MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Maplewood is 7,793 miles away from Mumbai, India, but Kimaya Salaskar has not let that stop her from stocking her storefront on Maplewood Avenue with clothing, jewelry and other items that come from her native country. Kimaya Kama, Salaskar’s store in Maplewood, specializes in clothing that ranges from workout gear to cocktail dresses to Indian tunics — most of which is designed and shipped from India.
Salaskar and her husband, Manoj Thakrar, moved to South Orange in 2009, and opened the store there in 2012. After outgrowing the space, she moved the business to Maplewood in 2015, and has been inviting customers to the Maplewood Avenue space ever since.
In addition to the clothing, Salaskar stocks jewelry and accessories, some of which is made by smaller manufacturers in the United States and some of which comes from Bali and Turkey. Much of what customers can find in the store is hand-picked by Salaskar, who travels to India once or twice a year to restock.
“It’s all stuff that I love myself,” she said in an interview with the News-Record on April 20. “I go to India and choose the fabric and embroidery and have them made.”
Salaskar said that she opened the store because she would often be asked where she got her clothes. She would seldom find the Indian-style tunics in New Jersey, so she decided to bring them here herself.
“My family is still there,” she said about the process of shipping products to Maplewood from India and other places she travels. “My mom and sister-in-law help on the back end. I can never get the same thing twice, because I have everything shipped.”
The fabric for the clothes and the embroidery that is found on much of it is chosen by Salaskar and her family in India. Because her trips only happen a few times a year, the clothes she ships back to her store are limited to that time frame. If there are only five patterns or colors of a tunic when a customer goes to the store, those are the only five there are. Once they are all sold, Salaskar finds something new to sell.
“I don’t want everyone wearing the same thing, especially in a small town,” she said. “It’s a unique item and once it’s gone, we get something else.”
The store’s stock changes with the seasons like any store in the mall would — in the spring and summer the colors are brighter and the fabric is thinner, and in the colder months they are lined with fleece for extra warmth.
“I see the different styles that come up there as well,” she said about finding clothes she wants to sell in India. “But there are also some classic styles that you can wear for years and years. I try to get them from different places — jewelry is from Bali and the bags are from Turkey.”
Elephants are also a common theme found at Kimaya Kama. In India, they are a symbol of good luck and peace. Elephants adorn bags and jewelry that are sold in the store, and Salaskar said that the elephants are a popular gift for customers to buy.
Salaskar started her business in South Orange and still lives there, and has felt the same support in Maplewood as she did when she was a store owner in the neighboring town. That’s partially helped by the fact that South Orange and Maplewood do so much together, she said.
“Everyone does come in to support local businesses, and that’s really the only way we can survive,” Salaskar said. “And we do other events as well.”
Kimaya Kama hosts events at the store, like the one that will be held on May 3, “Samosas and Mimosas.” The store will welcome representatives from Mahashakti, a nonprofit based in Bhopal, India, that works with women who were affected by the Union Carbide gas leak in 1984. Proceeds from the store will go to the Kimaya Kama Scholarship for Computer Literacy, which helps Mahashakti women learn how to use computers.
Kimaya Kama also stocks silk scarves, and for every one sold, another is donated to St. Barnabas Medical Center for people going through cancer treatment. Salaskar herself is a survivor of breast cancer, and said that she remembers how touching it was when someone would do something similar for her.
The store is ever-changing — Salaskar said that it is different every time a customer returns.
“I can keep changing it every two or three weeks,” she said. “And people can always come in to see what the new things are.”
Photos Courtesy of Kimaya Salaskar