Shivangini Parihar and Rekha Datla’s sustainable luxury brand, The Summer House, was founded with the vision of bringing to fore the simplicity, originality and quality of the past.
The fact that Shivangini Parihar hails from a simple upbringing reflects in the way she candidly indulges in a conversation about knowing the real worth of everything we buy, and being true to the idea of affordable luxury. She strongly believes that we are far removed from the simplicity of life, where everything we bought and built had a beautiful story behind it. It was this very revelation that led her to build her very own affordable luxury brand, The Summer House.
Born in a village called Miyagam in Gujarat, Parihar spent close to 20 years of her life growing up in hill stations and amidst fields. When she first relocated to Mumbai after wedding and began working in an advertising agency, an experience at a furniture boutique led her to rethink her priorities. “I went into a store looking for a small cake stand. I was shocked when I saw that it was priced at a whopping Rs. 3,000. The pricing was unreasonable,” she claims, offering evidence that since her family was into craftsmanship, she knew how much it would cost to secure the raw materials and build that piece of furniture. What followed was the determination to learn more about this art and build a table herself. “Ironically, my research led me to pursue a course in MICA (Mudra Institute of Communications) and I ended up spending more than Rs. 3,000 for this,” she chuckles.
Growing up in a village where everything was original & handcrafted gave me the design sensibility we follow today
Her research was put to use in 2012 when she began designing homeware products and selling to retail giants such as U.K. –based Toast and Fab India. In her own words, she was attempting to produce goods which were reminiscent of the simple past. It was only in 2014, when she was joined by Rekha Datla, her co-founder and business head, that she setup her own business, The Summer House. “The business was founded with a vision of delivering affordable luxury in a sustainable manner,” says Parihar and clarifies that her customers are typically people who understand luxury and know how much to pay for a product. The brand currently hosts cookware, stoneware, and a range of clothing (such as lounge wear, day wear and night wear), and will eventually begin offering kitchenware, children’s clothing and personal care products in the next two years. “When it comes to creating and designing a new product, I become the customer. I ask myself, what would I want and how would I want it? Because, it is to someone like me that I am selling my products,” she states.
While the clothes are designed and packaged in Bengaluru, the stoneware and cookware are designed and assembled in different parts of the country such as Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka and more. Parihar reinstates that sustainability is followed not just in manufacturing alone but is inculcated across every process and practice across the company. “For example, we plan our trips six to eight months in advance and travel only during a specific period to reduce carbon footprint. And, we use only organic cotton, vegetable dyes and non-toxic material and fabric to manufacture our products,” she explains.
Carving a path
While initially, the products were distributed at offline stores and online platforms such as Jaipur.com and Tadpole, once Datla joined the business, the duo took a decision to unplug the external distributors and setup a website of their own, making their products available only on their site. “The initial distribution strategy was setup to get the money flowing. The decision to remove it was just a lot of bravado. But we strongly believed that we could still succeed,” recalls Parihar.
Terming it a lifestyle brand, Parihar, Datla and their team of eight believe in subtle marketing (as opposed to on-the-face marketing) and resort to platforms such as Instagram and Facebook to showcase their products. “Apart from this, we rely on word of mouth and media coverage to get more people to talk about us,” she adds. The founders are clear that they don’t want to invest money in marketing until they assess the reach they are able to achieve through organic marketing. “Since February 2014 alone, our order count has increased by 80 per cent and we have a 62 per cent customer return rate,” shares Parihar and believes that this is a good start to their independent platform strategy.
While on the subject of marketing, a visibly excited Parihar adds that the team is planning an interesting campaign to help the brand’s customers realize the quality and fit of products offered at The Summer House. “We’re starting a campaign termed ‘The Trial Room’ where a customer can order for clothes to be sent to their home. They can then try it, assess the quality and comfort of the dress and return it the next day with feedback, or purchase it if they like it,” she explains. Although still in its formative stage of preparation, Parihar believes that this will be a good strategy to create more awareness about the brand.
The brand currently records demand from Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Delhi, and the U.S., U.K., Hong Kong and Japan. “In the end, the products we sell at The Summer House have to fulfil four criteria – simplicity, affordability, being beautiful and utilitarian,” notes Parihar.