Had it not been for her mother, Texas-based Silk Threads founder Ruby Bhandari may never have had a career in fashion at all. In the 8th grade, Bhandari begrudgingly followed her mom’s advice and took a sewing class in school — not the type of elective the “cool” kids were taking.
“’All good Indian girls know how to cook and stitch,’ my mom said. I felt like a geek. None of my friends were taking the class,” she tells SEEMA, “but I realized it made me feel powerful. I could stitch my own clothes because it came to me very easily and showed me that the sky’s the limit.”
After she finished the class, Bhandari and her mother began designing their own clothes for weekend parties and gatherings. Because they were “unimpressed with what was out there,” they incorporated embroidery, embellishment and vibrant colors, tapping the family’s Indian heritage. People took notice.
Silk Threads Is Born
In 1991, while studying finance at the University of Texas, in Austin, Bhandari launched Silk Threads, a South Asian business that grew in popularity, particularly among brides, who loved Bhandari’s eye for design and meticulous attention to detail and material quality.
When she graduated from college a couple years later, she moved the company to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where today she has a 3,200 square-foot design studio in Carrollton. Bhandari creates about 300 bridal dresses per year, with brides from all over the country flying in to have their dresses custom-designed. In 2005, she also added printed tunics, ponchos, and other dresses to her offerings, and some 500 stores around the country began selling Silk Threads clothing.
American-Born, Punjabi Influenced
Bhandari, 49, describes herself as an “American girl with brown skin.” She was born in New York and grew up in Austin. But her parents’ Indian influence certainly shaped her style and eye for design.
She counts her mother as her greatest mentor, for her ability to develop a career in the beauty field after immigrating to America, despite not knowing the English language, and for her commitment to learning whatever she needed in order to succeed. “She’s the type of person who can become the star of everything she touches, and I was so lucky to grow up watching her,” Bhandari says.
Turning a hobby into a thriving fashion business is impressive, but equally impressive is how Bhandari has learned to adjust to changing business environments through the years. In 2018, with a lot of mom-and-pop stores who carried the Silk Threads line closing down, she began to focus more on bridal wear, exclusively. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, she has made some other changes to her business. For one, Silk Threads now makes designer masks, too.
Time literally stopped for a lot of us during the lockdown. I used that as an opportunity to brush up on things I never had the time to do.
During the lockdown, Bhandari began sharing insights about health, wellness, beauty, and fashion through her Facebook and Instagram pages and started a weekly podcast called “Design Your Life” to connect with her audiences. Bridal wear requests have stayed consistent this year, but being more active on social media has helped her pinpoint more opportunities in areas of overall beauty and lifestyle. In the future, Bhandari sees Silk Threads evolving into global lifestyle enterprise.
“Time literally stopped for a lot of us during the lockdown. I used that as an opportunity to brush up on things I never had the time to do,” she says. “In a lot of ways our business has gone through a 180-degree change…I didn’t even know how to work Instagram two months ago.”
Bhandari offers some advice for today’s entrepreneurs: “Really look inside yourself and find out what your hidden talents are. Use social media to test and evaluate those hidden talents. Those talents will help you to become an entrepreneur. It’s something you’ll need because a lot of jobs may be going away.”