As the sole founder, the journey can be quite lonely at times — Akshay Narvekar on building a luxury brand in India
The potential of India’s luxury market has attracted entrepreneurs from around the world to start up here. Growing at approximately $225 million per annum, it has contributed to the changing definition of luxury and how status is perceived. More than brand power and the visual appeal of logos, the attention has shifted to bespoke clothing and shoes, which emphasises the individuality and personal taste of the wearer. According to Vidya Nataraj, Founder of bespoke garments Tailorman, this is a $15 billion industry. But it deters risks because it is highly fragmented. India Retailing pegs it at a more modest $8 billion, or 20 percent of the market share.
The other 80 percent belongs to the ready-to-wear category. However, even at mere 20 percent, the multi-billion dollar industry is poised to grow at 5.5 percent per annum and significantly disrupts the currents of the fashion industry in India. This estimate has ensured a mushrooming of bespoke fashion entrepreneurs in the country eager to home grow western palettes of luxury here. Akshay Narvekar, Founder of Bombay Short Company, wishes to go one step further. He envisions his startup to become an international destination for fashion-forward shirts.
Bombay Shirt Company
Founded in 2012, Bombay Shirt Company offers bespoke shirts in a variety of classic and modern designs. Akshay says, “One can design his or her shirt from scratch, complete with the customer’s initials to create a one-of-a-kind custom piece. Or they can choose from our ready-to-wear collection in custom sizes. With prices starting from Rs 1,940, we strive to be an accessible, made-to-measure brand. We also offer a special range of high end Italian fabrics for those looking for a more exclusive feel. We offer a seamless multi-channel shopping experience, where one can shop online through our website, visit our stores in Mumbai, or book an appointment with our travelling stylist.”
Akshay spent five years working at a global luxury apparel brand in Los Angeles, a time where he honed much of his understanding of the workings of the luxury market. He then moved onto working for a private equity firm for a while before returning to his true love and founding Bombay Shirt Company. He says, “The personal need for a one-stop shop to customise my shirts online drove me to build exactly that with Bombay Shirt Company.”
Most Indian custom wear startups attach a hefty bill to their wares to cover costs and in a bid to justify the exclusivity of their products. Bombay Shirt Company starts its pricing on a much lower rung to attract both the niche crowds and the masses. Akshay explains, “Custom-made is gathering great momentum into becoming the norm with people preferring more and more to express their individuality. Also, social media has played a huge role in shaping people’s preferences, which leads them to pay careful attention to how they’re dressing.” While the duality is interesting, this strategy could work either for or against Bombay Shirt Company ‑ appealing to the common consumer’s luxury instincts while balancing the time and cost it goes into producing a custom shirt. Akshay naturally is betting on the former. He says, “Consumer awareness has a lot to do with this growth. Moreover, people have begun to understand that great products and service brands can be built domestically.”
Funding, growth, and scaling
Akshay raised funding from Amit and Arihant Patni for launching Bombay Shirt Company. He says, “The excitement around funding and raising capital has definitely reached fever pitch! All of a sudden smaller companies have access to growth capital and resources to challenge the larger incumbents.” Though reluctant to be specific, he elucidates that the growth rate for the past four years for his startup has been phenomenal. “While we cannot disclose numbers, we have been growing 200 percent a year and are already a profitable company,” says Akshay. His growth view is simple: “Supply will always be a constraint, not the demand.”
Bombay Shirt Company functions as a hybrid online-offline model, with an e-commerce website and two brick-and-mortar stores at Kala Ghoda and Bandra in Mumbai. Akshay plans to increase his brand through more of these hybrid mix of online and offline channels in the future.
Lonely journey of a sole founder
“As the sole founder, the journey can be quite lonely at times,” says Akshay. “Building a consumer brand in a crowded B2C space is never easy, and so criticism and feedback is always taken on a personal level, regardless of how detached one hopes to be,” he adds. But he is careful not to let daily struggles dim his long term vision: “Every day is a learning experience, but as long as you incorporate that, moving forward, the company will unquestionably grow.”
His driving force, and the best part of starting up, has been the constant motivation and obsession to achieve and build something substantial. “Honestly, if I didn’t have that, life would be fairly dull,” he admits. While he’s had no individual mentors, Akshay considers every meeting to be a learning experiences. “The one thing I strongly believe in is that there’s no substitute for hard work, and that will always see you across the line." Confident about a bright future for his own startup, Akshay has valuable advice for aspiring entrepreneurs:
Start something you’re passionate about, but be prepared to work harder than you’ve ever had to before!