We’ve all been there. An upcoming big, fat Indian wedding and you’re racking your brains to figure out what to wear. A quick peek in your closet and you realize that last year’s lehenga is already out of style and that saree blouse doesn’t quite fit the way it used to. So, what’s a girl to do? Shop, of course. You brave it out and head to the east or west ends of the city in search of something new and shiny. You spend hours sifting through stacks of beautiful sarees and racks of gorgeous lehengas, inevitably spending way too much money on an outfit you know you’ll only wear once.
But what if you didn’t have to? What if you could wear a stunning lehenga at your next event without breaking the bank?
When Sonny found herself trekking to the ends of the city trying to find the perfect lehenga for yet another South Asian wedding, she knew there had to be a better way. It wasn’t just the inconvenience of shopping, but also the sticker shock of some of the high-end outfits that she’d wear once or twice at most—it was just too expensive. Driven to find a solution to a problem faced by so many fashion lovers, Sonny launched MeeraMeera Rental Boutique.
While this is her first venture into South Asian fashion, Sonny is no stranger to entrepreneurship. Sonny started her own consulting firm as an accountant nearly a decade ago. Through the years, she’s learned a thing or two about building a successful business. This past May, MeeraMeera opened its doors, aiming to help women across the Greater Toronto Area look and feel their best without breaking the bank.
And, she’s done just that. In a mere five months, MeeraMeera has already partnered with local jewelry designers and event planners, styled dozens of women (whom she affectionately refers to as “M|M girls”) and has even been featured on local television networks such as CP24.
MeeraMeera customers wear their M|M girl badge with pride while sharing their experiences. “Sonny was so helpful and gave us her honest opinion when we tried the outfits on. If something didn’t look good she would tell us. She was very genuine. You could tell she cared more about how we looked and felt in the outfit over making the sale,” Naa Merley, a recent customer, shares over Instagram.
The boutique, located north of Toronto, is filled with natural light, perfectly showcasing MeeraMeera’s stunning lehenga collection. As beautiful as the collection looks on the website, the pieces are just drop-dead, inexplicably gorgeous in real life. I was fortunate enough to interview Sonny about her experience launching MeeraMeera and about being a female entrepreneur in a space that seems relatively untouched for decades.
What is MeeraMeera?
MeeraMeera Rental Studios is a Canadian-based, woman-founded company in the business of renting South Asian formal wear for all of life’s special events. The rental revolution that has benefited so many other sectors is starting to gain traction in the apparel industry creating a win-win for our wallets and the environment. Renting allows us as women to look our best without having to splurge on one-wear pieces, and to consciously consume less without sacrificing personal style.
Tell us a little bit about what brought you here and what inspired you to launch MeeraMeera.
The idea for MeeraMeera came from my own personal experiences of desperately trying to find the perfect outfit for various South Asian events. I often found myself running all around the city through the chaos and clutter typical of South Asian retail stores, and spending a lot more than I was comfortable with for an outfit I knew might only be worn once. I realized there needed to be a service where women like myself can access high-end pieces for a low-end price and support sustainable fashion all the while.
In the end, whether it’s helping my clients with their financial statements or helping a bride look her best for her big day, clients are clients and I’m in the business of making clients happy, every time.
Walk us through the MeeraMeera process. After we’ve fallen in love with one of the stunning pieces shown on your website, what happens next?
The process from there is very easy:
Come visit our studio in Vaughan and try on different options to see which outfit you love most. (Alternatively, you can give us your measurements over the phone as well.)
Reserve your favourite outfit for the dates you need by signing a rental agreement and submitting payment via Square with any major credit card. (Online bookings coming soon!)
Just before your event, pick up your outfit or have it shipped to you. Keep it for four days (wear it twice if you have two events in one weekend!)
Enjoy your event knowing you’re looking and feeling your best
Return the outfit on the 4th day before 6 p.m. We take care of the dry cleaning
It’s that easy.
How do you deal with custom sizing, particularly of blouses?
Our goal is for every client to look their very best. For blouses, we are happy to make any alterations possible including taking them in, adding a lace-up option to the back, adding or removing sleeves, taking out the built-in cups, and so on. We also offer solid sequin blouses as an alternative that can be mixed and matched and in future will offer more such transitional pieces.
Tell us about MeeraMeera’s Lend-A-Lehenga campaign and your role in supporting sustainable fashion.
In the world of fast fashion, we know that many women in the South Asian community have amassed large collections of outfits that they cannot or do not want to wear again. Unfortunately, the clothes you donate don’t always end up in the hands who need them – or to anyone at all. In fact, it’s been reported that over 80 percent of unwanted garments make their way to landfills and incinerators instead. In the spirit of being environmentally conscious, I introduced a lend-a-lehenga campaign so women could share their outfits as a donation or in exchange for a free rental and be sure that their garments are in fact being reused. Thank you to those that showed interest in this campaign, we hope to run it again in the near future.
