You often hear how the journey of entrepreneurship is laden with risk. Many bet their careers, free time and money to take a gamble on their business idea.
If you’re a naturally risk-averse person, the uncertainties of starting a business can get in the way of your ambition.
That was Shilpi Yadav’s story when starting Khara Kapas, a fashion brand with a modern take on Indian heritage, despite her own aversion to risk.
In this episode, we’ll find out how she took calculated risks to overcome her self-doubt and build a $1,500 per day business.
Felix: Today, I’m joined by Shilpi Yadav from KharaKapas.com that’s K-H-A-R-A-K-A-P-A-S.com, which is a fashion brand with a modern take on Indian heritage and based out of Delhi, India and started in 2015. Welcome Shilpi.
Shilpi: Hi Felix, thank you for having us.
Felix: Yeah, excited to have you on, so tell us little more about your store, this brand and what are some of the products that you sell.
Shilpi: Okay, so Khara Kapas as mentioned means a pure cotton in local Hindi language. What we sell is cotton clothing, primarily women swear and the idea is to basically work with our local Indian crafts, motives, our heritage and give our clothing a modern touch through our designs and thereby making it truly global. That’s the basic idea behind the brand.
Felix: Awesome, so how did you get started with this? Do you have a background in fashion?
Shilpi: Actually yes, I’ve had information towards design and art from the beginning and I also obtained a degree in fashion designing and fine arts. I graduated from an art college and then I did my master’s in apparel design from NID. Then I also studied in Los Angeles [inaudible 00:02:28] for some time where I was actually studying fashion management. This is a study bit, but then I also happen to have the chance of working with a couple of design houses in India and also had the experience of working with some fashion startups. Gradually, I was able to reach a position where I was working as an art director in one of the e-commerce companies in India. I think it was that experience along with my innate passion towards fashion that motivated me to start something of my own.
Felix: Makes sense, so what were the first steps towards it as it sounds like you had a lot of experience, you had a, it sounded like a fast-growing career working in all these different companies, how did you begin taking steps towards starting your own business?
Shilpi: Honestly, I was very skeptical about doing something of my own from the very beginning and that’s the reason why I worked with the various companies, but my batch mates, my friends and everybody had actually already started working on something of their own, but I was always very skeptical because the operations, the business and the risk taking side really scared me. It was actually the work satisfaction primarily, I just experimented with a lot of things in the design industry, but I never truly got an absolute satisfaction working for someone because there was always something new, something different, something challenging that I wanted to do. Somehow because when you’re working for someone, something or the other just stops you because it’s never your word. It’s always your boss’s word or the organization or someone on your top. I think it was that passion that I really wanted to do what I really believed in my design sensibility that pushed me towards starting something of my own.
Felix: Yeah that makes sense as you know when you are working for someone even if you want to do something, you need approval from others. When you do have your own business, you’re the decision maker [inaudible 00:04:32] day. You can decide how you want to take things, what you want to spend your time on. You mentioned that you’re skeptical about starting something of your own. I think this is a very important topic because a lot of beginner entrepreneurs [inaudible 00:04:43] thinking about starting business for the first time also go through this. They wonder is it worth taking that jump, taking that leap into starting something of their own. Can you talk a little more about this, like what do you think, what were you skeptical about exactly, what made you kind of hesitant to start your own business?
Shilpi: What happens is that when you’re trying to do something of your own, you end up talking to a lot of people. As they say that limited knowledge is not always very good, so I would always listen to other people, their experiences and the kind of hard work and the effort that they had to put in. Sometimes, it would not work out and that used to scare me a little because I never had a lot of financial backing. To start something, I knew that I would have to do it completely on my own. I was very skeptical about taking loans from the bank or from somewhere else. I wanted to start something, which was very organically funded, something that I could put in a little sum of money and so that the risk was [inaudible 00:05:48]. Those things used to really scared me about big money, big game, losing your money or your product not being accepted in the market that little bit of confidence issue that happens when you haven’t really tried and tested the market. Those things really scared me. Besides me being a complete art person, design person, the operations and the finance and the logistics bit never came to me easily.
I was always cared about getting into something of my own because of these reasons.
Felix: No that makes sense. The risk is definitely there and then when you hear so many basically war stories, so many batteries about all the effort that goes in like you’re saying and then things just not turning out the right way, it can get discouraging. You start letting all these negative thoughts kind of enter your brain and discourage you from getting started for the first time. What do you think made you change your mind and actually start moving forward even though you were feeling this kind of skepticism, feeling this kind of self-doubt?
Shilpi: I had been debating this topic for a very long time about doing something of my own. I think it was a situation at work, where I really felt stagnated at what I was doing. There was too much frustration at work in terms of I was not able to use my talent and my creativity to the full extent. There came a point, it comes in everyone’s life when you think that, “Okay, maybe this is a success, maybe it’s not, but if it’s not, at least you will know that you gave it your best shot, you tried it.” It was I think at that moment I thought that I don’t care about what other people do or what they say or what happens with them, let me just at least give it my best shot now because I was at that point when I started Khara Kapas I was about 32, 33 years old. I thought that this is a time where I can take this risk.
