Ever since she was a little girl, Devika Srimal knew she wanted to run her own business. When she was just seven years old, she wrote in a school essay that she would one day open a chain of stores called ‘Devika & Spencer’ (quite likely influenced by Marks & Spencer).
In her early twenties, she moved to the US to get her bachelor’s degree from the University of Warwick. After studying and working abroad, she returned to India last year – and struggled to find stylish shoes that weren’t made of leather. She realized that international brands were selling mainly leather, and there was a chunk of unbranded players selling non-leather shoes.
I bought a couple of pairs of funky printed canvas shoes from the US, but when I wore it all day in Delhi in peak summer, I felt hot because it was a closed shoe. And being short, I like my heels. All of that fed into my stream of thoughts – I liked canvas as a material, but I wanted to make it open toed or open-backed for the hot Indian climate and add heels,” Devika recalls.
The need to marry comfort with style in footwear that wasn’t made of leather eventually took shape as Kanabis, Devika’s entrepreneurial dream come true. Launched in April 2015, Kanabis is a non-leather, animal-friendly, comfortable and fashionable footwear brand for women.
Historically, canvas was made from hemp, which is the cannabis plant (yes, that’s where marijuana comes from). A little creative wordplay led to the creation of a catchy yet not-so-controversial version of the name: Kanabis.
Kanabis was launched at the London Market exhibition at Hotel Ashok in New Delhi. Sales and marketing have so far largely been driven by social media and word of mouth. Kanabis has also run contests and does fun events such as ‘Kanabis Shoe Parties’ where women get together, have a blast, try out a whole bunch of Kanabis shoes and buy what looks and fits right. These parties have been a hit so far, and Devika has quite a few lined up in various cities in the coming months.
From finance to footwear
So how does a chartered accountant from the UK, with a stint at EY in London and Deloitte in Gurgaon, launch a line of shoes? Devika searched high and low until she finally met footwear designer Anshul Tyagi, who is now the creative head at Kanabis. She discussed her ideas with him endlessly before Kanabis became a clear concept – the initial seed capital was Rs 15 lakh, which came from her family and own savings.
Everything from designing the product, getting the samples and then getting bulk production right, to setting up sales channels, warehousing and logistics had to be done from scratch. Piecing this together kept me on my toes.
Devika confesses that one year of her entrepreneurial journey has taught her more than nearly seven years of a corporate career. Every day brings with it new learnings, be it shoe designing, marketing or how best to sell her products online and offline.
Asked where Kanabis fits in in terms of style, Devika explains:
We are positioning our brand as a fun, casual and high quality, but customer experience is equally important to us. We aim to provide excellent service, whether it is responding to a customer query or after sales feedback. We try to be constantly engaged with our customers.
Price, quality, style and other details
Kanabis is priced at Rs 1,700-2,800, and Devika proudly says that the brand offers unique and high-quality products that are 30-40 percent cheaper than international brands. Their products are currently available through their website (www.kanabis.in) and at several multi-brand stores and boutiques in Mumbai, Pune, Chennai and Jaipur, besides their own warehouse in Delhi.
We have our shoes physically tested at the Footwear Design & Development Institute in Noida. Our soles are certified to be abrasion resistant, slip resistant and flexible. Our manufacturers perform the QC audit and sometimes we hire a third party for random inspection. The production only starts once we approve the look and fit.
Not surprising then, that in just seven months, Kanabis has sold over 1,500 pairs. That’s over 200 pairs a month, on average. Traction has been good, as measured by the responses on their social media pages and offline sales. The startup has a small team of five people: Interns Niharika Singla and Shilpa Dangi, and business advisor Akshay Srimal, besides Devika and Anshul.
It’s a long walk ahead, but she’s well equipped
For Devika, the journey has just begun, and she knows it will be a while before the brand truly takes off. Late nights and almost no weekends are the norm (she’s also pursuing an MBA from Duke University), but Devika feels she’s headed in the right direction and enjoying the journey so far. What motivates her to stretch herself everyday in the positive response the she receives from her customers. “There are of course highs and lows like in any business, but it’s part of the experience,” she says.
Asked about her future plans, she says: “We are currently only focusing on the domestic market, but plan to start global deliveries at some point. In just seven months, we have seen our sales double month-on-month. We are aiming for fast and sustainable growth through an omni-sales channel.”