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Tamil Brothers Ruban And Mayan Rajendran Built Viral App Twelve70 To Help Men Dress Better
"Our motto from the beginning has been to create an educational destination so men can learn more about their options when it comes to presenting themselves without feeling like they are going through an intervention or make-over."
Ara Ehamparam
Co-founder & Podcast Host
Canada
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Mayan Rajendran is a menswear designer and a visiting lecturer at Cornell University with over a decade of experience in the fashion industry and his brother Ruban is a full stack developer, who together, came up with the vision for a "style calculator" to help men dress better by teaching them what to pair with various basic items of clothing.

I heard about you guys after I saw an article in Men’s Health talking about how your app went viral on Reddit.  Did you do anything on your part to make it viral or was it completely organic?  

We just posted it to Reddit to see if our theory around the human insight of “honey, what do I wear with this?” was in fact true. The rest was completely organic. We began to receive emails & messages from people all over the world thanking us for creating twelve70. Some were color-blind, others were curious about menswear - all of them simply wanted to learn more. 

Both of you spent 4+ years working on twelve70 - why are you so passionate about it?  How did you come up with the name?

The two of us have worked in the fashion industry in some capacity for almost a decade & we found how underrepresented the South Asian community is. Even as one of the fastest-growing demographics here in North America, it wasn't until recently that we became a targeted demographic. Working in the fashion industry here in New York, I often found myself being discredited due to my ethnicity. The irony is that so much inspiration for the West does in fact come from India when you look at our color palettes, fabrics, and styles - they resonate on so many different levels with people. Ruban and I knew that we had an understanding of fashion and colors early on. This was our way of helping others who may have issues with putting colors and outfits together. I have worked in retail, as a stylist, as a designer, and an educator. This project brought together all of the things I have enjoyed in my career onto one platform, without any fuss or prejudice.

The name comes from an old project I started for my MA Fashion thesis, which saw me traveling around the world to interview different figures in fashion to get a better understanding of what the term "streetwear" meant. Ruban met me in Honolulu, which was the last stop of my journey. A few hours before he arrived, my rental car was broken into and all of my camera equipment was stolen. The name of that project was 1270 because I visited 12 countries in 70 days. I learned a lot about how clothing works as cultural, personal, and individual signifiers within our community. That project fed into this one. 

Why is twelve70 different from any fashion-related apps?  Why should somebody download it?

I would say we are different because we are not trying to re-invent our user. We're simply guiding them to make the most of their existing wardrobe. We realized men were not being serviced for a very clear problem. They knew what they liked but didn't know how to grow from that initial point of interest. 

We also created a very simple to use inventory management system when you sign up. It keeps track of your wardrobe without asking you to take photos or surveys. Simply log-in and add items to your DIGITAL CLOSET and click to add all the items you own. You can also keep track of your FAVORITE OUTFITS, plan your week with the CALENDAR, and see what colored items you could purchase that work well with your wardrobe. We have implemented an OCCASION feature to allow you to plan your outfit accordingly. All in all, it takes less than 15 seconds to put a look together. 

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I understand that it’s been completely bootstrapped so far.  What was behind this decision?  Any plans to raise money?  And if so, why?

Ruban: I started working on twelve70 as I was learning computer science in school. I didn’t feel like we needed to take on any money in order to build it since I could do it myself in my spare time. Mayan worked on all the graphics and we had friends that contributed their skills when we needed them. Since we are freelancing on the side, we are able to pay for any extra development ourselves.

I have a policy where I will not do business with family.  I feel like it gets messy, but you started one as brothers.  How has this experience been?  Has it affected your personal relationship in any way?

We have had our fair share of trials and tribulations. The journey of getting this app together and the reality of our hectic lives have truly tested our relationship as siblings as well as colleagues. Over the past year and a half, we realized that we were consistently on the same page when it came to our vision for where we want to take the app. 

We are 3 years apart from a Tamil immigrant household. We moved to Canada when I was 10 and Ruban was 7. Not being best friends was not an option in our family. We soon realized that being so far from India, we were all we had. We are stronger for the challenges we faced, and it has allowed us to appreciate who we are as co-founders & siblings.

I understand that you both have other jobs outside of twelve70 (currently) - what would make you focus on it full-time?  

Being able to earn a living and to have funding to put more time & manpower into further developing the app for faster performance & smooth seamless features. Right now we are taking on freelance jobs that are helping us sustain meals on our table and a roof over our head. We still consider ourselves full-time on twelve70, and when we aren't working, we are working. To be honest, we are always working.

Where do you see Twelve70 in the next 3-5 years?

We see twelve70 evolving as a personalized shopping and educational fashion platform for men, women, and children. In these unprecedented times, we are happily pivoting with the changes in social & consumer culture. 

Entrepreneurship often involves taking the path less travelled and often more difficult.  You need to celebrate the small wins.  Tell us about some wins that you’ve had so far that you’re proud of.

The most gratifying wins have come from our users. On occasion, we get thank you emails from users, their partners, even family members who have discovered the app and have told us how it has changed their lives. This has especially been touching when we receive emails from those with vision and color recognition issues. Our motto from the beginning has been to create an educational destination so men can learn more about their options when it comes to presenting themselves without feeling like they are going through an intervention or make-over. We are not here to change you, but simply to guide you to become a more authentic version of yourself based on what you already like.

How are you monetizing or planning to monetize if you haven’t already?

We just launched a subscription model for the app; still providing a free version for users while presenting a premium membership with full access to the function & all of the features.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

Celebrate your wins in your own way. 

Do it to express, not impress.

Everybody matters.

What is a failure you’ve experienced in the last 5-10 years that you’ve learned the most from?

Losing the originally 1270 project was the most difficult thing I experienced. I was taking a road less traveled, quite young & inexperienced. The loss of that footage & all of those interviews helped me understand a mentality that my father instilled in me at a very young age; always fail forward. Hearing his story about growing up in Sri Lanka, moving to India with his mother & siblings, teaching himself how to read & speak English & making a life for himself & his family in Canada all came with their own hurdles. If that situation hadn’t occurred with the original project…we would not be here today.

How would you describe the impact that the Canadian Tamil community had on you both personally and professionally?

As I have gotten older I have loved meeting more members of the Canadian Tamil community, especially those who have come before me and laid the foundation for my generation. They have shown me a side of a community that is supportive & comforting, which is so important when immigrating & trying to get your bearings, identity, & balance. Many of our family members don’t completely understand what we are intending to do with twelve70, yet they always listen, ask questions, and wish us the best. They know we are embarking on a difficult journey, as two POCs trying to have an impact in a world where Indians are not always welcomed or celebrated.

Who is one person from the global Tamil community and one person that isn’t Tamil that you admire and why?

Rajini, of course; a bus conductor turned superstar. It really plays the South Asian ideal that we are all stars who can overcome difficulties if we truly believe in pursuing our calling.

What is your favourite Tamil food (meal or dessert)?

Mayan: I guess I’m kind of basic but a Paper Ghee Masala Dosa with murungakka sambar & coconut chutney could be the only meal I eat for the rest of my time here & I would still smile at every meal. 

Ruban: I’m not big on meat anymore, but I can never turn down my mom’s mutton biryani. 

Connect with Mayan via his TC profile

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Ara Ehamparam
Co-founder & Podcast Host | TamilCulture
Canada
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