Why The City Leads The Online Fashion Space
It's a hip city filled with young people. They’re tech savvy and they don’t have time. And they like shopping online, on their cell phones, tablets and computers. Move over brick and mortar, Bangalore’s online retailers are here to stay.
Styletag, Footsy, Totally Hot Stuff, Natsy By Design, Breakbounce and ItsHandMade are online brands marking their territory in cyberspace and have this in common: they are all Bangalore-based.
While India experiences a boom in the number of retailers taking their brick and mortar enterprises online (as well as those who set up shops online exclusively) the question is, why Bangalore is the centre for online fashion shopping?
While the owners of the online stores in this story spoke of many reasons why, we found that at the heart of the matter is the fact that Bangalore rocks a certain high-tech, high-competency vibe; an atmosphere that is conducive to innovative thought. Some said that the presence of educated professionals makes it easy to run a tech-based business.
While those reasons may come as little surprise to resident Bangaloreans, one entrepreneur, Natasha Chanda, said it’s in the air. “…culture that supports and encourages enterprise. If you have an idea, this is the city that makes it achievable.”
The business of garment manufacturing is not exactly new to the city. In the early 90s the Hinduja family ran some of the best-known enterprises such as Gokuldas Images’ Wearhouse and Weekender brands. The city has spawned brands such as Indigo Nation and is also home to garment giants Arvind, Madura and Levi’s. One of the country’s best-known high end fashion stores, Folio is Bangalore-based (they own Styletag.com).
But because the online space is not entirely predicated on brick-and-mortar rules, the young, the funky, the new entrepreneurs might establish new rules to play the game.
The entrepreneurs we spoke to—Yashodhara Shroff, co-founder Styletag, Shylesh Jain, co-founder Totally Hot Stuff, Natasha Chanda Acharya, founder Natsy By Design, Shreya Bajaj, founder ItsHandMade, Seema Seth, co-founder Footsy.in and Nitisha Kapur, Director- Marketing, Breakbounce—gave us an interesting perspective on the business and why Bangalore is their home.
Q: Why Bangalore?
Yashodhara Shroff (Styletag): Online businesses or e-retail cos. don’t have any geographical limit as the web is a global medium and anything can be accessed from any part of the world. But since Bangalore offers a very conducive atmosphere for any online business, whether it’s cutting-edge innovation or technology know-Even skilled manpower, it made sense for us to incept Styletag’s Head Office in Bangalore. Also the ever-burgeoning state of high-street & premium fashion in Bangalore is also attracting many up-and-coming brands to leverage the potential in the city.
Shylesh Jain (Totally Hot Stuff): Bangalore is the first dotcom boom centre and a preferred destination for multi-national companies to set up areas of Biotech, IT, Manufacturing, Aerospace & Aviation, Retail, Finance & Banking. It’s home to hundreds of new ventures. All this means a thriving new retail business hub that throws up a constant breed of educated tech savvy consumers. That’s what makes Bangalore the safest & most reliable geography for an online retail venture.
Shreya Bajaj (ItsHandMade): For people like me who grew up, studied and worked in Bangalore, starting a venture in Bangalore was the obvious choice. From a start-up perspective, Bangalore is the perfect option. This city is willing to listen to a new voice and appreciate young talent. Buyers are more mature, kind, supportive and accommodating, and are early adopters of technology. It is also a city with great human resource and networking opportunities.
Natasha Chanda Acharya (Natsy By Design): Bangalore has a culture that supports and encourages enterprise. If you have an idea, this is the city that makes it achievable.
Seema Seth (Footsy): With an online store, location doesn’t really matter. It just so happens that we’re based in Bangalore, but we ship our orders across India. That’s the advantage of having an online presence – we get visibility across geographies.
Nitisha Kapur (Breakbounce): Apart from the fact that our operations and core team are based out of Bangalore, it is a cosmopolitan melting pot of different cultures. It makes for a perfect test market that has been used for product launches and test phases especially in the youth product segment.
Q: Bangalore has a large number of online fashion retail companies. Are other cities also equally active in this space?
Yashodhara Shroff: Delhi has a few such companies, as do Mumbai. But more and more online e-retailers are concentrating on Bangalore because of the availability of advanced technology and better human resource. Also, Bangalore’s huge concentration of youngsters are online-savvy and consume a lot of music, entertainment and fashion. That’s what makes it more favourable than Delhi and Mumbai.
