From gymnast to designer: Ritika Kulshreshtha revolutionizes gymnastics costumes in India

Why Ritika Kulshreshtha of Delhi quit gymnastics and turned it into an opportunity for designing glamorous costumes for Indian gymnasts.
Ritika Kulshreshtha holds Bavleen Kaur’s customised leotards for CWG 2022
Ritika Kulshreshtha holds Bavleen Kaur’s customised leotards for CWG 2022

Ritika Kulshreshtha, a 25-year-old designer from Delhi, recently sent a customised gymnastics costume to gymnast Dipa Karmakar for the ongoing 2024 Asian Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Tashkent.

“It was a very last-minute thing,” she says, explaining the visa problems Karmakar and many other gymnasts faced until the last moment. This often results in costume deliveries being made at the eleventh hour. “There have been times when I have delivered costumes at the airport, too,” she adds.

While most designers either join couture houses or start their own brands, few pursue something as specific as costumes for gymnasts. So, what made her choose this path?

Ritika Kulshreshtha holds Bavleen Kaur’s customised leotards for CWG 2022
Indian Craft collection blends traditional Indian textiles with contemporary designs

Back when Kulshreshtha was in the second standard, she signed herself up for gymnastics at school. Her flexibility proved beneficial, and she was sent to the Yamuna Sports Complex, where she enrolled in an hour-long class, three days a week.

In 2010, the year of the Commonwealth Games (CWG), she moved to the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex. There, she enhanced her skills with better gymnastics equipment and met international gymnasts who were there for the CWG camp. This is where her networking started, which later helped her establish her gymnastics costume business.

Kulshreshtha’s first competition was at a national event in Patiala in 2011. She was part of the Delhi gymnastics team and earned a bronze medal.

“For the event, my relatives in the US ordered my leotard as at that time there were no good costumes for gymnasts available in India. By 2013, I was at my peak as a gymnast,” she says. But something happened in 2013 that changed her profession.

The trigger

“At one of the camps, a few of my seniors apasked if I could get them leotards from the US,” she says. That moment was heartbreaking for her. “They were better gymnasts than me, but they did not have the appropriate costumes, which hindered their performance. Some wore regular gym clothes, while others wore costumes made from swimwear material.”

In sports such as gymnastics and yoga, a participant’s score also depends on the costume and how well it matches the performance theme. For instance, the total points in yoga are 25 of which five are awarded for the costume, while in gymnastics they are 12 to 15 points and two are for the costume.

“Players are provided costumes made of printed-polyester Lycra, which is not suitable for performance. The costume must be body-hugging and made of shimmery fabric such as nylon lycra. Without this, you lose those two points and the confidence to perform. Gymnastics is a glamorous sport,” she explains.

Trial and error

Not too long ago, when Kulshreshtha was a professional gymnast, leotards from the US could not be shipped to India. “The only two ways to procure the costume were that you asked someone in the US to get it for you, or you asked your seniors who were going to an international tournament to buy a leotard from the stalls at the competition venue. But those wouldn’t be customised to the theme of your performance,” she says.

Kulshreshtha felt she needed to do something about it. So, in 2017, she enrolled in a fashion design course at Pearl Academy to create appropriate costumes.

The first thing Kulshreshtha made was a customised t-shirt for gymnasts. “There are many sports t-shirts for football or basketball players, but none for gymnasts. So, I printed a gymnast-themed t-shirt and gave it to my sister. She is the guinea pig for all my experiments,” she says with a chuckle.

Her sister, Mallika Kulshreshtha, 21, is also a gymnast. When she wore the t-shirt to her gym, it immediately caught people’s attention, and they asked her to get more.

“So, I printed a bunch of them. That’s how I started my sportswear business. It began with gym t-shirts, so I named my brand ‘Ritika Gym Tees’,” she says.

In 2020, Kulshreshtha made her first leotard and tried it on her sister. The stitches came apart after the first jump. “I got the fabric from the US, but I didn’t know what thread to use. I used a cotton thread, which didn’t hold the stitch,” she says. So, she took the thread from her old costumes and went to fabric markets in Delhi to look for a match.

A dream comes true

The effort bore fruit when she made “the perfect leotard” that her sister wore in the 2022 CWG selection trials and then in a national competition in Gujarat the same year. Through her sister and Kulshreshtha’s own networks, she started to get orders. “My customer base was built purely by word of mouth,” she says.

She went on to make leotards for the entire Indian team for the 2022 CWG in Birmingham and for the gymnasts in the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou (2023), the 2024 Cairo World Cup, and now the 2024 Asian Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Tashkent. Her clientele includes Dipa Karmakar, Pranati Nayak, Balveen Kaur, Majida Khatun, and more.

Kulshreshtha’s leotards not only match the performance theme but also provide gymnasts with confidence and comfort.

“Most Indian gymnasts are not comfortable with high hip cuts in their costumes, so I ensure the cuts are low. I don’t want them to feel self-conscious, which could affect their performance,” she says.

The price of her rhythmic and artistic leotards starts at `5,000; in the US, they start at Rs 30,000 for rhythmic gymnastics and `9,000 for artistic gymnastics. “I have worked on cost-cutting so that I can make leotards accessible to gymnasts in remote areas, as most of our gymnasts come from villages,” she says.

Ritika Kulshreshtha holds Bavleen Kaur’s customised leotards for CWG 2022
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