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A celebration of exuberant hues and swirling patterns

  • Meghna Khanna’s love affair with an alternative sense of style started at a young age
  • Even after 16 years of running Levitate, Khanna curates and sources each product herself

Meghna Khanna started her store in Bengaluru almost two decades ago.
Meghna Khanna started her store in Bengaluru almost two decades ago.

It’s hardly news that independent clothing and accessories shops have systematically been swallowed up by large chains and branded wear behemoths that have colonized every last square footage of malls and high streets. If you’re one for celebrating the few precious and genuinely independent brick and mortar old timers, who are truly unique, steer your gaze to the legendary Levitate in Bengaluru. The devoted allegiance by regulars to Levitate, and owner Meghna Khanna, 40, is stuff fashion legends are made of. The reason? Khanna exemplifies “personal style" with such ease and self-confidence, that you’re encouraged to ditch the regular and come into your own style.

The genesis

Tucked on the first floor of a restaurant on 100 Feet road in Indiranagar, Bengaluru, the cosy Levitate store is a celebration of exuberant hues and swirling patterns, an irreverent ode to fashion decadence. Up-cycled vintage apparel, clothing from contemporary home-grown designers and apparel collections curated with singular pieces from villages and small towns in India pack every inch of the store. Tribal jewellery, leather bags, faux braids, curios, scarves and footwear fit the rest of the uninhibited fashion jigsaw. At Levitate, there’s no room for austere tastes.

Khanna’s love affair with an alternative sense of style started at a young age. With her father’s job as an Air Force officer, Khanna was exposed to a bevy of guests in and out of her home, each adorning different cultures in their clothing. The family had an opportunity to live in different towns across India, adding to the influence on her personal taste. After a short stint working at a research firm post her MBA from Pune, she set out to build her dream business at 24. “I started Levitate as a hole in the wall at the back of a restaurant called 93 in Bengaluru in December 2002. The idea was to fill in the blanks to what was available in the city. There had to be an alternative to expensive designer wear or cheaper Chinese apparel that was flooding the flea markets," reminisces Khanna.

Manage the business

Never the one to toe the line of convention, Khanna started sourcing clothing and accessories from different parts of India. It was a sourcing process like no other. She travelled herself to different parts of Karnataka, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and other states to handpick individual pieces. She personally met with independent designers, who shared her vision, and Levitate’s definitive boho style started shaping up. As an avid motorcyclist, Khanna has always been used to heading out often from the city. In fact, she was part of the first ever Himalayan Odyssey by REMC (Royal Enfield Motorcycle Company) to Khardung-La, the highest motorable pass in the world. Travel and sourcing products for Levitate goes hand in hand.

Even after 16 years of running Levitate, Khanna curates and sources each product herself. “I think, many women (and men) are relieved to find fashion rules squashed at the store. I’m met with such affection and surprise that there is no way but to keep the sourcing reins with me," says Khanna. “Besides a boutique store can only be run by a lean team. I take care of the sourcing, marketing, operations but have hired two girls, who manage sales at the store. They hold fort while I’m on the road."

Facing challenges

“I’m blessed to have an extremely patient and supportive partner who understands the grind of entrepreneurship. Despite his restaurant business and my shop, our children have taken in to our unstructured style pretty well. I’ve managed to travel with them even when they were as young as six months," says Khanna. The challenges, she points out, have come in the form of negotiating rent and space, finding the right sourcing partners and wearing many hats in a day to keep things rolling. “For example, I would have liked to have brought Levitate onto an online platform much sooner, but have only limped my way there last year. My regular customers who’ve moved away from Bengaluru missed the ease of picking something, and Whatsapp conversations wouldn’t entirely cut it. Hence, the move to online," says Khanna. Segueing from the store to an online platform hasn’t been easy as it means more work to upload, look at online sales and digital marketing, but it comes as a huge relief to Levitate loyalists.

“Levitate gives me artistic freedom to curate collections, a chance to showcase some of the elusive handicrafts of India and travel the country to look for new additions. This opportunity is unparalleled. My apathy towards a traditional job with little creative outlet makes this a dream job for me. And who wouldn’t want to live their dream?" signs off Khanna.

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