High-end South Asian designer wear rental boutiques are ubiquitous in India, London, and in many big cities in the US. Why do you think there are so few options here in the Greater Toronto Area?
Yes, there are certainly some larger markets that have successfully adopted this idea and joined rental revolution, and their success is inspiring to me. From a business perspective, the rental business is a low margin, high volume game that larger markets can support more easily. Also, new ideas take longer to be adopted in smaller markets like Canada but we believe the large South Asian population could benefit from a service like this.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting MeeraMeera?
I’ve learned that you can’t be everything to everybody right out of the gate. It took deliberate restraint for me to take the ‘slow and steady’ approach in an effort to build a business with a strong foundation that’s anchored in long-term development and stable growth. I decided to centre the focus around lehengas and then work towards building a plan for expanding into other product lines over time. It’s hard to keep this discipline when the demand is there and customers are asking for sarees, suits, salwar kameezes, sherwanis, kids clothing, and the list goes on. It’s hard to say no, but I realized that it’s important to stay focused on the initial offering and on delivering exceptional service to customers, and build on this foundation, one step at a time.
Female entrepreneurship has increased tremendously over the last 20 years, but women business owners are faced with a variety of challenges, primarily around securing funding, mentorship, and support system. What are some of the challenges you have experienced as a female entrepreneur?
For me, entrepreneurship began almost a decade ago when I started my own consulting firm as an accountant. Having worked for many years at a large accounting firm under the leadership of talented women and men, I had the opportunity to start building a strong professional support system. I am so grateful to all of those early day sponsors who willingly referred me to their clients when I was just getting started. I still rely on this professional network to continue doing what I love. In a country like Canada, I believe to this day, that despite being an immigrant, and despite being a female, that hard work, dedication and a positive attitude are rewarded every time. These experiences have carried me through to my new venture, MeeraMeera. To me, the challenge of entrepreneurship is doing the homework and then taking the leap all in the hopes as they say of luck favouring the brave.
The expansion of digital content across radio, television and the internet has allowed audiences to engage with media rapidly. As technology advances, the entertainment industry has grown exponentially and people have a wealth of information at their fingertips in the blink of an eye. Since high school, Deepa Prashad was fascinated by this power of media and aspired to be an on-air personality who could interact with viewers through creative content whilst representing her Indo Caribbean heritage. After navigating the competitiveness of Canadian broadcast hosting for seven years, Prashad continues to push herself into various modalities of media and add to her growing successes, while championing others to share their own authentic content.
Self-confidence and the desire to show a different perspective on entertainment prompted Prashad to be interested in broadcasting. While initially nervous about her family’s reaction to a nontraditional career path for Indo Caribbean women, Prashad received her parents’ full support and became the first person in her family to study broadcasting at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.
She began applying for television-hosting positions in her first year despite not having any experience or a finished degree, affirming, “I totally believed in myself and my capabilities.”
In an interview with Prashad, we delve into her career path, diverse representation in media and her courage to create and promote content that reflects her individuality.
How did you begin your career in hosting and digital content production?
The kids channel I watched growing up, The Family Channel, was doing a nationwide casting call for their new TV host. The host would host interstitials between shows, digital series, and do TV show and movie interviews. I didn’t have an agent at the time so I applied on my own. I was called in for my first audition ever and it was quite shocking. A room full of 10 to 15 people just observing me as I delivered lines and did mock interviews for fake shows. Two months later, I was officially cast as the host of The Family Channel!
While ecstatic about her first job, Prashad was met with racism. She stated,
Someone else, who applied for the position, made it a point to come up to me in person to say that they hoped I knew the only reason I got the job was because I was brown and the company obviously just needed to fill a quota.
Brushing the words aside, she continued hosting on The Family Channel for five years. She has also worked as an entertainment and food reporter on Canadian shows, Breakfast Television and Cityline. By advocating for herself as capable, personable and multifaceted, she did not shy away from new opportunities to advance her career and showcased herself as a leader who could resonate with broad audiences.
Wanting to explore new horizons, Prashad approached the social media company blogTO and pitched herself to be their first full-time video host focusing on Toronto food hotspots. After being hired, she visited multiple restaurants daily to host, film and edit her own content and curated personalized food videos for viewers to immerse themselves in. Prashad later forayed into the world of radio, one she never thought she would join but quickly fell in love with. She was most recently the first female voice on Toronto’s KISS 92.5 channels, The Roz and Mocha Show. Prashad enjoyed the greater flexibility of being on the radio compared to television and video hosting,
All I had to present was me. It became such a personal experience for me getting on that mic, sharing stories with listeners about the way I was raised, coming from a Guyanese household, being part of an (interfaiths marriage), [etc…] That created an incredibly strong bond between myself, our listeners and our friends that I’m so grateful for.
