Kastubh Varma vardama
by Brian Lipton
Kastubh Varma vardama
Kaustubh Varma

In 2014, Jorge Vega Umana and Kaustubh Varma founded Vardama, a company dedicated to the idea that technology-infused, stain-resistant garments are better than conventional fabric garments. And so far, they’ve been proven right, as their shirts – the line also includes suit and ties – can now be found in 16 Bloomingdale’s stores across the nation, with major expansion slated for next year.  MR recently spoke with Varma about the past, present, and future of this unusual company.

Q: What was your background before starting Vardama in 2014?

A: I come from a finance background in the medical device industry. I’ve always loved the challenge; to go beyond perceived limits, to be a better team player, to work harder, smarter; to build a successful business, to be the change we want to see in the world.

Q: Was there a personal reason you wanted to develop a stain-resistant shirt?

A: I have been driven since an early age to improve things, make improvements to not only my own way of life, but to the functionality of our way of life. My inspiration to develop a purposeful change within the fashion industry rooted when a reoccurring void befell to me within the fashion industry. Nobody was redesigning the fabric.  Now, I am a guy who cares about fashion, but would not consider myself a style icon by far. I shop for quality, longevity and style. So, I asked myself what features would be most desirable in the clothing I buy. Quality, design, comfort, sustainability and simplicity of wear all came to mind, but I could not think of any single brand or company that has done all of the above in a garment to its fullest potential, yet. There’s always room to grow and become better, Equa-Tek™ allowed me the challenge of incorporating an extremely useful functionality into a desired fashion brand with and resonate with consumers.

Q: Can you tell me a bit more about the process that led to the development of Equa-tek?

A: Finding the precise formula and team to accompany me through this journey took a lot longer and a lot more patience from me than I could have ever anticipated. In the right time at the right place, I merged my findings with Jorge, our designer and co-founder of Vardama, who was able to express my concepts through design to speak to the fashion world. 

vardamaQ: Can you talk about consumer reaction to the shirt so far?

A: The consumer reaction to our process has been amazing. Consumers who experience the craftsmanship of our products all have one thing in common; curiosity. And to date we have had no online returns, just exchanges. We have reached our standing as a top five men’s shirt brands at the Bloomingdale’s flagship store on 59th street since our debut less than six months ago. Also, we stand behind our quality and accept returns for 365 days, which adds to the confidence of the consumer.

Q: Your shirts don’t use standard dress-shirt sizes? Has that been a problem?

A. No. We utilize S-XXL sizing, which millennials seem to prefer due to its simplicity. When we first launched in Bloomingdale’s this was a concern, but dissipated quickly as even baby boomers reacted positively to the easy sizing.

Q: “Cause marketing” is very popular right now. Do you partner with any charities?

A: We have an ongoing partnership with the V Foundation for Cancer Research, where we donate 50 percent of the proceeds to the V Foundation for anyone that purchases using the code “Jimmy V” on our website.

Q: In terms of both collection and distribution, what are your plans for expansion – both immediate and long-term?

A: Our immediate plans are to launch in three additional national chains in 2017, as well as several high-end boutiques. The biggest challenge/advantage for us is product demonstration. We are working to figure out a model where it is feasible to place demonstrators in every store so consumers can get educated about the product. In some early tests, we found that 82 percent of the consumers that see a demo end up buying a shirt. Long term-we have some exciting products in the pipeline. We have upcoming collaborations with some of the biggest names in the industry across different verticals.

Q: At this point, how do you personally define Vardama?

A: We look at ourselves as the classics of tomorrow. We are not focused on selling an image or lifestyle like our competitors. Instead, we look at ourselves as solving a need. We are not using our technology as a marketing gimmick, and consumers see the utilitarian aspect of the technology.