These Fashion Entrepreneurs Are Changing the Way Indians Shop

Zarine Bajaj Findow.JPG
Zarine Bajaj, Findow

It was bound to happen. After a decade of working with one of India’s leading TV channels on their entertainment, lifestyle and fashion programming, Zarine Bajaj switched careers to work as PR head for ace fashion designer Gaurav Gupta. “Fashion is my life,” says the graduate from Wigan and Leigh College, UK. Within two years in the designer space, however, she realised how unorganised things were and was bitten by a bug “to somehow organise and virtualise this ever-evolving fashion market. And this is how Findow: Your Fashion Window came about,” narrates the 35-year-old Delhi-based alumna of DPS RK Puram.

A fashion discovery website and mobile application launched a few months ago, Findow uses geo-location services to help shoppers find designers, boutiques and brands of their interest near them. Bajaj, who designs superhero looks in her free time, and her technology partner Vibhor Gupta, who was product manager for Bharti Airtel and Pitney Bowes in the past, have tied up with over 300 designers and brands across Delhi and are looking to branch out to other metros soon. Users – about 5000 so far – can find, follow, review or comment on brands and post their own style diaries. The app also has a feature called Findow Bride that makes customised ‘bridal itineraries’. “The way we approach fashion has to be in sync with the technology available today,” Bajaj says animatedly. She is currently working on offering inventory management services to designers who have not yet digitised their catalogues and merchandise.

Findow is the latest entrant in the internet technology space that has changed the way shoppers shop and brands sell. Regular e-commerce websites are so 2012; buyers today need a more interactive approach to discovering and shopping for fashion, and technology mavericks are quickly catching on, aided by venture capitalists in big or small measure. Whether it is customisation of feeds or involving one’s friends – or even strangers – in the shopping process, new mobile apps offer buyers whole new reasons and ways to buy clothes. And it’s not just the buyers – these apps are also changing the way brands and labels operate.

Fynd Founders
(L-R) Sreeraman MG (29), Farooq Adam (33), Harsh Shah (28), Fynd

Harsh Shah, one of the three co-founders of Fynd, is in his Andheri, Mumbai, office at 8 am every morning before his team of 82 come in, “so that I can get my thoughts together.” The 28-year-old engineer from IIT Mumbai worked in consultancy and market strategy in New York before starting a firm offering market analytics to retailers with his ‘co-conspirators’ Farooq Adam and Sreeraman M.G. in 2012. A few years later, they switched their core focus to fashion retail, offering about 7,500 brick-and-mortar stores from 200 brands an online, real-time inventory solution that taps offline walk-in customers as well.

“Why lose a customer who doesn’t get his or her size in a store? Our in-store app or tablet allows the customer to browse through the complete online catalogue and place an order for their own size right then,” explains Shah. The virtual showroom also works as an integrator and an ecommerce channel where “every offline store functions as a warehouse” and eliminates the need for GoFynd.com to stock its own inventory, reducing delivery times and costs for them, optimising sales for the retailers, and offering fresh fashion for the buyers. They now have about 3.4 million registered users and process about 3,000 orders per day.

Suchi Mukherjee, Founder & CEO, LimeRoad
Suchi Mukherjee, LimeRoad

Making fresh fashion easily accessible is also what prompted Delhi-based Suchi Mukherjee to set up LimeRoad. Having studied at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi and at London School of Economics, Mukherjee was the first Indian to receive the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust Scholarship for Economics at Cambridge University when she won it in 1994. She returned to India to launch her fashion career in 2012. “The idea came to me while reading a glossy magazine during one of those rare ‘me time’ moments after the birth of my second child in London,” she recalls. She decided to develop an interactive shopping platform “that not only gives local sellers a stage to sell, users to discover amazing products but also enables users to share their unique style sensibilities as a part of an active Scrapbooking community,” she says.

LimeRoad today boasts of 4,000 new product styles and over 20,000 fashion stories posted every day, with traffic of over 40 million hits per month. The app claims to be one of the lightest in the country with frictionless browsing even on low-end handsets. Managed by a team of over 500 employees, it has been growing at 300% year-on-year, and has a community of more than 50,000 active ‘Scrapbookers’ who update their latest looks round the clock, giving users “an endless stream of fashion posts on their feed”. But its primary objective, Mukherjee says, is as an online marketplace servicing pin codes across India.

