Have you ever seen your friends wearing a T-shirt with a quote or a brand name they have no idea about? We all have that one friend in the group who wears a Baltimore Ravens T-shirt, not even knowing that it is an American football team.
Campus Sutra might just have a style check for that beloved friend of ours.
The founders call it a youth brand, which represents a ‘slice of life of a young person in India’. They point out that there isn't much apparel in the market that celebrates civil engineering, business management or the other academic streams Indian students aspire to join.
Dhiraj, Aditya, Sonal, and Khushboo Agarwal were on a Goa trip when they started speaking about starting something of their own.
The biggest bottleneck for them was leaving their safety net of fixed incomes. All four had a combined salary of Rs one crore at their previous jobs. The Goa trip ended and then started the journey to create Campus Sutra.
Originally started by Khushboo and Sonal, the startup is currently shipping 2,500 units a day and has grown from revenue of Rs 1.65 crore in FY 2013 to Rs 16 crore in FY2014. The venture has sold 6.5 lakh products since its inception.
Campus Sutra's philosophy is to ensure its designs are current and in line with issues that are buzzing among youth. The startup brings a design to market within 21 days from the time of conceptualisation.
“We want to be like the Amul ads of the apparel industry:on-the-button when it comes to current issues, while building an immediate connect with the audience through the quality of the communication,” says Co-founder Dhiraj.
Today, the venture has scaled from focussing exclusively on custom merchandise to offering a range of apparel and accessories,including sweatshirts, T-shirts, caps, jackets, sportswear, shorts, tops, hoodies, bags, laptop sleeves, mugs, and sippers.
Catering to the average youth between the age group of 18 and 25, 70 per cent of the firm’s business comes from non-metro cities.
While most players in the online apparel industry are tracking and focussing on front-end metrics like revenue growth, repeat purchase clicks etc., Campus Sutra is considering back-end metrics like inventory turnover ratio, sell through rate, and time to market etc.
“Our inventory turnover ratio is 45- 60 days compared to six to nine months for the industry. Our sell-through rates are above 95 per cent compared to 70 per cent, which is the industry average and we are able to bring a product to market in 21 days compared to 12-18 month cycle that most brands have.”
Bootstrapped, moving forward the firm is aiming to reach Rs 40 crore in revenue in the current financial year and targeting Rs 100 crores in revenue by the end of financial year 2016-17. According to the founders, they broke even in the first year of operation and are cash positive.
They are also looking at raising $10 million in the coming year.
But like most entrepreneurial journeys, Campus Sutra has had its own hiccups. The founders believe that one of the most important things they have picked up is the need to be prepared for all eventualities. This is especially so in the initial stages when the process and systems are being built and anything that is meant to go wrong will surely go wrong. Dhiraj says,
“In the early days, our warehouse was flooded during heavy rains and all of us had to get to the spot at 2 AM and physically shift goods to minimise the damage. That was quite a dramatic moment for us.”
The other thing which the founders learnt is the importance of creating a bond with employees and aligning them to the company goal.
“A competitor who had just entered the market offered all our 30 odd employees at the time three times the salary they were drawing with us. But out of the 30 employees, only four decided to take up the job offer. We are also thrilled at the way employees have grown into more responsible roles and their own growth has mirrored the growth of the company.”
But the founders haven’t forgotten the exhilarating experience of starting up. There say that there are many moments that have made their journey memorable, starting from the Goa trip to the recruitment of their first employee to the time they claim to ship the highest ever number of orders on a single day (11,000 orders on Jan 15, 2015).
They are also thrilled to see what starts as a single order from a particular postal address (say a college hostel), quickly escalating into multiple orders from the same address; it’s then apparent that many others at the hostel are purchasing Campus Sutra based on the popularity of the design and quality of merchandise.
Campus Sutra is betting big on product innovation. The brand is also trying to bring to the market a range of apparel and accessories built around a young person’s lifestyle – whether it is travel, sports, or entertainment etc.
Taking a step in this direction is Campus Sutra’s launch of functional wearables.
Travel Buddy is their first product which contains a pillow hoodie for travel, padded elbow patch, eye patch, a headphone wire loop from phone or iPod to the hood. Also, it fits travel needs like a toothbrush and paste, iPad, phone, keys, passport and tickets etc.
The product is the first in the line of eight products to be launched by Campus Sutra by December this year.
On taking a close look at the market, the apparels and merchandise market is the easiest to start and scale with.
There are multiple established brands like Alma Mater, Jack of all Threads and Voxpop which have created a mark in this space. Moreover, with very little innovation, philosophy, and design seems to be the only differentiator for this sector.
Adding on to the competition are sites like Freecultr and Shopo which are encouraging individuals to come out and sell designs on their websites.
Campus Sutra is showing promising numbers and seems to be creating a unique segment of travel wear.
However, one cannot dispute the fact that there is a dire need to see some realistic innovation in this space.