I do have a little bit of understanding of things. I have a little bit of maturity that I’ve gained in my workspace, so why not just … I had a little bit of savings that I could actually put into my business. I think putting all of that together I thought that I am going to just give it a shot, see for next six months how it goes. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t work, I’ll go back to work, I’ll think of something else. I think it was that moment that I thought that let’s just take the plunge.
Felix: Yeah, I think it’s a good way to approach where you just kind of consider what’s the worst that could happen and then deciding for yourself can you deal with this. It sounded like that’s what you went through. You said, “Let me take six months and try my best and if it doesn’t work, like game’s not over.” You can just restart or go back to what you were doing before. Did you jump into this business full time? Did you quit your job and go into it full-time or how did you set up the … How did you, in this kind of low risk tolerance that you had, again this is a very common feeling that a lot of first-time entrepreneurs have where they don’t want to take a lot of risk, were you able to set up the business in a way that worked with that kind of low risk tolerance that you had?
Shilpi: Yes, it actually did. I started a clothing label, so I was always appreciated for my design sensibility and when I was working for other brands, my designs always worked really well. The biggest risk that was involved in what I was doing was A, I wanted to work only with cotton. The material that I wanted to work was only cotton, which was a sort of risky because it’s not very highly priced product, A. B, there’re not lot people who only want to wear cotton. When you have a variety of materials, then you have a variety of options to work with, but I knew from the very beginning when the name, the concept was decided and cotton being my favorite fabric, I wanted to do something that was close to my heart because I knew that if I do something that’s close to my heart and I believe in, then it has to be right. I do not need to do something that I don’t need to be in the rat race where everybody else is doing. Let me just do something that I believe.
What I did was I started very very small. I started from a single room in my house and I picked up two secondhand machines. I hired a tailor. I started like that. My investment was very very low because I don’t have to pay rentals, I did not have to pay electricity bill, anything additional was not there. It was on a very small scheme. That’s how we started. I did not advertise or do anything at that point of time, but the minute I got ready with my first collection and of course, our social media is so good these days, I started with the Facebook, Instagram. I just did a small pop-up, just amongst friends and family to just see the response I would get. The investment was very very low. I also wanted to know that what I think, what I believe, is it getting the same response from people. I was lucky enough to get a phenomenal response in my first pop-up and the first collection that I did. That gave me the encouragement to take a slightly bigger step. I took very very small steps. I did not go all out with my business. I just took baby steps.
Felix: I like that that you, one of the issues when you have low risk tolerance, well one of the things that can make it worse is just investing too much and then now you have all the stress about all these, the money that you’ve invested and now you have the stress on top of the low risk tolerance. That doesn’t help you make the right decisions for your business. I like that you took these kind of small steps at a time. You gave yourself basically six months to figure it out. Did you have specific goals that you wanted to reach before you decide, “Okay, the six-month test, the six-month trial was a success, let me continue.” Did you have any goals in mind?
Shilpi: When I started, the only thing that I was thinking about was that I will not take a loan or I would not take a phenomenal amount of money that would put too much pressure on me. I knew that for the first initial investment that I made, which was of about, I’d invested about 70,000 to 80,000. I thought that I would let that money and I’m talking about rupees, so I thought I would let that money are actually churn. It should become a cycle that whatever I’ve investment should get me some return and I should use that profit to invest back into the business. That is the thought process I had in my mind. I had expected that I would what sell maybe about 40 to 50 dresses in like probably initially. I thought maybe I’ll sell about 100–200 dresses in the first two or three months. That was the figure I had in my mind because I had just no idea of how the market is going to respond, the pricing, anything, nothing I knew. It just worked really well. It just kicked off. I got an overwhelming response.
The demand increased so much. In fact, when I started, I wanted to do only Facebook or exhibitions or things like that because I was not very tech savvy and I just didn’t know how am I going to set up a website or do something like that. The response that I got in the first one month was so good that I knew that I immediately have to set up a platform, where I don’t need to take calls from people about, this is the design, this is the sizing, this is the pricing, but I have a platform, where people can go and see, “Okay, so this is what she has, this is what she’s offering,” and they can just pick up. That was the initial motivation for me to even set up a website when I started.
Felix: You actually didn’t have a website first. You were just on social media and people were emailing you for orders.
Shilpi: Yes that’s how it happened. The first month was just like that.