The idea of linking users directly with influencers and retailers is also what prompted Arjun Zacharia and Ankit Sabharwal to set up Wooplr in early 2013. Immensely popular with female users in the age group 18 to 35, the app was based on the simple understanding that fashion is the most social commodity of all. “Wooplr solves three needs: it ensures people find the clothes they want; it tells them what is trending; and it gets early adopters to help personalise looks for new customers,” explains Zacharia. The 35-year-old Kerala-born computer engineer worked at fintech startups for several years before he met 28-year-old Sabharwal at McAfee, where they were both part of the same team. Together, they set up Wooplr as a social fashion platform and marketplace driven by experience and aspiration, at convenient prices. They instantly observed that younger women are less likely to be influenced by foreign models and advertising campaigns and more by ‘girls next door’ wearing a certain garment in a certain way.

“The idea is to create communities, not just customers,” says Zacharia, who works out of Bangalore with a compact team of about 50. The app has a database of almost 6 million users and more than 12,000 influencers who not only bask in the social validation of having thousands of followers but also earn a commission each time a follower purchases a look they have shared. “The lines between online and offline retail are merging,” says the NITK Surathkal graduate, “and buyers want to be informed about what is trending and how to style looks before they hit the buy button.” The firm has tied up with about 200 brands, of which more than 30 have run marketing campaigns on the app. With a ticket size of INR 1200, the app mostly features Western-wear since that is a “huge segment for youngsters” with more exposure and innovation, besides higher price ranges.

Roposo founders
(L-R) Mayank Bhangadia (33), Avinash Saxena (32) and Kaushal Shubhank (33), Roposo

Another fashion-based social network, Roposo, started off in 2014 with a similar model but has of late focused on getting more and more small and medium businesses and boutiques into the online fold. It now has 10,000 regional sellers from across the country, especially tier-2 and 3 towns, who benefit from Roposo’s user base of 3.5 million and average ticket size of INR 1500. Headquartered in Gurgaon, the app was launched by IITians Mayank Bhangadia, Avinash Saxena and Kaushal Shubhank as a discovery platform, and now also features a bazaar for in-app purchases. With 120 employees on its rolls, Roposo allows an interface between the buyer and seller, and cuts middlemen costs especially for small-town manufacturers.

Indeed, if technology is making fashion retail more personal and relatable, it is also bringing the convenience of the neighbourhood darzi to ecommerce. Personalisation has been a big buzzword in the past couple of years. Various e-stores such as Aditya Birla-led abof.com and eyewear portal Lenskart.com offer virtual trial rooms so that you can see how the product looks on you (or a 3D model of your body shape) before you buy it. Jewellery e-retailers such as Velvetcase.com and CaratLane.com allow you to design your own pieces, and also offer free trial at home before you buy.

Pernia Qureshi
Pernia Qureshi, Perniaspopupshop.com

The customisation trend is now spreading to designer-wear too. The popular multi-designer e-store Perniaspopupshop.com, launched in 2012, recently announced a virtual feature called Sketch to Reality, which allows customers to design their own outfit from scratch, and even have their own name on the label. “The idea was to let the customer be their own designer. We get queries from people all over the world who want to customise their outfits. With their creative minds and our disciplined eye, Sketch to Reality redefines online shopping in India,” says the website’s founder and film actress Pernia Qureshi.

Meghna Saraogi StyleDotMe
Meghna Saraogi, StyleDotMe

One of the most difficult part of clothes shopping, however, remains the question every woman asks herself while trying on different garments – which outfit looks better on me? “I wasted a lot of time in trial rooms,” laughs graphic designer Meghna Saraogi whose frustration found fruition in StyleDotMe, an app she launched in 2015 after discovering that an average woman spends one whole year of her life deciding what to wear. Simple to use, the app allows users to upload images of themselves in two or more garments to its database of 35,000 users, including 200 experts, who give instant feedback – ‘not me’ or ‘dot me’. Users – 40% of whom are male – can also take styling advice from others and review labels and brands. “Influencer-based marketing is the next big thing, and advice-based fashion e-commerce is the way forward,” opines the 28-year-old Kolkata-based entrepreneur. The app also gives retailers a valuable feedback mechanism, and an opportunity to have their goods validated by a targeted audience. With users based mostly in Mumbai and Delhi, Saraogi began monetising her app this year and is in talks with various advertisers.

“Shopping alone used to be tortuous for me,” she admits. “But post StyleDotMe, it has become a pleasurable hobby!” She pitches her app with a laugh: “Oh yes, I always get the right advice on what to wear!”

First published in The Economic Times

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