After quietly gaining ground at retail for the past two-and-a-half years, Sachin + Babi has refreshed its branding, launched tote bags and will open its first concept shop this fall.

This story first appeared in the June 15, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Rather than pursue the celebrity dressing route, company founders Sachin and Babi Ahluwalia are focused on their loyal following, many of whom are balancing work, family and social commitments. To get a better read on just what those customers need, the husband-and-wife team, who have two children of their own, are doing more in-store appearances. With plans to visit about 22 stores this fall compared with eight last fall, the pair will also open the first Sachin + Babi concept shop at Stanley Korshak in September.

“We met a mother recently who told us she only wears our clothes. To me, that’s much more important than J.Lo wearing one of our dresses,” Sachin Ahluwalia said. “We want to get these clothes on our customers’ backs but they have to fit her personality and her lifestyle.”

The pair, who first met while students at the Fashion Institute of Technology, have been well-entrenched in the fashion industry. In 1996, they launched Ank International, an embroidery house that caters to designers such as Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera and Derek Lam. “The year we finished school we took a loan from our folks to start the business. They said, ‘OK, you have 16 months to make this work,’” Babi Ahluwalia said.

They did just that and through Ank, which still exists today, they learned the ins and outs of the fashion industry from the ground up. The duo also developed their own design aesthetic and determined there was a need for well-designed contemporary sportswear with what they described as slightly more democratic price points. The Sachin + Badi label wholesales from $125 for silk pants to $490 for a rabbit-trimmed Italian knit jacket. The collection is carried at 175 stores including Bergdorf Goodman, a new account. The Ahluwalias aim to sell to 225 stores this year.

“The collection represents everything we had learned over the years. It was designed for women who didn’t necessarily want to spend $1,600 on a dress,” Sachin Ahluwalia said. “We learned the craft. It really helped paying our dues.”

Dresses and blouses are top sellers with city dwellers and suburbanites. Having recently made personal appearances at Neiman Marcus, Babi Ahluwalia said, “We have found that many customers in the suburbs don’t want to just be in tunics and little capris. They have a real sense of style. Today women are so well-educated from all the blogs, sites and outlets for fashion.”

Sachin + Babi is carried in Dubai and Japan but the U.S. market remains the brand’s focus for further growth. Made primarily of European fabrics, the collection is produced in Asia and Mumbai, India. For resort, logos, hangtags and other branding material were streamlined for a cleaner feel, thanks partially to Richard Kirshenbaum, a friend of the couple who has long been “a great sounding board” for ideas. The more minimalist image is more in synch with Rag & Bone, Phillip Lim and other understated contemporary labels. Sachin + Babi plans to delve into e-commerce next year.

Needless to say with all that is going on with their business, the Ahluwalias, who grew up in India, have no plans to return. “I found everything in the States. I found myself, I found Babi, my children were born here,” Sachin Ahluwalia said. “I love India, but every time I fly back through JFK and drive through the tunnel, it is so great to see the city and to be back.”

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