Felix: That makes a lot of sense too. Again, I really like your approach, where this I think works perfectly for anybody again with low risk tolerance like you don’t have to have a site, you don’t have to set up everything at once. Initially, you don’t want to get too involved in a sense. You want to basically find what’s fast and what’s the easiest and what is the cheapest as well way to start getting sales. It sounds like that’s what you did. You only open up a store, you only open up a site when it made sense when you actually needed to do it. For anyone that wants to know the conversion rate for that initial investment, I think that’s about $1,100 – $1,200 US for initial investment of 70,000 to 80,000 rupees. The first customers you got, you mentioned I think earlier pop-ups, were these like physical pop-up shops, pop-up stores, are were you selling mostly through social media?
Shilpi: Initially, it was when I launched, I started with the pop-up, which was like a small exhibition, a physical exhibition that I did. I had called people through messages, Facebook invite and all the people I knew, friends and family and friends and friends of friends, I called them. There was a small event that was happening locally and I thought that I’ll also put up my brand there and see the response I get. I had probably invested somewhere around $200 for that pop-up that I did. That was around 1st of February is when I launched it. I think 3rd February was the exact date when I actually exhibited last year 2015 and again I had about 50 designs with me. I went there. The response I got was just phenomenal and there were people who were calling me after that because I had my visiting card, they’ve taken my visiting card. They went on the website. They liked my page. They started following me. They started calling me and they wanted to come to my house to see stuff.
At that point, I didn’t even have like a physical space, so it was just like a room and I had one rack, where my clothes were hanging. I converted a small room into a space where people could actually come and see, but honestly what really works well I think it’s worldwide is that women would do anything for clothes. They would go anywhere and they would actually do anything if they like something and they want to pick it up. My customer being women, they all actually made the initiative to come to see to buy and they placed orders of what they saw. This was in the month of February and by March, I’d already started thinking about actually having online space to start showing my stuff because it would be financially not very expensive and my reach would be greater with lower investment. I think by 1st April is when I actually went live when I did my first sale online.
Felix: That’s awesome, so I think again your approach is awesome that you just took one step at a time. You didn’t have to go too big right away, but were you ever concerned about trying to I guess uphold an image of your business being bigger than it is because this I think a common thought that a lot of entrepreneurs have, which is that they don’t want to launch right away. They want to wait as long as possible because they want to make everything perfect and come out with a big splash and have a big brand, big image and make it appear that their brand is bigger than it actually is. Did that ever cross your mind that you’re worried that people will come to your house and just browse through rooms, rack for clothing, like was that ever a concern for you?
Shilpi: Actually, it was. Because I’d worked in corporate sector, so I saw how things are supposed to be. There’s supposed to be branding, imaging, you work with ad agencies. You’re very demanding about your client and the brand you want to build, but one thing that I was very very confident about and very sure about was A, my quality and B, the product that I was making, I knew it would be unique. I was sure about my design sensibility. I knew that I really cannot go very big in terms of investing in branding, marketing because it would be too expensive. I knew that I need to make a good product and if you make a good product and you do not compromise with your basic principles and what is holding you together, then I think eventually slowly things do turn out in your favor. Khara Kapas has been like a big example for myself too, actually setting an example for myself too because I actually just did not do any paid marketing to make the band. It was all very organic and because of the product I made.
On one hand, it scares you, you think that you should not be seen as just any other brand or something that’s not very professional, but I think because I had the privilege of speaking with my customers directly on one-to-one basis, so they got the confidence that this is someone who’s really passionate about what she’s doing and she promises the quality and she will deliver. I think that helped me get my clientele and build that trust in people from the beginning.
Felix: Yeah that makes sense. The pop-up shop that you started with I think there’s also another strategy that a lot of people can start with relatively low-cost. You don’t have to go all out and buy a website and set everything up. You can just start selling in person. Tell us a bit more about how this was set up. Was this like some kind of, you said an exhibition, were there other sellers are around you?
Shilpi: Yes, so there was this exhibition that I’ve heard of because I wanted to go very small and I didn’t want to invest a lot of money. I knew that if I do something just completely on my own, it probably will not get me the right foot fall, the right kind of people who would probably come to see my stuff. Actually, there was a small exhibition that was happening locally and these were professionals who keep doing these pop-ups and exhibitions. They call a lot of other brands. They have shortlisted their clientele over a period of few years. They know the sort of people. I first met the organizer and I told them that, “I’m just starting out, I just want a small space, I can’t invest too much money.” I got a stall for about a 10K, again as I mentioned, it was about $150 -$200. I said that I will set up the space. It was a 2-day event and from morning to evening. I said that I cannot take something big. I want something very small. They saw my product, they said that you will do well, you can take a bigger space, but I said, “No, I’m not sure. I want to take something very small.” They had their guest list. I had created an event on Facebook. I invited people. I’ve sent WhatsApp messages to all my friends, my family, my relatives, everybody who I could think of.
We had a decent footfall. A lot of people came. A lot of people saw the products. They obviously got to know of me. The only thing was that the reach was local. It was just within the region, within Gurgaon. It was not something that was outside Delhi or Gurgaon. The reach was that ways very small, but it definitely helped to spread the word around and it definitely got a lot of people to come to actually visit me personally at my space at home, which was the next step of me actually thinking about setting up a small studio and setting up online portal to actually start selling. Every step helped me to take the next step or made me feel or realize that, “Okay, I can take one step bigger now.” That really helped.
