With a deep love of fashion and a keen eye for design, Alka Tolani began designing silk scarves as a hobby while her two children were in high school about 12 years ago. The Rancho Santa Fe resident was very active in fundraising and was part of the Rancho Santa Fe Unit of Rady Children’s Hospital Auxiliary. Enthusiastic about helping the community, Alka brought her first designs to a charity event for Rady Children’s Hospital.
She said the scarves were very well received and greatly helped the charity. She continued to work with several more charities, combining her passion for the community and love for designing. Several friends encouraged her to consider selling her unique pieces to the wholesale California market. She agreed and began making scarves for Kitson, a high-end retailer in Los Angeles that now only sells its products online.
“At that time, Kitson was the place to be for celebrities,” said Alka. “When Jessica Alba wore one of the products at a Los Angeles Lakers basketball game in 2008, our phones wouldn’t stop ringing. That set the platform for the Tolani brand.” The photograph was included in several fashion publications and brought national and international recognition to the brand.
Boutique buyers began reaching out to Alka for her designs and she said that it inspired her to establish her own company, Tolani Collection, after her family name.
Her part-time hobby soon became a full-time business. She and her husband, Raj, a scientist with a background in engineering, own and manage the company. Their daughter, Aishya, is the brand manager.
Tolani now offers an accessory and clothing line that incorporates modernity and tradition. Inspired by global cultures, Alka said that native design elements are incorporated into the contemporary ready-to-wear clothing line and each of the eye-catching prints is one-of-a-kind. More than 50 celebrities have been seen wearing Tolani clothing, including Kim Kardashian, Halle Berry, Nicky Hilton, Nicole Richie, Hilary Duff, Selena Gomez and many others.
The products are sold under three different brands and include blouses, pants, skirts and dresses, as well as accessories such as kimonos, capes and scarves. Tolani clothing is made of silk and sold in high-end department stores such as Neiman Marcus, Anthropologie, Revolve, Zappos and specialty stores all over the world. It is also being sold to distributors internationally in Australia, Italy, Germany and Spain.
The fashion designer said that she often sees her clothing being worn while she is traveling. “It feels really good to watch someone wear your brand and they are walking right next to you,” she said.
Her daughter Aishya, a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and Parson’s School of Design in New York, orchestrates the photo shoots for the Tolani brand. “It’s a big production for us,” said Alka. “We have our makeup artists, hair stylists, photographers and models.”
“You can identify a Tolani from a distance,” said Alka. “You will not miss it because it is so distinct in design and drenched in color when it comes to silk. We’re known for our prints.”
As creative director, Alka travels extensively, about six months a year, and is exposed to a variety of culture that she incorporates into the designs. “I get my inspiration from music, architecture, art or landscape,” she said. “I am taking the elements from these different aspects of life and translating it into everyday wear for women.”
The Tolanis set up a Computer Aided Design (CAD) studio overseas in India where the designs are created digitally. “We have over two dozen CAD artists so our prints are created from scratch,” said Alka, who provides input on more than 50 designs daily. “Every single print we make is one-of-a-kind and tailored to flatter a woman’s body.”
After the designs are created, they are printed digitally on silk. Alka and Raj also opened a warehouse in North San Diego County, which includes a design studio.
The company is currently creating a new brand that focuses on velvets as well as embroideries on tencel, an environmentally-friendly fabric that Alka said feels soft like denim and hangs like silk. It is scheduled to be introduced in the next few months.
“Passion is so critical when you create something,” said Alka. “There is no limit to growth if you are dedicated and if you are hard-working and if you have a vision. That’s what you need to have — a vision. The sky is the limit. You have to be thinking beyond your box.”
For more information about Tolani, visit www.tolanicollection.com.