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How south Asia’s bridal industry built a WhatsApp empire | India

Once a year, between December and February, brides-to-be and their families from all over the the US and Europe flock to India and Pakistan to escape the cold, wintry weather, visit family and, perhaps most importantly, shop for wedding outfits.

Designers and retailers prepare for the influx of non-residential Indians, or NRIs, by setting up sales, pop-up events or previews of their upcoming lines of lehenga cholis, anarkali and saris.

But the pandemic has slowed down NRI season, with surges in infections and limitations on travel making it hard for parents of soon-to-be brides and grooms to make the long journey to cities such as Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi or Gujarat.

In response, many retailers have moved a growing part of their businesses online, increasingly turning to two platforms to facilitate the close collaboration between designer and customer that is often required to complete a purchase of a single dress: Instagram and WhatsApp.


Click through many major Indian dress stores’ websites these days and you’ll find a WhatsApp icon on the corner of the page. Want to customize a specific product? Click on the link to start a WhatsApp chat with the store.

With 2 billion users around the globe, WhatsApp for years has been ubiquitous in many parts of the world, though Americans have been slower to adopt the messaging platform as a primary means of communication. Even among second-generation South Asian Americans, WhatsApp is often seen as the platform on which their mothers and aunties receive and spread misinformation and chain mail.

The pandemic has expedited the adoption of WhatsApp as a place to not just communicate but to coordinate expensive and personally significant purchases among South Asian diasporas. While Instagram serves largely as a discovery platform for retailers, WhatsApp has been where customers and store owners communicate.

A shot of a recent Papa Don’t Preach campaign. A woman is wearing a lavender sari with gold embellishments and is surrounded by beach balls with the evil eye  printed on them.
Papa Don’t Preach is known for bold colors. Photograph: Papa Don’t Preach

Shubika Davda’s label Papa Don’t Preach, known for its bold colors and modern takes on the lehenga choli and other traditional attire, was one of the first to start as an e-commerce brand back in 2011, according to Davda.

Davda is introverted and she was looking for a way to launch a brand without having to interact too much with clients in person. “It would drain me,” she said. “Because with Indians, especially when you’re getting a customized outfit, one meeting can take up to three and a half hours with the entire family.”

She launched Papa Don’t Preach on Instagram, using her account as a medium to tell her company’s story without input from fashion critics and without needing to wait until fashion weeks to showcase her lines. “I finally felt like I was taking the power back in my own hands,” she said.

But she quickly learned that customers needed a means to instantly communicate with the store. “No matter how much information you put on the website and however accessible your phone lines are, people want to converse with you, especially if they’re buying an expensive outfit, especially if it’s made to measure,” she said. So in 2018, the company integrated WhatsApp on to its platform. Since then, the brand has received 50 new inquiries a day. Each inquiry can span several days before the client purchases the dress.

Davda, like many other retailers, uses a WhatsApp business account, sharing catalogs on a contact page and products via the app’s “stories” function. The brand also uses WhatsApp to walk clients through the clothes over video chat and discuss the fit. Clients often respond to pictures the brand sends with a screenshot the company can mark up directly on the platform. Davda has one person dedicated to answering WhatsApp messages and plans to add another to work the late shift in order to quickly respond to international clients.


When shopping for dresses, South Carolina-based Kena Patel never had many brick-and-mortar options. Like many in the South Asian diaspora, she relied on her dad to bring suitcases full of dresses back from his trips to India each year.

When it came time to buy outfits for her cousin’s wedding during the pandemic, Patel felt she had no choice but to shop remotely. She didn’t want to take any chances – her father connected her with a contact at a factory in India whose dress quality he knew and trusted. Still, shopping online for intricately designed, tailor-made lehengas that can cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars was a new experience. And early in the pandemic, not every shop was equipped to support international online sales.

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To show Patel her options from 8,500 miles away, a shop owner in India went through his racks item by item, Patel said, showing her several options at a time over a WhatsApp video call. Patel specified the “exact embroidery” she wanted and the shades she was looking for. It was almost like she was browsing the store herself, she recalled.

While coordinating sales over WhatsApp is not an entirely new process for India-based retailers, it took the pandemic for many to figure out the kinks. Shreen Khan, a Los Angeles-based journalist, said she had designed her wedding dress from a store in Hyderabad over WhatsApp in 2019. Similar to Patel’s, her family also knew the shopkeeper. Still, she wouldn’t have recommended the process to anyone, though she concedes that it may have improved over the years.

“There was time difference. There were language barriers, there were connectivity issues, and then it was also Ramadan,” Khan recalled. “So, your physical and mental capacity is different when you’re fasting and when the shopkeepers are, too.”

Khan, too, showed the shopkeeper different styles, embroideries and colors she wanted and the shopkeeper would send her pictures or video call her to show her fabrics and other options. But communicating over WhatsApp appeared to be a new concept for the store, making the barriers to understanding what exactly she was buying that much harder. Did the time of day influence the color of the fabrics in the photo? And how could she gauge the feel of a fabric over video?

Khan ended up being happy with how the dress turned out, but she said the color of the top had come out differently from what she expected. “It was still beautiful but I think that was one of the things that was lost with being in person and being able to physically select this exact fabric.”