Felix: When you reached out to your media network or your friends and family to promote this pop-up shop, I think a lot of people that get started, you do the same things, which is to try to sell their products essentially or promote their products to their network at first, but the goal is always to break beyond that. You don’t want to just sell to your friends and family because they’re limited, you’re not going to run a business just from friends and family. This initial pop-up, even though you were only reaching out to your immediate network, did it also reach to people beyond just that network? How did it spread to more than just your friends and family?
Shilpi: Actually, initially when I had thought about even before I actually did this pop-up, I put my products on Facebook and I was actually selling through Etsy. I’m sure you heard of it. Etsy is a marketplace, which is global. The idea was basically to sell internationally. I thought that the thought that I’m making would probably not do very well in my own country because the prints were very ethnic, I was working with local crafts, but my designs were very western. It was very variable, it was very modern, something very basic and minimalist, but what happened in the process was that I got a lot of eyeball from the Indian market also. I personally feel what my understanding is it was through the people who connected with you on Facebook and how it works when someone likes your post, it just gets someone else’s attention also. You share it and someone else also gets to know about it, someone who might probably not be my friend, but someone’s friend, the whole networking process works well. I think that’s how I also got a lot of attention from people who were not my friends, but because obviously the account was public and they shared, so lot of other people got to know about the brand. They liked the designs and they inquired about it. It was through that. It was through friends of friends.
The immediate friends and family, obviously they didn’t even invest into the brand so much at that point of time. It was much later, but it was friends and friends of friends, who actually showed interest and who actually wrote to me and who connected with me to actually come and see the designs.
Felix: It was almost as kicking off a launching point just to first promote to your friends and your family and because of them liking or sharing your products that you’re posting online that spread to others.
Felix: I think this is something I’ve heard a lot from other entrepreneurs that took the same steps as you, which is to sell physically offline first, which is that they learn about their customers, the customers objections to buying, like there were the questions that they’re asking that they might not have learned from just selling online from the start. Do you remember anything specifically when you were selling in person with a pop-up that you don’t think you would’ve been able to pick up if you just sold online?
Shilpi: Of course, one of the biggest thing is that since you’re working with something new, something different, you want to actually see how your product falls on your customer. You want to see what the customer thinks about the fabric, what the customer thinks about the design sensibility, the sort of response is always a little bit of feedback that you get from people when you speak with them possibly. Those things make a huge difference. The kind of feedback I got about the falls and the fit was very important because I buy in general the kind of clothes I made it just attracted women above the age of 30. They are always not the skinniest and they always don’t wear the petite fits and all. For them, it was very important to touch and feel the fabric and for me to see how it’s falling on my customer that was very important to see the product on a customer. That kind of experience I only got when I spoke to my customers. Then, I experimented with some fabrics, which probably had not been worked on.
For example, I work with a very fine quality of cotton called Mulmul, which is very light, which lot of people don’t work with. I wanted to do just planes and solids, but I didn’t know the response I would get. When I actually saw customers wear it and see it, I got a very positive response about it. Then I realized that this fabric is probably going to be something that’s going to be a major part of my clothing line or my collection because the fabric was really appreciated by people. Even in cotton, you have so many varieties and then you experiment with that and then you present that to your customer and then you know what is actually kicking off and what is not, what is working really well, what is probably not working so well. That kind of response you only get when you speak to your customers.
Felix: Do you remember if there were any, because it sounded like you wanted to see how the clothing looked on your customers, but did you also try to ask any specific questions to get useful feedback out of these interactions with customers in person?
Shilpi: Yes, of course, I spoke to them about what would do they think about the cuts and the silhouettes and how they feel the fabric falls on them because there are a couple of brands who do cotton clothing as well, but I think what differentiated Khara Kapas or my brand from those bands was my design sensibility because my designs, there were a lot of verity in designs and it was a little more modern than the regular designs that were available in the market. I wanted to understand that what do my customers think about it or will I be able to attract the sort of sensibility I want to be attracted towards me because cotton is something that people want to wear, but the kind of silhouettes I do, it was a certain kind of customer who would have been attracted towards me. What I realized was that I was quite right there because there’s a segment of women in that category who liked my clothes, the ones who wanted something very minimalistic, something that is very comfortable, something that was really soft on the skin. That’s exactly what I got to hear from my customers again and again.
