Nothing less than perfect

Nothing less than perfect

Nidhi Agarwal, founder & CEO of Kaaryah, has spotted a major gap in the women’s western wear segment: lack of enough size options. This Ratan Tata-backed firm, is now doing whatever it takes to sustain its early progress and build a long-term brand, with its western wear portfolio in 18 different sizes.

Shopping for apparel elicits multiple responses from women. For some it’s a therapeutic experience, for some it’s a process of creative experimentation but for some others, it can be traumatic. Take, for instance, when women shop for western wear, especially formal wear, in the Indian market. You’ll hear laments on the lack of styles and fits given that a vast majority of apparel is tailored to suit body types in foreign markets. The few Indian manufacturers in this segment usually treat women’s wear as secondary to their men’s line, thus, narrowing the choices even further.

Nidhi Agarwal, who was a strategy consultant at Bain Consulting in 2010, hit a dead-end when she attempted to replace her staple white shirt. She was on the way to the airport for a client meeting when she spilt coffee on herself. She stopped at a mall to find a replacement, but, even the most popular brands could not get her one with a good fit.

In the next two years, she moved jobs to Honeywell and then KPMG, all while talking to over 250 women about the problem of shopping for western wear with the perfect fit. To her surprise, over 80 per cent of the women faced the same issues as her.

Realising that there was this gap that retailers weren’t addressing, Agarwal decided to focus on creating western formal wear to suit the Indian silhouette and spread the line across all ages. She spent another year-and-a-half studying the market and product further and launched Kaaryah Lifestyle Solutions (Kaaryah) in September 2013.

Size does matter

In India, the western wear segment is categorised into six sizes, with only one brand offers 11 sizes. However, after surveying 1,500 women prior to starting the venture, Agarwal realised that the Indian women fall into 18 sizes. Having identified the problem, developing the product strategy was relatively easy as she had similar experience in her previous stints.

The first step was to code the technology and ready the designs. The company scaled up to 250 designs very quickly by introducing two new designs every day. She skipped raising seed capital, as her father decided to angel invest in Kaaryah. “Funding is a challenge because many do not understand the problem that we are trying to address,” points out Agarwal.

The company raised its Series-A from industry stalwarts Ratan Tata, ex-Infosys director TV Mohandas Pai and Saha Fund. This was used to expand its team, which is currently 30 members strong, with a deep focus on digitisation, automation, marketing and sourcing of raw material.

In 2014, Kaaryah opened a store in Gurgaon despite its focus continuing to be on building an online presence. Operating on an inventory-light model, one of its key strengths, it has refined its order turnaround to 48 hours, and dispatches 100 orders a day. Moreover, apart from offering product ranges in 18 sizes, the site also enables personalisation, to suit each customer’s needs.

Four pillars to build on

The company, which aspires to be a recognised brand in western wear, has identified four important pillars to be able to cater to a major gap area in the women’s wear market: design, quality, customer care and brand building. A core team of 13 members with relevant experience handle these verticals at Kaaryah. “Some of them know little about fashion but they are experts in their areas and that’s what matters to spur growth for the company,” says Agarwal, with confidence. To her, a CEO is only as good as her team. “In June, when we faced a crisis, we could well have gone under but it was my team that stood by me and helped Kaaryah overcome the rough patch,” she recounts.

Eye on the future

The company counts its custom-made technology solution and design spread as its key armours.  “The last two years have been a big learning experience for us and this model is not easy to replicate,” points out Agarwal.

The company has been receiving orders from foreign markets, primarily through Amazon U.S. and U.K. but at present, its focus is on strengthening its foothold in the Indian market. Agarwal believes that Kaaryah has effected disruption on a small scale and can achieve more, but at this stage, it will also have to be sustainable and independent. On the financial front the company became cash positive within 14 months. “Our agile back-end and our unit economics which is positive, assure us that we are on the right track despite being cash strapped,” says Agarwal.

The company seeks further funding to expand, but till then, business will be conducted in style at Kaaryah.

In India, the western wear segment is categorised into six sizes, with only one brand offering 11 sizes. However, after surveying 1,500 women prior to starting the venture, Agarwal realised that the Indian women fall into 18 sizes.


Kaaryah Lifestyle Solutions

Meera Srikant has been working with publishers and publications since 1993, writing and editing articles, features and stories across topics. She also blogs and writes poems, novels and short stories during leisure. Writing for The Smart CEO since 2010, she is also a classical dancer.

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