The 10 day-long Cannes Film Festival has drawn to a close but fashion magazines and blogs are still hard at work. There are lists being copiously compiled, featuring those who left a lasting impression on what is easily the most cut-throat red carpet event. The ever reliable Sonam Kapoor has found mention in several of these international publications. In a mere 48-hour trip, she appeared in six stunning outfits, all put together by her long-time stylist and younger sister Rhea Kapoor. But even as you scroll through their Instagram accounts, drooling over the beautiful Elie Saab creations, it’s easy to forget how the Kapoor sisters have slowly and smartly turned their passion for clothes into a solid business venture.
Almost three years ago, Sonam and Rhea announced the birth of Rheson (an amalgam of their names), their own high street clothing line. The day before they took off for Cannes, the collection finally saw the light of day at a launch held at a suburban hotel in Mumbai. “It’s easy to make a garment but to get everything right takes long,” Rhea explained to me later. “You want it to be comfortable and stylish and affordable and good quality – there’s just so many things you want it to be, which is why the collection is not so widespread right now. For example, we had to make our own knit fabrics for our T-shirts. If it’s too stretchy it doesn’t hold you properly, if it’s not stretchy enough it’s not comfortable. So everything takes time. It’s like making three films at once,” she adds.
Rheson has been launched in partnership with the 26-year-old retail chain Shoppers Stop. It’s now available in 20 of their stores and can be ordered online. Those who associate Sonam with fancy European brands with unpronounceable names will be happy to find that Rheson is desi, comfortable and affordable (the prices range between Rs 499 – 4000). The press release describes it as a brand for “the real Indian girl”. You could call it their answer to Zara or H&M. “Young Indian girls see Rhea and my life and think it’s perfect. It might be aspirational but it can also be something that they can achieve and that’s why we’re saying that there’s no reason you can’t. We wanted people to see that we were also regular girls. We had a dream and we worked really hard at it,” says Sonam, sporting a green and white sari-inspired ensemble from the collection.
Actresses lending their names to clothing lines is commonplace. Deepika Padukone, Kangana Ranaut and Shraddha Kapoor – they’ve all been there. But here’s where Rheson stands apart – it’s not just another branding exercise. It’s a 100 percent owned and created by Sonam and Rhea, and they’re in it for the long haul. “If I was associating with something I wasn’t personally involved with, it’s like cheating the audience. And I never cheat,” states Sonam.
That’s a great motto for a young businesswoman to have. Rhea too has a simple mantra. “My business acumen comes from a combination of sincerity, common sense, and a lot of my father’s (Anil Kapoor) experience. Also, I seek a lot of advice. I can go into a room and say I know nothing,” she says. The best advice she’s got from her dad is – aagey badho. “Sonam and I are constantly moving and trying something new. People are always like, ‘Again you’ll are starting something’!’’
It’s been 10 years of being in partnership. It helps that their roles are well defined and in keeping with their different temperaments. “I'm not a very stubborn and controlling person like Rhea,” says Sonam. Therefore, she’s the dreamer and Rhea the business head. Yet, both the sisters have been their own bosses from a young age. Rhea was all of 21 when she produced Aisha with Sonam in the lead. “I hope to be a firm but gentle boss,” says Rhea. “My office is full of young girls. I find working with women to be the most rewarding. All my girls are now stylists in their own right and that’s the kind of boss I want to be – someone who empowers other women. Because otherwise what’s your legacy? What are you leaving behind?”
In fact, Rheson is a shining example how women in the film industry are taking charge of their own legacy by creating opportunities for themselves. In the West too, actresses like Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow and Drew Barrymore, to name a few, have constructed successful business empires that run parallel to their acting careers. “Just a few minutes ago some journalist asked Sonam if being a fashionista distracts her from being an actor. Does anyone ask Salman Khan if Being Human distracts him? The question is sexist to the core” says Rhea.
While the vanishing racks of clothes at Shoppers Stop outlet point to Rheson’s success, it’s still too early for the sisters to know where the company is headed. “We’re taking baby steps,” they say, adding, “Every decision we make, we keep in mind that people have to come back for these things. It’s not a one time thing for us. We want Rheson to become synonymous with what we stand for. We'll start with that and then see where we go.”