Of course, there were some people who told me that your clothes are very expensive for cotton. There are some people who came and told me that your clothes are so reasonable. Then, I realize there’s always going to be a variety of customers, so I really don’t need to work on my pricing based on what the customer is going to buy, but what I think is the true value of my product and then the right customer who actually understands that will come to me on their own. That worked for my pricing also because I got a lot of people, imagine the same exhibition there are about 10 women who walked in, two who said that I’m highly-priced, two who said that it’s okay, two who said I’m underpriced. There were some who just picked up four, five pieces and walked off. I realize that it’s going to be that percentage of people who actually know that what I’m doing is fine and they really appreciate the fabric. I really don’t have to worry about my pricing. I don’t have to worry about my fits and things like that. That I got to know only after meeting people because otherwise what happens, what I’ve realized over a period of time is sometimes there are people who’ll come and write you feedback or send your message or say something about, you’re very highly priced. Then you start thinking.
When, you don’t interact with the customers, you don’t need them. Then you think that “Oh, maybe everybody thinks we’re so highly priced.” When you do these physicals pop-ups and you interact with people, then you get to know about what they actually think about the fabric, what do they think about your quality, what do they think about your pricing. Then you can actually fathom that information over the period of time to understand whether you are in the right direction or not and whether you are doing the right thing for not. Those things really make a huge difference in shaping up the brand eventually.
Felix: Yeah, I like that when you go and talk to these people in person, it humanizes the feedback a little bit more and gives you a better understanding of the nuances of why they feel a certain way. If someone online sees your product and sees that it’s overpriced or they think it’s overpriced, they just may leave and never come back, but you will never know why exactly did they feel that way, but if it’s in person and they express that so you can at least get the opportunity to dig a little bit deeper, understand more about their thought process about why they it might be overpriced. I think having that opportunity to follow up with questions and understand the nuances that’s only possible in person, not possible online. The other important thing that you mentioned was about getting this conflicting feedback like you’re saying some people were saying that your prices were reasonable and then equally people were saying that they were too high, I think the important point to take out of this is that you cannot please everybody and you shouldn’t try to please everybody because when you do that then you end up pleasing nobody.
Attention, I think this exactly what you’re getting at, exactly what you did, which is focus your attention on the people that are already your ideal customers that there are ready ready to buy. You don’t have to spend so much time convincing them and focus on them rather than trying to focus on people that are so far away from buying and try to convince them because it’s not worth your time. So far we’ve been talking about these little steps that you’ve been taking, so that build on top of each other and that weren’t too large that made you uncomfortable. Do you remember, were there any steps that you took along the way that maybe you felt were too big or maybe too early and maybe you could have waited a bit before taking a leap?
Shilpi: Yes, but the thing is that what I figured out is that initially of course when I started and I’ve been lucky to have a very supportive family. I must mention that because they really really helped me calm down because there were moments when I would just lose my cool and I didn’t know what I was doing. I think the things that I did initially was that I collaborated with a couple of stores, which a lot of people do, but I somehow personally now at this point feel that it’s not really necessary for everyone to do that, at least not for me is when you collaborate with stores is basically when you’re trying to expand your brand. How do you do it? A, you have an online presence. Then you collaborate with some online stores, who probably also, they have a bigger market base, they have a bigger clientele. It helps to are spread the word around or it just increases the brand visibility of your label and then you also collaborate with some physical tools, who actually detail your clothes, really nice stores who do a lot of other designers also. In my case, I feel like initially I did enter into phase where I did collaborate with a couple of online market space for a short duration of time, which was I would say maybe about a month or two months.
A couple of things that I realized was that it was absolutely unnecessary for me to do it because my own sale through my own store, my web store was increased so well and at a steady phase that that collaboration was not really required for me. I thought that it just diluted the brand a little bit for that sometime because it was not really required. I thought that if I expand to other market places, it would just have to spread the word around, but I was smart enough to actually withdraw my brand very soon because I realized that I’m getting a lot of orders, but the thing is that other stores also eaten a little bit of margin. That was a small player like me, I thought was not fair because I was putting in so much effort and hard work and even giving that 30% or 25% of margin of my sale to someone else I thought was something that I should not have done. As I mentioned, it was just a learning. I mean I realize soon enough that there’s no rush, there’s no hurry to spread the word. It’ll happens slowly slowly.
Felix: It makes logical sense, it makes sense that when you talk about that if you want to grow your brand to collaborate with other people that have similar target customers as you that have similar audiences and work together to grow it, but you found that it was maybe too early. Do you know that there’s a certain time where that might make sense, especially for a fashion brand to start thinking about collaboration? Should you have a much more established brand before you consider that as a potential marketing a sales channel?
Shilpi: I think it’s both ways. Initially, if you don’t want to really build a brand and you just want to increase the sales without building a brand, then you can just collaborate with a lot of people because that will definitely increase the sales. In my case, I obviously knew that I have a niche product and that’s why wherever I would put product, my sales were phenomenally good. I realized that that thing that made me understand was that I have the potential to make it really big and increase my sales immensely, I just have to make sure that I get enough eyeballs and I’m able to present my work in the right manner and through right channels because if I was getting good sales when I put a flasher in somewhere and I got very good sales, but somebody else ate up that percentage of my margin, so then I realized that the product is good. I’m getting such good sales in such a short duration of time, then might as well use that energy to actually focus on my own product, my own platform, my own shop and try getting more eyeballs there instead of actually doing it with someone else.