Shylesh Jain: Yes, quite a number of online retail stores do exist & mostly are close knit within cities due to either financials / marketing or logistics. Only a few well-funded ones tend to make it national.
Shreya Bajaj: Yes, I think so but Delhi (NCR and Gurgaon) and Mumbai are very active too.
Natasha Chanda Acharya: Bombay is equally active in this space. It has always been the biggest fashion retail market in India and the next generation is exploring the same business in the online space. Bangalore has been the design capital for years and coupled with easy access to technology resources, ecommerce was a natural progression.
Seema Seth: Although Mumbai and New Delhi also have several e-commerce companies, I really don’t think location matters when your brand is online.
Nitisha Kapur: Apart from Bangalore we do see presence of E-commerce and online fashion entities in larger cities like Delhi, Mumbai etc.
Q: How have you been funded?
Yashodhara Shroff: We are self-funded.
Shylesh Jain: It's a self-funded company
Shreya Bajaj: Financed by my family. Family and friend support is really crucial because when everything is uncertain and in the air, having a strong foundation of people who support you really helps ground you.
Natasha Chanda Acharya: Natsy By Design is privately funded.
Seema Seth: We’re a bootstrap / self-funded company.
Nitisha Kapur: No external entities involved in Breakbounce Streetwear.
Q: What is your USP?
Yashodhara Shroff: Styletag is positioned uniquely between pure designer wear portals where volumes are very small and branded players where margins are very small. Through a rigorous curation process, Styletag aggregates and offers to its customers unique merchandise assortment that is not mass-produced, hence maintaining exclusivity.
Shylesh Jain: Keeping up with trends and getting hands on the ‘hottest’ stuff in the world and on the web couldn’t be easier. TotallyHotStuff is a lifestyle gateway where style-conscious people indulge in the latest designs and fashions spanning sleek gadgets to modish wardrobes from multi-faceted labels as various great sellers parade their ‘hot’ stuff. ‘The best picks from the world over’ is our USP. Working closely with unique designers from across the globe on exclusivity basis gives us an edge over others. Many of the brands we showcase have recently made their debut in the Indian market.
Shreya Bajaj: From a shopper’s perspective, ItsHandMade is an eCommerce Portal with a lot of heart. Every package is personalized with a handwritten note from the artist. And most often, a free surprise too. Every sale is closed with a customer feedback call, which helps us in building relationships and for them to feel connected. From an artist’s perspective; ItsHandMade is a marketplace provider. People don’t need to invest in a website or inventory or deal with hassles like Payment Gateway and Logistics. We like our sellers to leave the operations side to us and for them to focus on doing what they are good at - creating magic.
Natasha Chanda Acharya: Exclusive products that are handcrafted and handpicked. Our endeavour is to offer our patrons products that they would not normally find in regular retail stores, shopping malls, or large-scale online portals.
Seema Seth: In India, socks are usually beige, brown, grey or black. It’s treated as a mundane, functional product. Although, internationally socks are a bright, colourful, fashionable accessory. We noticed a gap in the Indian market, and introduced Footsy – a brand for playful and colourful socks. Footsy is currently the only brand in India offering superior quality, colourful socks for men, women and children.
Nitisha Kapur: We bring current international fashion and trends with a focus on quality and individual style quotient. Our Chinos, cargos and shorts have been getting an overwhelming response. We focus on introducing new and internationally popular fits keeping wardrobes current and trendy. This Spring / Summer we introduced the drop-crotch, horse shoe fits (twisted seams) as part of our collection. These fits are internationally relevant but popular aren't being introduced to the Indian fashion conscious youth by most other brands. This sets Breakbounce apart from the plethora of apparel brands in the Indian market. Our sensibilities stem from European streetwear and find a balance between form and function.
Q: How are your revenues?
Yashodhara Shroff: We have met the revenue targets that we set for ourselves.
Shylesh Jain: We launched in India on 1st of May 2013: And with our flagship store at Mantri Square mall & the Online Store, we estimate a revenue for this year of around 10 million INR this year.
Shreya Bajaj: We are hardly over a year old, and we are yet to invest in marketing. Running a turnover of over Rs 4,00,000 monthly, we are about to break-even soon.
Natasha Chanda Acharya: (Preferred not to share information.)
Seema Seth: We cannot divulge any financial details as yet.
Nitisha Kapur: We are yet to conclude a year’s presence in India.