To this day, many retailers are still figuring it out and some are more reliable than others. And unlike in the US, there is no comprehensive review culture where shoppers can see what other people’s experiences were with products, designers or retailers. Patel, who has been shopping via WhatsApp since the start of the pandemic, said she had seen it all.

“I feel like none of my experiences were just average,” Patel said. “They were either really good or really bad.”

Two and a half years in, Patel has gotten her online shopping experience down to a science. She doesn’t buy anything without a bit of sleuthing. She Googles each brand and even uses Google Lens, the company’s image recognition software, to determine if images of the clothes on some websites or their designs were lifted from elsewhere. She tests brands by buying cheaper items before investing in anything more expensive. “It’s a lot of experimentation,” she said.

“For boutiques in the US, you are likely to find something about them on any social media,” Patel said. “Whereas with these boutiques in India, you can’t find anything sometimes. So I’d much rather spend my money at somewhere I’ve already worked with.”

screenshot shows the indiaspopup.com website, with models posing and an ad saying “banarasi treasure tied with modern desires”
Indiaspopup.com is a Dallas-based retailer that distributes high-end Indian designers in the US and Europe. Photograph: Indiaspopup.com

Even for US-based brands serving South Asians, WhatsApp has at times become the preferred method of communication. Archana Yenna, the founder of Indiaspopup.com, a Dallas-based retailer that distributes high-end Indian designers throughout the US and Europe, said the company had decided to use WhatsApp after experimenting with several other customer relationship management platforms. “Trust me, the innovation really kind of sucks at this point,” Yenna said.

She said Instagram’s shopping option was not well-suited for Indian e-commerce because if the retailer does not ship the product within seven days, the customer gets a refund. Many of her orders can take eight weeks.

While transactions still occur on company websites, WhatsApp, unlike these other platforms, had several benefits, Yenna said. The chat history made it easy to pick up conversations with customers where they left off. It was also much easier to share large numbers of files and assets over WhatsApp than over Instagram or email. Group video calls enable the parents of the bride and groom, who in South Asian families often do the lion’s share of the shopping, to pull in their daughter or son on the call when they want their opinion.

In fact, Yenna said, she had found the fastest adopters of WhatsApp as a means to design and discuss purchasing clothes were parents of millennials who were already used to communicating with their own families and friends all over south Asia via WhatsApp. “Our market is expensive so you’re dealing with moms and aunts,” Yenna said. “These aunties and the clientele that we deal with, they’re very much used to WhatsApp and they love that. They’re not used to email. When we ask them to send any details to us on email, that’s alien to them.”

There are hurdles, too. WhatsApp is still limited in how it works with bigger brands. Yenna said it was not easy for customers to sift through her company’s massive catalogs of clothing. It’s not possible for multiple staffers to serve the same number. WhatsApp also still does not enable transactions on the platform, though a company spokesperson, Adam Landres-Schnur, said that was in the works.

“WhatsApp is definitely a powerful platform for customer service,” Yenna said. “Not for e-commerce.”



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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.


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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.


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Aviation and Telecom Industries Reach Compromise on 5G Deployment

The Voice Of EU | In a significant development, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest mobile network operators in the United States, have agreed to delay the deployment of 5G services following requests from the aviation industry and the Biden administration. This decision marks a crucial compromise in the long-standing dispute between the two industries, which had raised concerns over the potential interference of 5G with flight signals.
The aviation industry, led by United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, had been vocal about the risks of 5G deployment, citing concerns over the safety of flight operations. Kirby had urged AT&T and Verizon to delay their plans, warning that proceeding with the deployment would be a “catastrophic failure of government.” The US Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue further highlighted the need for a solution.
In response, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) head Steve Dickson sent a letter to the mobile networks, requesting a two-week delay to reassess the potential risks. Initially, AT&T and Verizon were hesitant, citing the aviation industry’s two-year preparation window. However, they eventually agreed to the short delay, pushing the deployment to January 19.
The crux of the issue lies in the potential interference between 5G signals and flight equipment, particularly radar altimeters. The C-Band spectrum used by 5G networks is close to the frequencies employed by these critical safety devices. The FAA requires accurate and reliable radar altimeters to ensure safe flight operations.

Airlines in the US have been at loggerheads with mobile networks over the deployment of 5G and its potential impact on flight safety.

Despite the concerns, both the FAA and the telecoms industry agree that 5G mobile networks and airline travel can coexist safely. In fact, they already do in nearly 40 countries where US airlines operate regularly. The key lies in reducing power levels around airports and fostering cross-industry collaboration prior to deployment.
The FAA has been working to find a solution in the United States, and the additional two-week delay will allow for further assessment and preparation. AT&T and Verizon have also agreed to not operate 5G base stations along runways for six months, similar to restrictions imposed in France.
President Joe Biden hailed the decision to delay as “a significant step in the right direction.” The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and South Korea have also reported no unsafe interference with radio waves since the deployment of 5G in their regions.
As the aviation and telecom industries continue to work together, it is clear that safe coexistence is possible. The delay in 5G deployment is a crucial step towards finding a solution that prioritizes both safety and innovation. With ongoing collaboration and technical assessments, the United States can join the growing list of countries where 5G and airlines coexist without issue.

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