Business partners, sisters-in-law and best friends – Aparna and Ketki are fashioning their own success storySharika Nair
This article is sponsored by eBay
Sisters-in-law Aparna Phadke and Ketki Annachhatre often talked about setting up a business together, but like many Indian women, they had to put family and children first. However, once their children were a little older, the urge to do something finally won. The next step was figuring out what to do. “We didn’t want to risk investing huge capital because we were new,” says Aparna. Ketki’s passion for fashion and Aparna’s interest in design is what made the fashion and lifestyle industry the obvious choice. In June 2013, they registered Chanakya Lifestyle and Retail, which now owns the fashion brands, Modo Vivendi and Indo Mood.
Modo Vivendi – the feather in the cap
Cautious at first, the two women decided to source a product they thought might work well and zeroed in on a cap that they liked. They tied up with a firm that was designing and manufacturing products for the European market and began selling the cap under the Modo Vivendi brand. The first batch of caps proved to be a huge hit, with every single piece selling out. Today, they sell more than 250 products under the label, which has expanded to include accessories like purses, hand bags, gloves, shoes, belts, and a range of skirts, tops, jackets, and coats.
Just eight months into their entrepreneurial journey, Ketki and Aparna decided they were ready to launch a new brand of Indian ethnic wear. This time, they worked with their own designs for exclusive sarees. The label, Indo Mood, now also features dupattas, stoles, kurtis and dress materials designed by the duo.
“With an initial investment of Rs. 50,000, we set out to fulfil our dreams of being entrepreneurs; today, our brands are bringing in an annual turnover of more than Rs. 30 lakh and growing exponentially every year.” They started working out of a tiny 50 sq ft space and have recently moved to another space that’s 10 times as large.
They have also hired four employees who look after the website, technologies, order processing, packaging, logistics, deliveries and customer care at Chanakya Lifestyle and Retail. Aparna says, “Though we are a small business and retention of staff is a challenge in any industry, we are managing pretty well. We have a very friendly working environment. We treat our staff as our friends. We are a small and close-knit team.”
A day at work
Both Aparna and Ketki are closely involved in the design process. Once their designs are ready and the fabrics chosen, they decide on the number of pieces to be manufactured and assign the task to the tailoring staff. Thorough quality checks are carried out at every stage of the process. They currently have around 10 tailors working for them and they assign tasks based on individual expertise.
Modo Vivendi and Indo Mood already have a loyal customer base. People from all over India, NRIs and even foreigners are showing genuine curiosity and interest, especially in Indian handwoven materials. They showcase their products on ecommerce sites like eBay as well as on their own website. eBay has recognised Ketki and Aparna’s potential by choosing them as one of the winners of the eBay SheMeansBusiness contest for women entrepreneurs.
Ketki and Aparna’s long-term goal is to expand into all kinds of lifestyle products. They started with clothing and are
now diversifying into personal care products (soaps, shampoos, and cosmetics), while expanding the clothing segment to cover additional categories like menswear. “We are focussed on delivering the best quality products to our customers,” says Ketki.Why the name Chanakya?
Ketki’s husband Ashish (Aparna’s brother), a branding expert, is the one who suggested the names Chanakya, ‘Modo Vivendi’ and ‘Indo Mood’. While ‘Modo Vivendi’ means “A way of living” in Latin, ‘Indo Mood’ evokes images of ethnic wear with a contemporary twist.
The name Chankaya was inspired by the historical figure, Chanakya, who was a thorough professional with an extraordinary interest in economics and politics. He laid down the ethics and driving principles of Indian economics. His work ‘Chanakya Niti’ teaches us to never forget our responsibility towards society, regardless of what business we do.
This why Aparna and Ketki focus heavily on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). “As a part of our CSR initiative last year, we donated 100s of rain coats and books to needy schoolchildren in the Ratnagiri district. When we received letters from these children saying that our raincoats helped them attend school throughout the monsoon and that they did not miss any classes, it felt so wonderful,” says Aparna.
The growth phase
In terms of sales, they are growing by almost 90% YoY, which is fuelling their desire to expand and launch new categories. Aparna reminisces about the early days of the startup. Their first order came in after almost a week and it took another 20 days for the second order to come in. Instead of getting disheartened, they re-examined their marketing strategies. From sponsoring small events to giving out discount vouchers to customers who posted their photos (taken wearing Modo Vivendi products) on social media, they worked on popularising their brand names. Today, they are processing 15 orders a day on average. They plan to increase this number to 50 by next year.
Ketki is from Sangli in Maharashtra and holds a Master of Commerce degree. She is currently doing an MBA in e-Commerce from the National Institute of Business Management (NIBM). “In the next 4-5 months, I will complete my MBA degree in e-Commerce. I will then have qualifications in actual (offline) commerce and online commerce (e-Commerce).”
Aparna, a Pune native, completed her Bachelor of Architecture from Pune University. She was a freelance interior designer, and took on several commercial and residential projects in Pune and Mumbai. Designing and aesthetics are her passion, which is why she takes care of most of the designing by herself. She feels women entrepreneurs should be taken more seriously. “I actually feel women are more serious and more disciplined in certain ways. Women often manage their homes and work simultaneously and get better at multitasking,” she says.
Families and support system
Ketki was always passionate about business and her interests were always in the fashion industry. She says with a smile, “Today I am living my dream!” Her family has been very supportive. Aparna too has been lucky. She says, “My in-laws have been supportive right from day one and they take interest in our work. I can count on them to help me on the home front whenever required. Without family support, one cannot really excel in one’s career.”
While both Aparna and Ketki have to travel on work, Aparna, who takes care of sourcing of raw materials for ‘Indo Mood’ travels more than Ketki who handles ‘Modo Vivendi’. Aparna’s travels have taken her to Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka from where she procures fabrics.
The duo avoid interfering in each other’s work and respect each other’s decisions. Ultimately, final decisions are taken jointly. They never travel together. When one is traveling, the other takes care of day-to-day operations. Even their vacations are planned that way.Promoting handwoven fabrics
Today, many weavers and suppliers of traditional handwoven fabrics are facing tough times due to lack of patronage. Though the government offers them subsidies and support, what would really help these crafts would be more businesses promoting traditional fabrics. Ketki and Aparna say that their chemical- free fabrics like hand woven silks, linen, and organic cotton are the USP for Indo Mood.
Aparna and Ketki are also close to fulfilling another of their dreams, which is to set up a boutique in Pune as they feel that people are still hesitant to buy premium clothing products without a tactile experience. If successful, they plan to expand to other cities, with a special focus on Indo Mood, through franchises.