Q: Do you have an industry (fashion/ clothing) background?
Yashodhara Shroff: Styletag has the The House Of ffolio’s learnings to fall back upon. We introduced ffolio, the first ever multi-designer luxury store in South India, in 1991. It has been the launch pad for several of India's leading fashion personalities – JJ Valaya, Jason Cherian, and Anamika Khanna, to name a few. ffolio, over the years, has managed to etch a niche and carve a unique identity for itself in the luxury retail industry.
Shylesh Jain: Nope, I don’t, but my wife (Sneh Doshi) does have five strong years of luxury and retail background. She is currently heading our Retail operations. I come from a Business Development / Client Servicing background.
Shreya Bajaj: I am a CA by qualification and currently doing my MBA from ISB. Hence, there is no professional background in fashion industry or eCommerce. But we mainly handle the business side of creativity and it didn’t take me very long to do the initial learning. Moreover, this is a very dynamic industry and you need to do a lot of reading/research on a daily basis to keep up.
Natasha Chanda Acharya: We partner with a panel of resources bringing together different core competencies from fashion and design consulting, revivalists, artisan scouting and collaborating, craft promotion agencies to various operational and logistic experts.
Seema Seth: Neither of us are from the fashion industry, but we do belong to the design industry. We have both built successful brands for other clients over the last ten years. Since brand-creation is something that comes to us naturally, applying that knowledge to Footsy to build a successful, scalable brand was simple.
Nitisha Kapur: Our core team and core competencies stem from the fundamentals of apparel design, garment construction, engagement and consumer outreach. Our collective knowledge blends together apparel design, industrial design, international best practices focusing on the growth and business of quality centric streetwear. Our core team consists of designers, industrial engineers, supply chain specialists, sales and marketing tasks forces, a film maker, a mountaineer, a foodie, a charismatic entrepreneur but mostly the combined drive to create something novel with passion.
Q: Can you hold your own if the big brands in the garment business go online?
Yashodhara Shroff: Our model of working is not about competing. As time brings us more competition, we will definitely be favoured by the early-mover advantage in the category and over 21 years of strong Fashion lineage will surely safe guard our interests against competitors. Also, we feel that more and more competition will only better the whole online ecosystem as it would mean better buying atmosphere (better deals, exclusive to wider range & choices, personalized / evolutionary services etc) for the customers who will then get more comfortable in transacting online and less on brick-and-mortar, something we won’t really complain about.
Shylesh Jain: TotallyHotStuff does suffer an ease of imitation. However, TotallyHotStuff does have its set of unique strengths. One of which is the brand, which is optimal for consumer brand recall. A good brand would be favourable for attracting advertisers. Having good seller relations and access to unique products is also way TotallyHotStuff could achieve sustainable competitiveness.
Shreya Bajaj: ItsHandMade, the dream, was created to give an opportunity to all the creative people around us to share their creations on a common platform. What we are hoping for is to connect creators to collectors who have always had an eye for original creations. To do away with the middlemen and help buyers understand the origin behind these creations. To help them build a relationship and share a magical space where everyone learns to share and fall in love with everything handmade. We’re not restricted to just the garment space and moreover ItsHandMade is a platform to promote new and upcoming designers. Not established mass-producers of garments.
Natasha Chanda Acharya: Absolutely. While the traditional retail houses have a strong understanding of the business and can definitely succeed if they put their minds to it, their business model, their motivations, their comfort zones are vastly different from that which an online venture entails. Also, I have always believed there is enough for everyone out there. If you have a good product you shouldn’t worry overtly about competition.
Seema Seth: Competition is always healthy, isn’t it? Having said that, we definitely have the first-mover advantage in this industry, and have built a loyal community of sockaholics in India.
Nitisha Kapur: We currently do not operate our own E-commerce enabled platform. We are in partnership with Myntra.com. This digital launch forms a part of a larger agenda. Its Phase 1 of our growth plan for Breakbounce in India. With regards to multiple entities using online operations as a medium going forward, it's but inevitable. However, just being present on a digital platform isn't good enough for any entity looking to create holistic brand presence. The digital E-commerce medium is a science supported by good business sense and constant re-evaluation of processes to aid growth. We see this segment growing at rapid speed. This is good for the overall quality and consumer delivery modules for the entire retail industry.
Q: What is your brand building strategy?