I feel that that is something that I understood at that point of time. Now that I have I’m established and I know that people know about the brand and I do quite well in my exhibitions, which I continue to do actually. What I started doing something back now probably, I’m very picky and choosy about the events that I do because I know I’ve reached that stage where I can be picky and choosy about where I want to be seen, where I don’t want to be seen. I still do and I will probably continue doing because it helps me build on one to one with my customers and they always want to meet the brand owner, the face behind the brand, they want to meet. If I am a customer, I want to know who’s making my clothes or who’s making my furniture. I think that really gives me a lot of trust and faith in the brand. I always want to keep those doors open with my customers.
I also now I have started retailing through physical stores, but again now I’m very picky and choosy. I know that which collection is going to work with which store because I have a better understanding of the market now. I know that in southern half, this is the kind of stuff that works better and not this works better; in this city, this works better. I make my [inaudible 00:36:07] collections and I give it to the right store and I keep my product line accordingly based on what sort of customer I’m going to receive in that area. That experience I have gained now.
Now, I see that now if I get collaborated people, I will be doing in the right way.
Felix: It sounds like the collaborations, they take just as much effort as if you’re just to focus specifically on your own brand, on your own products. It might pay off in the short term because of the influx in sales, but it doesn’t pay off as much long-term for your brand directly, your own products directly because again it takes as much effort, but then it’s diluted between you and the potential people that you’re collaborating with. Is that what you’re getting at with why you …
Shilpi: Also because there are so many other brands that are there and probably there is I think sometimes your brand just gets sabotage because it’s not visible or you don’t get justice in terms of visibility and the way you would want to portray your brand when there are so many other brands. That also happens. I think it’s important to be a little picky and choosy about how and where you want to put your brand and what are the kind of customers you know would be attracted towards your brand.
Felix: This is I think more specific to maybe fashion, specifically this idea of being picky about where the collaborations being picky about where your brand is being seen and where your products are being seen. Can talk a little more about this like well A, why do you feel that it’s important to be aware of what your brand is associated, where your products are located and how do you make that decision on whether you should have your products at a particular place or not?
Shilpi: This is something which I realize so when I did an exhibition. Actually, honestly I’ll tell you what happened some I’m based in the northern part of India. My understanding of the south, Bombay, Chennai, Bangalore was not too much or too high. I travelled to those places, but then I’d realized that I was doing very good sales down south. I’m Delhi based brand. The fabrics I use is cotton and I work with local artisans and crafts, which those craft are of course I source things from all across the country, but my sales were very good in Bombay. That’s when I thought that I should actually do a physical pop up in Bombay to see that if I’m getting such good sales, you get your data and you know that you’re doing so well in the certain part of the country, then I might as well go visit there and do a pop-up. When I went there and so I realized that there’re couple of things that A, people there, they understand the sensibility of my clothes and my designs. B, the climate conditions are such that cotton works so well there and people want minimalism. They want clean cuts. They want nice silhouettes. I realized that it’s important for me to actually go and focus on these regions more because that’s my potential customer and that’s going to actually help me grow and build the brand there.
Then, secondly what happens is that if you’re working so hard on your product, when you’re actually putting, for example, in our case, we do everything in-house. I have a full set up here now and I have about a team of around 25 to 30 people and we do everything in-house. We source our fabrics. Printing happens here. Designing happens here. Finishing, stitching, everything happens here. This helps us keep a very good control over quality. I can’t imagine getting things done outside or outsourcing it because I think my quality control will go down because I can’t supervise things. I can’t see everything, little bit that is happening. When you put in that much effort in making your product, then you want to place your product at a place where that is going to be appreciated, where you know that people have an eye to detail, where they actually understand the simplicity of the design, basically, the finesse of the product that you’ve made.
There are specific stores and there are certain labels who actually focus on products like that. Then, you want to be associated or you want to build your brand on those lines and you want to be associated with stores or names or brands like that because you know that they will appreciate the hard work that you’ve put in.
Felix: It’s interesting because like I was saying a lot of industries, the goal is just to get your products everywhere. Doesn’t matter where, the location doesn’t matter where, what the products are nearby, just try to get everywhere, but with fashion specifically the surroundings make a difference in the way you perceive the brand. A lot of customers will associate products with others, depending on how close or in the same stores or in the same locations, I think it makes a difference specifically for fashion versus other industries. I think it’s important thing to think about being picky about where you list your products. I want to talk about your experience on Etsy because I think this is a pretty common starting point for a lot of independent fashion labels that are starting up for the first time. Tell us about your experience on there, how did you get started and what was it like selling through Etsy?
