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Startup Saturday: Dressing you up for their business success

The fashion industry is brutal. Too many players vying for same customers. Fashion as the first line of business to get into is often the choice of many. So, while supply goes up exponentially, demand creeps up very slowly. How does one succeed in a business in an ocean full of sharks? Namita Shibad finds out

pune Updated: Dec 23, 2017 15:02 IST
Namita Shibad
Namita Shibad
Hindustan Times, Pune
Minal Joshi, owner of Uzazi, started out manufacturing leotards, but today owns two stories catering to every fashion need of the pregnant woman.
Minal Joshi, owner of Uzazi, started out manufacturing leotards, but today owns two stories catering to every fashion need of the pregnant woman.(Ravindra Joshi/HT PHOTO)

The fashion industry can be brutal. There are too many players vying for the same set of customers. Everyone and their aunty think of fashion as the first line of business to get into. So, while supply goes up exponentially, demand creeps up very slowly. How does one make a success of a business in a red ocean full of competitive sharks?

First mover advantage

By being the first in the market. But, how is one the first in a market that’s been in business for 200 years. Manish Jethwani, founder of Teens Western and Designer Wear, was simply following his family business of trading in ready-made garments. Says he, “I joined my family business. We used to be wholesale manufacturers of kids’ garments. In those days we were making kids’ clothes. When I joined the business I noticed that there was a demand for western wear that was not being met in the Laxmi road area. People who wanted to by jeans or tees had to go to MG road. So I started manufacturing western wear that was made available to customers in the city area.”

That was not all for this man who has his nose to the ground. “I always make it a point to interact with my customers. Most owners do not talk to their customers, leaving the job to their salesmen. In my conversations I figured out that there were many people who could not find clothes in their sizes, as they were obese. No one manufactured clothes for obese people. This I felt was very wrong. Why shouldn’t overweight people have the opportunity to choose from a wide variety of ready-made garments?”

Amrita Chatterjee, founder and director, Masoani Designer Garments, brings haute couture to the city. (Ravindra Joshi/HT PHOTO)

Manish went to his manufacturers and asked them to make large-sized tees and jeans. “The manufacturers were not interested in taking the risk. What if their clothes were not sold? We will make them, but will you buy what we manufacture, they asked. I had a few friends and somehow I managed to convince them that there was an unmet demand. They agreed and I now had jeans and tees in sizes up to 4XL.”

At a time when no one in the city was providing ready-made garments to overweight people, Manish became the first store to do so.

This need to satisfy a customer richly paid off. Says Manish, “When I started stocking large-sized clothes, I called up my database of customers and they were so happy they started referring their friends.”

Does he charge a premium? “No ,I don’t. We charge a mark up over manufacturing cost. As it is the cost of making a 7XL tee or gown is more, given that it uses more cloth. So the manufacturing cost is anyway high. I add a mark up. If I took a premium it would become too high a price to pay for the big people. I am happy with what I am getting.”

What are his plans for the future? Though Manish has three stores in the city and is doing very well, he still dreams of a stand-alone store for his clothes. “I want a stand-alone store that can provide all that obese people need. All types of clothes with the latest fashion (often they don’t get much choice) accessories. Everything. I want to be a one-stop garment shop for obese people.”

Uzazi – business from the womb

For Minal Joshi, an electronics’ engineer, the fashion business happened, perchance. “I joined a gym to gain weight. Later, I became a trainer there. Arnavaz Damania, who owned the place, was very strict about wearing leotards and short tees during workouts.”

This led Minal to hunt for a leotard manufacturer who in the late 1990s was rare. “I found one and gave him some orders for myself. Later, people at the gym saw my tee and leotard and started placing orders with me.”

Meanwhile, her manufacturer shut shop and Minal decided to take over his set up. “I started by finding the right machinery that could make leotards and tees. I made a few mistakes. I chose wrong. Then, I realised that to have a manufacturing unit that runs at least eight hours you need a much bigger market. So with a few attachments to my machines I started making more items like swimwear and active sportswear. In fact, in the movie Dangal, the girls have worn wrestling suits made by me.”

