various styles and colours to suit any occasion.”

Kumar herself wears saris frequently, and some of the ones she owns were passed down to her from previous generations of women.

Her customers at Dakshaini Silks include Chinese and Malays who seek out Punjabi suits, kurtas and saris for Indian weddings or Deepavali gatherings.

“It’s very touching when I see customers who aren’t Indian or related to Indians interested in our fashion,” she said. “It makes me proud and I’m always happy to serve them.” When Dakshaini Silks first opened, Kumar’s children were frequently present as it was easier for her to keep an eye on them. Now, they’re adults aged 41, 37, and 34, and have full-time jobs – but they still find time to help out when they can.

Her older son helps with customer service while her daughter, younger son and his wife manage the shop’s Facebook and Instagram pages. Kumar’s husband, now a part-time pilot trainer, helps with staff management.

“I’m grateful because I got more than I wished for when I started,” Kumar said. “I wanted a business for the family, and now my whole family’s involved in the business.”

Source: CNA Lifestyle