Shilpi: It has actually been very simple and easy because the platform, it’s very easy. You can just click your pictures. You really don’t need much of professional help to do anything. I think the simplicity of the process makes it very easy and encouraging for startups and small labels and brands and small business owners to actually start working on a platform like that. For me, it was again the same thing. I knew that I would get a very good response. I lived outside India and I knew that the kind of sensibility and the designs that I want to work with is going to very well in the international market and also I wanted to take Indian crafts on global platform and I know that Etsy would make it really easy for me because I really don’t have to worry about setting up something or too much tech support or anything like that. Require me being a non-techie person completely and that’s how it’s actually happened when I thought I should try doing it. What was really interesting is that in the process of doing that I’d realized that there were a lot of people from India or the local customer who started contacting me, who actually saw my products on Etsy, who saw my products on Instagram and they started contacting me.
That’s when I realized that I have a huge potential in the Indian market as well because I was under the impression that it’s just the global market that’s going to work for me, it’s outside India because the sensibility probably will not work well locally. I was absolutely wrong because it really worked well in the Indian market and I got a very good response. It’s at that point of time when I actually thought about setting up my own web store.
Felix: When you did set up your own website, were you trying to find ways to migrate your customers to buying directly from the website rather than through Etsy?
Shilpi: Yes that was one things. Secondly, I also wanted to focus on the domestic market. It becomes easier for customers locally to shop from my own web store in India rather than shopping it from Etsy. There was always a confusion that, “Do you ship in India, what is your pricing in rupees?” Questions like that that were being asked, so I thought it makes more sense if have my own. Also, the creative freedom is more when you have your own web store because you can probably present your designs the way you want to. With Etsy, the only problem that I found was that the ability to design my website or to put my things or the kind of lay-outing I wanted, I was not able to do all of that. It was formatted module and I was not able to experiment a lot with those. I was not able to divide it into various categories, the way I would actually want my web store to look like. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to have my own store, my own space, which is also because you don’t have to actually go through the search engine, but you just go on KharaKapas.com and you just log on and you just have a look at the design.
The one thing that held me back or I thought about could be a problem was the feedback that I got from a lot of people was that you will not get any traffic because nobody goes randomly on a brand name and starts shopping. That in my case actually was not true because the response that I’ve got from the day I built my own web store has been a scale up because every month the sales have only increased. As I mentioned earlier, I really haven’t done a lot of paid marketing or anything like that. I think it is Facebook, it’s Instagram and it’s just working with good products, clean websites, simple process, everything very transparent and it just worked very well for me, at least enough that I could have handled, what I could have done in my capacity, I was able to handle the pressure, I was able to handle the work, I was able to expand slowly organically, comfortably through my own web store.
Felix: Speaking of expanding, comfortable expanding at your own pace, did you ever feel like that you should kind of kick things up to a higher gear and move faster? Did you ever get this kind of urge to do that? How did you handle that?
Shilpi: Actually, I still get a lot of advice where people have actually told me that I should start looking for investment. There are people who offered investment. There are friends, not friends I would say, but basically people I’ve known, who actually work in the finance department or probably who are into Investment banking and who are into of the investment sector, they have told me that it’s time that you should start looking for investment because you’ve build such a big plans and you can just go bigger and bigger. You can have stores. You can have international presence. You can have all of that but the reason that I did not do it is because I felt that the reason why I created Khara Kapas or created my label was A, for creative satisfaction, for full control over what I was doing because for me, it was not a money-making machine. For me, it was like all my creative energy being utilized in the right manner through my own label, where I had control over everything, but I knew exactly, it was more from heart than mind. I didn’t want to lose that at any point of time by taking external investment.
The way I see things and luckily I’ve been able to churn out enough money to reinvest in the business again and again. I really never had that urge or the desire to actually take external investment or to just expand overnight or do something like that. I wanted to go slowly, step by step and I think that the pace at which I’m moving is good enough, very comfortable. I can actually see the brand now going really really big from where we’ve reached so far.
Felix: Yeah, I think there’s something to be said about that. I feel like a lot of times you hear from the entrepreneurship world that you should go out of your comfort zone all the time and go faster than you’re comfortable with, but I think there is definitely a space and a benefit to going at your own pace because especially if you want a specific lifestyle that you want to create out of this, you don’t want to just be working just for the revenue, for the money and you actually want to create a lifestyle out of it, I think it is important to really consider what is comfortable for you, what pace is comfortable, what kind of marketing is comfortable for you. Always think about what is actually going to be comfortable for you because that’s only thing that’s going to be sustainable over the long term. You can’t force yourself to be uncomfortable for too long. Otherwise, you’ll just burn yourself out. You said that you’ve done a very little paid marketing, maybe none at all and it’s basically through Facebook and Instagram. Tell us little bit more about that like what’s your strategy been on there to drive traffic and sales to your website?