Tell us about your current position.
“I’m moving onto new adventures now and adding sports reporting under my belt. I will be joining BarDown | TSN to cover Formula 1, this includes doing content for TSN in the digital and TV space. I’ve never dabbled in the world of sports, so this is going to be an interesting new road for me.”
What topics are you most passionate about when creating digital content and why?
Food has to be my number one passion when it comes to digital content. Obviously I love eating and trying new things, but food is such a universal language. It connects people, it excites people and often teaches people about different cultures. I love to see how that content can generate conversations and I love to see when people admit they’ve never tried that particular food or cuisine, but added it to their list.
I also love creating Formula 1 content because Formula 1 is a massive passion of mine! I currently Twitch stream playing the Formula 1 video game F1 22. I’ve been on a pursuit to continuously learn more about the sport and to even get better at the game, because let’s be real, I’m terrible at it but I’m also OK with that!
Prashad is not immune to online mockery and negative comments about her work. When making the switch to Formula 1, she was ridiculed by some male viewers over her love of the sport and was inundated with comments like “Go back to the dishes” or “Go do laundry where you belong.” Antiquated and sexist notions about being a working woman in the media led to her looks being graded; there were comments regarding her extroverted personality and rampant discussions over her weight. There was a moment in her career where Prashad admits,
I actually wanted to make changes to myself — try to be a little less outgoing, not be so loud, change my hosting style from this incredibly bubbly style to a more laid back informative take.
Drawing on her self-belief, she soon realized that, “This doesn’t work for me. I began to appreciate all my quirks.”
Is there an area of hosting or content production that you believe you’re better at?
I really love to host digital content in particular because there’s a certain freedom that comes with it. I don’t always have to be prim and proper like sometimes I do need to do for TV. I can be me — loud, goofy, and incredibly dorky. I never want to have two different personas — one for the public eye, and then a private. On social media, what you see is exactly what you get. Digital content has allowed me to love myself even more.
Prashad plans to continue in the industry for the foreseeable future. She recognizes the impact of being an Indo Caribbean woman at the forefront of media and defines her success as “…I can continue to represent my culture and how I make others feel.” Her best moments are connecting with others through their lived experiences and offering a different lens on growing up in Canada.
How did you feel breaking into the industry as a woman of color?
What a great feeling that was, and even better, being an Indo Caribbean woman. I went through my fair share of hardships. I’ve faced racism, sexism and bullying throughout my journey of getting to where I am today. But, I have stood up for myself every single time. I will never allow myself to be walked all over. And believe me, people have attempted MANY times. But I pick myself back up and continue along my way.
I think it really hit me that I was making an impact when I started to hear from people how much they related to my childhood stories, the way I was brought up, the movies I watched as a kid. It’s those moments that made me realize I accomplished my goal.
How has your background influenced your interest in hosting and digital content production?
I never saw people like me in the media growing up. I always wanted to change that. I didn’t feel that I had anyone I could personally connect with when I watched TV. And to me that was always so mind blowing because the media, although so broad, is such a personal industry.
I have always been proud to say on air that I’m a Guyanese woman. I have made it a point to fight for more Caribbean content on air. I’ve made it a point to share stories about my family, where they came from, and even the experiences I’ve had growing up in a Guyanese family. Promoting Caribbean culture in general has always been important to me. And progress has been made! At my previous radio job, I pushed incredibly hard to start interviewing Caribbean artists and to highlight them. I had the opportunity to interview artists like Sean Paul, Kes and Konshensand those interviews aired nationally which was massive.
Prashad often infuses cultural content into her work by showcasing Indian and Caribbean food, offering Bollywood movie recommendations, detailing her trips to Guyana, talking about new music and sharing information about Caribbean events in Toronto. She does not believe that cultural content needs to be pared down for the masses but instead advocates for aspiring Indo Caribbean creators to keep releasing diverse and authentic content that is representative of themselves.
She notes that the Indo Caribbean experience is not a monolith and that,
We need more representation! What feels most authentic to you can be vastly different from other content creators. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way of creating content, but the best version of content you’re going to create is when you’re being true to who you are, and having fun.
At only 27 years old, Prashad’s journey has taken her across multiple forms of media. From interviewing Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities to hosting various television shows and being an online and radio voice, she continues to explore different mediums as a means of storytelling and connection. Hardships were plenty during Prashad’s rise to fame, but a steady belief in herself and a willingness to take on new endeavors with authenticity have provided her the grit to overcome challenges.
Prashad is eagerly awaiting to leap into her next digital venture and is actively commending more Indo Caribbean content creators to step into the spotlight with their own personal stories.