This went on for some time, till Minal got pregnant. “I realized that no one was making clothes for pregnant women. All I could get from the ready-made clothes stores were nighties. Imagine going to work in a nightie! I was really worked up about this. So I designed a few clothes and people started asking me for it.”

Minal’s business grew from leotards, to sportswear and now is focused majorly on clothes for pregnant women. “In Swahili, ‘Uzazi’ means from the womb or parenthood and I decided that this was the name for my store.” Minal today has two stores, one in Camp and one in Baner, that stock all kinds of clothes that an expecting mother may need. “I have made an entire wardrobe. I have categories of clothes - active wear, evening wear, casual, formal, special occasions, maternity swimwear and sleep wear, among others.”

Uzazi goes beyond just clothes though they are the mainstay. Minal provides all accessories pregnant women may need, such as maternity support belts, panties, feeding bras and even a CD that plays music to listen to during pregnancy. “These are not manufactured by us, but we stock them for those who may have this need.”

Earlier, Minal used to make such clothes on order, but now the business has grown enough to allow her to stock it as a brand. “We make everything to make a woman feel good about being pregnant. We have the latest in fashion, be it palazzos, gowns, whatever fashion demands,” she says. On December 16, Minal opened a third store in Kollam, Kerala. With a Rs 2.5 crore turnover, Minal “wants to be all over the country via the franchisee format. We want to be available in multi brand stores and be on all e-tailer sites.”

Filling in the gap

Vijaya Jagdale’s love for bandini saris took her on a search to Kutch where such saris are made and landed her in Second Look where she deals only in bandini saris. Bandini saris are nothing new so what’s her USP? Says Vijaya, “You do not get a good choice of bandini saris in Pune. If you want really good stuff you have to go to Mumbai where the prices are really very high.”

So Vijaya decided that something should be done about this need gap. She took a trip to Kutch, the home of bandini. She met the karigars, learnt the ways of dyeing and tying that create the bandini. “A bandini sari takes seven to eight months to get ready,” she says.

With Rs 2 lakh of investment Vijaya got into business. “I got the white georgette ‘pooth’ made from Benares. There, a power loom sari takes about one to two days, but a handloom sari takes about one and a half months to make. These saris are then transported to Kutch where the artisans tie the knots and do the dyeing.”

With 30 such bandini saris, Vijaya had her first round of exhibitions in Pune. “I had bought these saris on consignment basis. Initially, I exhibited at each and every exhibition in Pune. This I realised was a mistake because, my saris are quite expensive ranging from Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 and not all the exhibitions attract customers who can afford that kind of money. So, I had to choose those places where such people would visit. Secondly having too many displays was a waste as most exhibitions have the same people visiting again and again. So, now I do only two or three exhibitions a year.”

Why not sell online? “Considering the cost of the saris I don’t think women would buy it so easily online. They would like to touch and feel it before making a purchase. So I go via the exhibition route,” is her explanation.

“Bandini saris are evergreen. They never go out of style. My dream is to have a stand-alone store of my bandini saris.

Making dreams come true

After graduating from the Parsons School of Design, Amrita Chatterji started Masoani Designer Garments, a design studio. Wat sets her studio apart from the zillion others in the city? Says she, “Couture is really very expensive. A YSL gown can cost up to Rs 4 lakh. Earlier, not many people were aware of couture. But today, with Pinterest and Instagram what’s the latest spreads like wildfire. Everyone knows what the latest in fashion is.”

How does Designer Garments they its covetous hands on these products? Understanding the desire for high fashion and its high price, Amrita’s Masoani sets out to provide women affordable couture. “We do not provide replicas, but we ensure that our clothes have the cut, the feel of high fashion. Local boutiques do embroideries or make replicas. We don’t. We tell our customer what will suit her body type, what fabric she should wear, what colours, what cuts and so on. It’s very customised. And though we do not do replicas, we dish out clothes that have that couture look.” A look that can cost you as much as Rs 1 lakh.

Amrita has used Rs 2.5 lakh of her own money to fund the business. “We need to pay our master cutter, rent, assistant designers and machines.” From the response she has got she is very hopeful. “Last month we did business of Rs 70,000 and given that we are just four months old, I think it’s good. I am very hopeful.” Hopeful that more and more women get bitten by the high fashion bug.