Shilpi: It’s a little bit of Facebook marketing that we do when it comes to paid bit. The rest is just collaborating with bloggers, local bloggers. Actually, I think that what has worked really well for us is that we get a very good response from our customers all across the world. They share images of our products and they tag us. They always writes their feedback. We’ve been very transparent about it. It’s all out on the social media and I think that really has worked well for us in terms of getting more and more people to actually come and see the brand and shop from us. In terms of paid bit, we do a little bit of Facebook marketing, which is not very high, which is very minimalistic and just collaborating with a lot of bloggers, but again those collaborations, we don’t do paid collaborations. They’re just people who like what we do. They like our clothes, they like our sensibility and they want to write about us and they pick their stuff and they want to write. We do some shoots and we just share everything on Facebook.
I think that’s how it has worked for us and we’ve also in the process got covered by some local journals, some magazines and people who’ve liked our work, who’ve seen us in an exhibition or who bought something from us and they happen to be from one of these magazines and then that’s how it’s worked. That’s why we’ve got covered by social media also. I mean I don’t even have a PR person as of now to actually to work on my PR bit. It’s just being very organic.
Felix: Yes, sounds great. I think that’s [inaudible 00:49:58] another benefits of starting a fashion brand is that it’s highly visible. If people love your products, they’re going to want to share it because it makes them look better, make them look good. Do you find ways to encourage people to share your products and then wearing the products on social media?
Shilpi: Of course, we always write to our customers. We send personalized notes to all our customers and we request them they should share what they wear. We want to see them style our products because what is really important is that we’ve made a product and we feel that we style it and we shoot in a certain manner, but what is really interesting is to see people all across the world because we have like somebody from Delhi styling it in a certain manner, we have someone from Australia styling in a certain matter, there’s a customer from UAE who probably has picked up the same product and styled it differently. We encourage our customers to share images and we’ve been so lucky and so blessed that our customers do that and they send us pictures. They post pictures on Instagram, on Facebook, they tag us. We share those pictures. It’s out there. Everybody sees it and I think people really like that that we share those images with them. We thank them for sharing that. It encourages other people also to actually experiment with the looks.
I think it’s just become like every day I get up in the morning and I see I have some or the other image of some customer has worn and they’ve shared it with us. They love it when we share it on our social media and we love it too. It’s just like a very personalized sort of relationship that we built where we just share our experiences and we share our customers’ feedback, their images. They write testimonials for us. We don’t ask them to write, but sometimes they just post because they’re very happy. I think it’s just been like that. It’s just something that just happened on its own.
Felix: You started this business last year in 2015. You’ve been growing at a pace that’s comfortable for you. Can give us an idea of how successful the business is today?
Shilpi: As of now, we started with about a couple of orders in the first month, but we do an average sale of about $500 to $1,500 in a day sometimes, which I think for us is very good because it is actually more than what we can handle right now. We also do a lot of pop-ups, which I mentioned in exhibition, where we do very good sales sometimes. We do about a couple of thousand dollars in an event, which works very well for us, but you have to prepare for the exhibition and then you do an exhibition, you do very good sales. We also sell through a couple of stores right now, so we’ve collaborated with about four or five stores. We get about $1000 to $1500 sale every month from there. It’s just been growing like that. We’re just trying to expand our channels of sale. We trying to expand. We’re hoping that we will be able to expand our sales on our own website by introducing more product lines more frequently.
We just finished one year plus, we’ve done about five collections so far. We’re thinking of doing probably more collections more often because now we have repeat customers. They are always constantly looking for something new on the website. There is one part where we try to get more customers, new customers and then there are old customers who’re always looking for something new. I think our endeavor is actually to start doing some new collections more frequently, tying up with more stores, doing more pop-ups to increase our sales. That’s about it. That’s what we’re focusing on right now. Of course, we also have a little bit of international presence. We do sell internationally through our portable, but we also have a couple of stores who pick up pieces from us and who sell internationally. We do have that sort of presence. We’re also trying to open our own store very soon. We do have a studio, where customers come here, our workshop cum studio, where people come and shop. We’ve been asked by a lot of people to actually have an independent physical store of our own. That’s what our goal for this year is that if we can set up a physical store, at least locally in Delhi-NCR and then probably think about expanding it all across, probably in other cities as well.
Felix: Awesome, it sounds like a lot of great success, especially just within about a year of being in business and also very bright future based on what you’re telling me. Thanks so much for your time Shilpi at KharaKapas.com. Again that’s K-H-A-R-A-K-A-P-A-S.com. Anywhere else you recommend our listeners check out, they want to follow along with what you guys are up to?
Shilpi: Yes, of course, you can follow us on Instagram. We’re very active on Instagram and Facebook also. Our Instagram account is Instagram.com/kharakapas. You can hashtag or you can find us there. We generally keep it updated with what we’re doing and what’s happening next.
Felix: Awesome, yeah we’ll link all that in the show notes. Again, thank you so much for your time Shilpi.
Shilpi: Okay, thank you.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the e-commerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit Shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30-day free trial.
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