She was the CEO of India’s leading design label Good Earth based in Delhi. He was an investment banker and private-equity professional from New York who had worked at Goldman Sachs and General Atlantic after completing his MBA from Harvard Business School. Together, they set out to build a company that would thrive at intersections: of east and west, of design and technology, both online and offline. And thus, after 18 months of research, hiring and development, Nicobar was born.
Founded by husband-wife duo Raul Rai and Simran Lal in March 2016 under the family-owned entity Eicher Good Earth Pvt. Ltd, which also owns the Good Earth chain of stores, the new brand has set out to spearhead modern Indian lifestyle retail at a global level.
With seven stores up and running – across Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai and Jodhpur – and three more in the offing, the label offers an interesting mix of fashion, home and travel accessories with a minimalistic aesthetic, targeted at millennials and globetrotters. Respected Indianwear exponent Aparna Chandra heads their fashion division, while Divya Kapoor looks after travel and Arya Nerker home.
With its head office in Mehrauli, Delhi, the label has been launched with an innovative omni-channel retail model, and the founders expect to break even within the next 15 months. Besides brick-and-mortar stores, they retail through an engaging e-store nicobar.com that features the ‘Nico Journal’, an online magazine that curates other brands, firms and even eateries that are representative of the experience of modern India that Nicobar is aligned with.
“The idea is not just to sell products but to do so while creating an experience, an ambience,” explains Raul Rai. “The online magazine is an attempt to curate lifestyle thought leaders, whether it’s the eclectic food catering firm CAARA or award-winning menswear designer Suket Dhir. These are the people we believe exemplify modern India.”
Nicobar garments are made using natural, breathable fabrics, prints and textures that are Indian in essence but with clean silhouettes, neutral colours and a design vocabulary that would be at ease anywhere in the world. With almost 70 per cent of their product base being clothing, what has worked well for the label are pop-ups held regularly in tier 1 and 2 cities, and even abroad.
In the past year Nicobar has held 11 such pop-ups in Delhi, Jaipur (at Kyoorius Designyatra), Ranthambore, Mumbai, Goa, Kochi (at the Kochi Biennale), Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Another five are slated for this year.
“Emotional engagement and ease of shopping are the two cornerstones of our retail philosophy,” says brand head Nirmal Kaur. Investing in distinctive customer engagement and retention, Nicobar has also developed an impressive outreach strategy of tying up with likeminded groups of people and hosting events even without an apparent sales incentive.
For instance, they recently hosted events for Sofar Sounds, a worldwide community of artists and music lovers spread across a network of more than 300 cities globally. It is run by volunteers who set up ‘secret gigs’ at an undisclosed venue with three artistes belonging to different genres of music in a 90-minute show. Music lovers must sign up to compete for a seat, and the event is self-sustaining with voluntary contribution from guests.
Nicobar hosted two events for Sofar: on 26 March 2017 at the Nicobar Design Studio at Kala Ghoda in Mumbai and 16 April at Tulsi Farms, Nicobar’s Delhi head office. Artists included Ankur Tewari and the Ghalat Family, Tanya Nambiar, SETI X, Fame The Band, Chaos in the Capital, and AprilFoolChild. Each of the gigs had about 80 people in attendance.
Similarly they partnered with Kommune to host evenings to ‘bring back good old storytelling’. “We always imagined Nicobar to be an intersection of culture and commerce,” says Kaur. “The idea is to host sub-cultured engagements that resonate with the brand; uplifting and thought-provoking.” Kommune is a collective of artists, producers, patrons, collaborators and art lovers who come together in a sort of performing-arts incubator.
Nicobar hosted the first edition of Kommune’s Story Slam at its Kala Ghoda store in Mumbai on 14 May 2017; it was the group’s first ever storytelling “open mic” where a story would be picked out of ten lucky ones to feature on their channels and win a cash prize. The evening was hosted by founder Roshan Abbas and saw about 90 guests.
Nicobar’s online store also features videos that communicate the Nicobar story to the customer through product highlights – such as travel packing guides or how to get a particular look – and an interactive look-book, perhaps the first of its kind for an Indian design brand. The website itself has been carefully constructed by an in-house technology team using the brand’s minimal colour palette and young, global aesthetic.
They also have a strong social-media presence, and rely on arresting visuals to convey their message. At present, about 15 to 20 percent of their online revenue comes from international markets like the US, Singapore, the Middle East, Hong Kong and Australia.
Nicotides is their biggest initiative and a long-term one. Every full moon and new moon something special happens at Nicobar, whether it is free home trials, a surprise gift on every purchase, free shipping, introducing new capsule collections and so on. The young label is now looking at innovative digital integration and experiential spaces such as curated book corners, photo booths, mini theatres and entrepreneur hubs.