Rancho Santa Fe resident’s Tolani Collection of women’s wear worn by celebrities, sold around world

By Diane Y. Welch

From its humble beginnings as a business run out of a modest guest room to its current stature as a global company with operations in a 15,000-sq.-ft. warehouse, the Tolani Collection has exploded in just seven years.

Founded by Rancho Santa Fe resident — and mother of two — Alka Tolani, the collection, comprising her signature vibrant silk garments and accessories, has risen rapidly in the highly competitive mainstream market and is a leader in the ready-to-wear wholesale fashion industry.

What started as a cottage industry by Tolani – the creative and energetic powerhouse behind the designs – is now an entire line of women’s wear. Tolani’s clothing includes tunics, skirts, shorts, jump suits, dresses, jackets and more – from petite to plus sizes to maternity and everything in between.

Made from top-grade, high-density, washable silk, each garment has unique colors that pop, intricate patterns, and a feminine cut, said Tolani. “It looks and feels amazing and makes a woman look great,” she added.

Tolani has come a long way since her days as a school room mom and an avid PTA member who initially sold Tolani silk scarves — an introductory product that aided the learning curve — to benefit local charities. Her business took a pivotal shift when movie star Jessica Alba was photographed wearing a Tolani scarf to an LA Lakers game. That brought coverage in popular fashion magazines and helped make other Hollywood A-list stars take notice. Today Tolani designs are worn by more than 100 celebrities.

With that popularity came an increase in demand and now the entire Tolani family is on board with the day-to-day running of what has become House of Tolani. Raj, Tolani’s husband, a scientist who creates software companies, is in charge of all logistics operations; son, Vijay, helps in the warehouse with administration and packing; and Aishya, recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in art, and marketing and communications, helps with designing and trade shows.

Born and raised in India, Alka Tolani has been in the USA since she was 22. Her business strengthens her ties to India where production takes place. With a background in art and economics, Tolani has the ideal balance of creative and analytical skills to make her business successful.

The company has over six different showrooms in the U.S. and the lines are sold in Italy, Spain, Australia, Germany, Canada, Japan, and soon in Sweden, Finland and France. On her team, Tolani has three technical designers who take her ideas and perfect them. She also connects with fashion editors and industry insiders, and listens and learns from them. In response, details are adapted and edited. “We are constantly adding and subtracting until the last minute when the product line is complete. It’s a beautiful process,” Tolani said.

Adding to the popularity of the collection is its uniqueness and its affordable price point.

“We saw that there was a deficit in the mainstream market and our product filled that deficit,” said Tolani.

The lines are carried by many top-rated fashion boutiques and well-known stores. Tolani supplies to Bergdorf Goodman, Kitson, Madison, Fred Segal, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Ave, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom and more.

“We supply to most of the shops where Hollywood celebrities shop,” said Tolani.

Already working on designs for fall of 2013, Tolani shared that a new line will be introduced that departs from the jazzy patterns that have helped shape the Tolani brand. It will be manufactured from muted tones of plaid cotton flannel and twill. Jackets made with leather accents will be another new addition. With a more contemporary, edgy look, it’s a line that will appeal to the younger market, and one that she hopes Aishya, who has studied fashion at London’s Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, and Parsons’ the New school for Design, will be more involved with, said Tolani.

It takes a creative mind, great motivation and a positive attitude to put a fashion business together, added Tolani, who said that she is still learning. When asked what’s ahead, Tolani was quick to respond, “I want to take it public, I want to have more distributors covering all the world. I love the nuts and the bolts of the business, it’s so exciting, it’s beautiful.”

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