Preeta Sukhtankar combined all her experiences in media and branding to start a unique e-commerce company, The Label Corp, in India that taps into the expertise of celebrities and aims to build India’s first “editorial” e-commerce brand.Today her company, The Label Corp, has three brands called The Home Label with Suzanne Khan, The Closet Label with Malaika Arora Khan and The Trunk Label with Bipasha Basu.
Let us find out more about her story and her thoughts on evolving e-commerce customers in India -
Genesis of The Label Corp
I believe that content is disguised form of marketing. They go hand in hand. I first started my career with a magazine. Then I went on to work in the electronic media. I tried new things before they became popular trends.. Later, a few friends approached me with the idea of celebrity management. While the whole celebrity marketing stuff as a whole didn’t excite me so much, what was exciting was the brokerage involved in the process of celebrity management.
A large part of the work was initiating partnerships and tie-ups between celebrities and brands, which really interested me. I had thought a lot about bringing it all together and perhaps create a brand around the celebrity. Given the fact that I have worked as a stylist, as a television producer and a content writer, I was able to give useful advice to the celebrity. However, I wanted to do something more scalable. So I thought of creating something by marrying content and commerce. There are many companies in the West which are doing this. My favourite among them is The Honest Company. They do all kinds of baby products, and have partnered with Jessica Alba, American TV and film actor.
Once I started thinking about the idea, I realized that maybe people would not trust celebrities who have endorsed certain products to recommend stuff from competing brands perhaps. The idea evolved into working with experts and ‘taste-makers’, to inspire consumers to make the right choice. For example, if Malaika Arora Khan recommended that I should buy a particular white shirt I would definitely choose that over what Google recommends me to buy. That is how The Label Corp was born with the idea of having celebrities become your personal guides across tabloids.
Big break with Suzanne Khan
Home was the first category we launched. Suzanne was an obvious choice for me, considering she was an expert interior designer. That was how The Home Label came about. After that we knew we wanted to do clothing, but not just any kind of clothing. So if you go to The Closet Label, you will see that we do everyday leisure wear. It is not fashion centric, but everybody will get something for their different moods. We have everything from yoga pants to convertible dresses -- one of our bestsellers. The idea was to create everyday style effortless. The latest launch is The Trunk Label. So right now we have personal stylists who help you set up your home, who help you dress up, and now help accessorize you as well.
We want to work with strong independent women as our ‘taste-makers’, who may not necessarily have a famous last name. Our target is the modern Indian woman.
I used to be Malaika’s producer at MTV, so I know her from many years. When we thought about clothing, we wanted to do everyday casuals. Malaika was our first choice for clothing because she came into the industry when the stars did not have a barrage of makeup artists, but whenever you look at her she always is stylish. I did not know Suzanne or Bipasha Basu personally, but given my track record in the industry they knew of me. I had no other ‘taste-maker’ in mind other than Suzanne since I was considering home as a category. Given how creative the idea is, and how she herself enjoys her work so much, she just jumped at the idea and was totally excited to be part of it, and she contributes a lot.
With Bipasha, it was a lot easier, since over the past year, we have more or less established our reputation.
By the time we approached Bipasha, she had already seen our work and she was convinced about the idea immediately. She was actually on our wish list from our early days. Hopefully when we approach the fourth expert, our three other labels will excite her.
Having no e-commerce experience was a big plus
It has been a roller-coaster ride. I started with no e-commerce background, and I think that was a big plus, and made me work twice as hard. When we started off, we worked out from a friend’s home who was also helping me with legal and financial aspects. We have expanded and added new labels very fast. Actually I was so new to the business that I could hardly name 10 e-commerce sites in India when I started. However, I had past experience in managing large teams and brand building. We are still largely an all-girl office with a team of an eclectic bunch of women.
Ten years from now
I want to create a personalized experience online. We are trying to build brands with different taste-makers. Today in the online commerce space, personalization is missing. World over, there are a few brands which I really admire, especially One Kings Lane, they do a beautiful job of what is called editorial e-commerce, and I hope The Label Corp does that one day. The product is so beautifully described and shot that even if you didn’t want it before, you end up wanting it.
Ten years from now, I certainly hope that we brake conventional ways of doing e-commerce in India. Today even the customer thinks of e-commerce as price sensitive. Our products are extremely accessible, but they are not your usual utility products.
The response for The Home Label has been very heartening, which is why we had the guts to launch the second and the third label. The product on The Home Label is comparable to some of the large brands. For us, even the innovation that we have in home décor is the reason why a customer would come back regardless of the price.
Yes, today we do not have the same kind of customers as other e-commerce and marketplace business models. But in a year or two, you will see an evolved e-commerce customer. Suzanne travels all over and provides input on the latest trends in merchandising to her team. With The Closet Label we watch all the fashion weeks very closely, and make clothes for women in international colors. The recommendations are extremely personal.
Recently, we sent a mailer to our customer base that talked about various shapes and the dress that suit you accordingly. We want to add that personal touch to everything we do. The mailer response was incredible, we had men write to us talking about their wives body types, and what would we suggest them. Increasingly Indian customers will look for advice and personal styling.
I am very keen on watching what is happening in the beauty space. By beauty I don’t mean cosmetics, but wellness, because that, according to me, is a growing business. As of now we are not talking to men, we want to be part of the story that is the new Indian woman.
Leveraging the network of celebrities for marketing
Bipasha is very strong on social media, we are reaching an interesting new audience. With The Home Label, we had tweets from Hrithik Roshan to Karan Johar to everyone. As we grow, we will make use of conventional methods as well. But I see the brand grow organically as I understand it best. Our marketing costs are extremely low and we are very innovative and leverage our existing networks to promote the brand. For example, we are doing an event with Malaika and we are doing it pretty much for free. This is the power of content or editorial.
Finding Vani and Kalaari through a Google Search
I was looking for an angel investor and didn’t find one. I actually didn’t know what the next step would be in the process. My friends told me that the idea is worth it, and I had to raise VC funding.
Literally, I did a Google search on top VCs in India and Vani’s and Kalaari’s names came up. And I thought how interesting, I had an all women team and it would be good to work with her.. She heard about our idea, and said it was interesting, and gave us some initial feedback which was bang on. We were trying to do something that nobody else was doing, and I knew we needed an investor who was not only interested, but also interesting and I knew in her we had found our mentor.
Vani continues to be instrumental in my journey. She is our sounding board. As an entrepreneur you are sometimes not sure of things, and having an advisor like her really helps. In terms of e-commerce experience, Kalaari helped us quite a bit and brought in the much needed expertise.
Books I read & women I admire
My favourite books are ‘Little Women’ and ‘Open’ by Andre Agassi. However, I read anything that comes my way.
I admire women in creative arts fields, maybe because my first two bosses were very strong women. I really admire Susan Feldman of One Kings Lane. What they have done is brilliant. I really admire Natalie Massenet of Net-a-porter, they sell you a product while you are enjoying their editorial.
To unwind, I watch movies. I watch at least one movie a week. I recently watched a brilliant movie called ‘Rush’. I love Bollywood films too.
Since I was 16, I have been writing a diary every day. It helps me keep my productivity high and track my activities on a daily basis.
Visit The Label Corp
This article was originally published on the Kalaari Capital blog.