For women who are constantly struggling to get a dress that fits as stunningly as it looks, Bhavana Motwani says they are not alone. Heading tech operations for star startups like Local Banya, and working with startups for a whole decade, Bhavana’s career seemed to be headed anywhere but in the business of fashion. But when she was a child, she had harboured a dream that she had cradled all through her journey, even when she studied engineering at IIT Roorkee, graduated top of her class and went straight into the tech space.
“This dream was to retire from the corporate grind at perhaps 40 or 45, leave behind the routine, and the coding deadlines, and open up my very own boutique, as fashion has been my one true love apart from tech,” says the techie-turned-fashionista.
At 33, and a decade into that corporate rut, she decided to go back into the creamy old pages of her dreams, and dig a little deeper. She realised that there were so many gaps in the market of fashion for women like her who shopped online with zero scruples, but still hesitated to order ethnic wear. “For starters, the ‘standard’ sizes available on the Internet, are neither standard nor uniform across brands. Indian women have very different body shapes;a standard medium may fit their upper body but not their lower body. Unlike men, their sizes can hardly be standardised. I have personally struggled with finding good tailors and boutiques around my locality, and I know this to be true for all female friends,”Bhavana says.
She perceived the gap, sensed an opportunity, and felt like she need not wait another ten years to fulfil her fashion fantasy. “Coming from a family of entrepreneurs and techies, taking the plunge didn’t seem tricky,”she adds.
StitchMyFit went live August 2015, with its first, crude idea being to bring customisable designs to women, online. “I hired a stylist and we created 20 design prototypes in various fabrics and patterns and created a whole new system of online shopping,where the customer could confirm a design online, and instead of selecting a small, medium or large size, we would arrange to have a personal stylist visit their home, take into account their unique size and customisations, maybe tweaking the pattern, changing colours, and only then would we shake on it to seal the order,” explains Bhavana.
Along the way, her best friend of 15 years Neetu Singh, who was also a closet fashionista trapped in an engineer and SAP Specialist’s body, decided to take this creative leap her, and joined in as a co-founder.
In the next phase of structuring, she did not want an asset-heavy model, considering the fleeting and volatile nature of fashion trends. So, a marketplace model, aggregating various designers who ran boutique businesses, was a crucial alteration she made to the core offering. “With some basic market research among stylists, especially with those working in the fringes of Mumbai, I learned that they all only had a local reach and usually operated with clients from in and around their areas of residence or boutique. They all wished they could spread their nets wider, but the lack of digital savvy hampered these aspirations. My platform would give them that reach,enable a designer from New Mumbai to make a sale to a client in South Mumbai. Many of them do not even have physical boutiques and work from home. For them, a digital presence would be the most asset-light virtual boutique they could hope for,” she says.
All this was added in, while still retaining the original idea of having someone visit to decide the final cut for clients, as Bhavana believes that technology should be an enabler of human contact, and not replace it altogether. “With most e-commerce portals now, they only have the option of dealing with a customer service executive for grievances. But with matters as personal as fashion and clothes, given the choice, people always prefer to have face-time and control over what they are about to buy. I was trying to strike that perfect balance between online and offline,”she adds.
The best part for the boutiques is that they had to just exhibit their patterns; StitchMyFit’s in-house stylist would then go through the task of dealing with the end-consumer, recording their specifications, and communicating the final brief to the designer. “I started helping these boutiques come online, helped them photograph their designs and then started marketing. We also added the customise option on the website itself, if a client already had their measurements handy. For the boutique owners, what reaches them is a black box with the design number and measurements and customisations, if any, directly, saving them the effort of travelling to places physically.”
With eight boutiques on board, and hoping to close two more this week, the website showcases over 200 designs. And starting this week, Bhavana aims to have at least four additions to her list of boutiques weekly.
The next big step was tailoring services – when people came up to them asking if they could use their fabrics to have an outfit made. “We first started this as an introductory offer, but soon realised that this tailoring service was the only thing remaining to turn our brand into a one-stop shop for anything in ethnic wear. So, we decided to turn it into a full-time value offering,”Bhavana explains.
With this three-pronged model, the startup has now expanded operations greatly, moved into an office space, and with three stylists and a team of tailors all on the payroll, executes almost 200 monthly orders, in its third month of operations. The first quarter of the new year has a lot of BTL marketing activities on the cards.Bhavana says that not too far along will be her startup’s expansion to Bengaluru and Delhi NCR, at the end of the first quarter in 2016.