Yashodhara Shroff: A brand is the sum totality of what an end-customer experiences and we strongly believe that we need to constantly innovate in the following areas in order to create a strong & sustainable brand: (a) Marketing (reaching out to the customers and engaging on interesting platforms, quirky ways to talk to our prospects and customers); (b) Merchandising (Bring out uniqueness and strong design flavour in each & every product we sell so that we are the talk of the town via word of mouth and positive virality, and (c) Customer Service & Operations (constant endeavour to create happy customers rather than make customers happy).
Shylesh Jain: TotallyHotStuff LLP is named due to its sheer catchiness, simplicity to understand as well as saliency to recall easily. The site is set to exude a sense of ‘exclusiveness’ as only ‘hot’ companies / brands would make it to sell on our site. Rare, good looking, interesting products or products at exclusive prices. Leverage on present social sharing/interaction/networking platforms. Off-line marketing; Specific to Bangalore / India. Online and offline membership card. Exclusive Membership Deals.
Shreya Bajaj: We started differentiating by doing a lot of customer engagement activities: We took ItsHandMade offline for a weekend and hosted a flea sale last year. It was just something we tried, to give people a chance to see just how amazing these handmade creations are. And that they are in fact so much better than the picture they see on the site. We run a weekly DIY section on our blog with simple easy to do craft ideas. And on special occasions like Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, we give our readers a daily DIY gift idea. It becomes extremely satisfying when we have people try them out and send us pictures. We also pop up for special occasions like Friendship’s Day, like last year at a local flea market, we hosted a photo booth for free, and let everyone take goofy fun mad pics with all their besties. It was a riot. I feel such direct interactions are important even though you are in the online space. It helps the customers to put a face to the site.
Natasha Chanda Acharya: At this stage, all our resources and energies are focused on offering better products every day, every month, every season. We have very personalized customer servicing since we cater to a niche segment, and we have excellent returns on word of mouth.
Seema Seth: We use Social Media extensively, and it has worked flawlessly for us. We’re very active on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, and find that we can reach out to a wide audience easily. We have recently started participating in events to gain enhanced brand visibility. Interacting with our users provides us an insight that cannot be replaced by any other form of communication.
Nitisha Kapur: We look at brand building as on-going constantly evolving process. We decided to make our foray into the Indian retail segment by going online first. We are one of the few brands to launch digitally before going on-ground. In the next month or so we will be present across in India in partnership with Lifestyle. Whether online or on ground we look at integrating with our consumers on a one-on- one basis.
Q: What, according to you, is the biggest decision driver for a customer to shop online?
Yashodhara Shroff: (a) Convenience (width and depth of the offerings, availability at the click of the mouse, any-hour access, home delivery, cash on delivery and return options), (b) Accessibility (breaking the geo-divide, bringing together buyers and sellers from different geographies), (c) Pricing (it’s a competitive space so each e-retailer is trying to give better deals than the other, so it’s the buyer’s market) and (d) Product Proposition (unique products that are available from the ease of your room which might not be in a brick-and-mortar space).
Shylesh Jain: Experienced consumers lust after detailed information on where to get the best of the best, the cheapest of the cheapest, the first of the first, the healthiest of the healthiest, the coolest of the coolest, or on how to become the smartest of the smartest. Online shopping gives them the power to make the decision to buy or not to buy. I think that is the key factor is that they can make a researched, conscious decision before buying. Secondly, flexible payment options, ease of cash on delivery & a hassle free product return model of sales is the key factor.
Shreya Bajaj: Customer satisfaction that comes from timely delivery, making them feel connected and be a part of the website, and unique products.
Natasha Chanda Acharya: While the obvious answers seem to be convenience, or gratification on demand, I’d like to maintain a healthy respect for good old-fashioned price factor. The Indian buyer is discerning, but nothing delights more than “value for money”, in the real market or in the virtual.
Seema Seth: Will this fit me? Will the product I receive actually look the same as the photograph on the website? Luckily for us, socks are not something you try on for size. One size fits all. And this has really helped our customers make quick decisions. If they like what they see online, they’ll buy it. Because you can be assured that the socks will fit you.
Nitisha Kapur: Convenience, time saved travelling, parking, etc. By the time most people are done with a days work they barely have time to make it to a single store before the shops close, let alone comparison or browsing. People can schedule this only on weekends and holidays. No such restrictions with online shopping. More options in terms of payment, ease of return and exchange. Cost advantage is transferred to the consumer. They find more value centric deals online than on-ground at physical stores.