From a celebrity style expert to one for the masses, how Archana Walavalkar made style accessible to allBinjal Shah
The perks of Archana Walavalkar’s profession as a high-profile stylist entailed days that turned into nights over wine and fashion-banter with celebrities like Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Deepika Padukone, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Shahid Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor. She was the costume director for their projects with Dharma Productions, Phantom Films etc.,so, if you found yourself admiring the way actors were styled in films like Dishoom, you know who was responsible. Also, the resident style expert for several brands like Garnier, Tanishq, Kalyan Jewellers, and Ponds, she wasn’t short of eggs or baskets to place her style savoir-faire into. But two years into styling films and celebrities, the idea struck for taking styling to the next level, with her own twang, technique and in tandem with her entrepreneurial aspirations.
A commerce graduate from H.R. College of Commerce and Economics, Archana specialised in Apparel Manufacture and Design from SNDT College. It all started off with the inspiration from the circus that her grandfather owned. It exposed her to costumes, drama and everything that came with it. “Coming from a family of creative minds, my interest always lay in this particular field which eventually drove me into pursuing fashion,” she quips.
The corporate world beckoned the day Archana graduated, and her first stop was the L'Officiel magazine. Two years later, Condé Nast decided to explore India as a market and Archana joined them as part of their launch team, as a fashion editor. Post the five-year journey at Condé Nast India, it was time for her first plunge – her own company where she was styling for films, celebrities and brands. “Corporate life was amazing, no doubt- but it is human nature to be on the lookout for more. I wanted to achieve and explore further, which was only possible outside an organisational framework. And at that point in my career, I had the liberty to take risks and I’m glad I did,”Archana exclaims.
A conversation about the fashion space with her friend of decades, Dhimaan Shah, led to many realisations – though India has a very vibrant designer and brand ecosystem with plenty of products available to consumers, most portals have a curation issue, for fashion is hugely subjective and people’s buying decisions are based on what works for them specifically. Moreover, one didn’t know how to go about getting a personal stylist, since the notion was that they were available only to celebrities. “We wanted to completely democratise the personal styling space,” says Archana.
A Cracker of an idea!
Their strategy for erecting a business out of personal style was very simple – to be everybody’s style concierge and provide users with relevant, cool, different and engaging solutions to all their fashion needs. At the heart of the portal is curated content, commerce or the opportunity to have a live chat with their in-house celebrity stylists. Additionally, Archana always believed in having an offline presence. To achieve this, they created the StyleCracker Borough which is now one of India’s largest fashion galas – a jamboree of up and coming design talent and fashion houses that drew over 30,000 shoppers over the span of a weekend, in their latest edition. The designers will also be launched on their web and mobile applications.
As one's style concierge – StyleCracker’s core value proposition is solving all its users'‘what-to-wear’, ‘how-to-wear-it’ and ‘where-to-find-it’ problems, through free virtual consultations with its style experts. “StyleCracker works with some of the most unique brands in the industry. We are very picky about the brands we work with,” says Archana. With nearly 5,00,000 followers and growing daily, ‘StyleCracker Live’ is also one of the country’s most up and coming fashion blogs. For the blog, a lowdown on all the trends being sported by fashion-savvy folk, Archana does not rely too much on UGC, and prefers that all content is signed off on by her in-house team of writers and experts.
The website also offers a premium membership programme, to provide a personalised shopping experience, by understanding the user’s preferences and helping them shop. They also assist brides and grooms for their pre-wedding and trousseau shopping.
Commerce, content, properties and celebrity/film styling constitute their four-pronged revenue model. “With experience in costume design for films and celebrities for over five years now, this was an obvious choice for us as a sizeable revenue stream. Given the number of requests that we received, we trained and built a team specifically to cater to this market. Our business has grown 100-percent year-on-year in this vertical and it provides us with tremendous reach to further guide consumers on upcoming trends,” says Archana.
The Properties division, launched almost simultaneously with their online offerings, has gone on to become India’s largest fashion festivals, with over 30,000 people attending over a weekend, and sales of Rs 8 crore being recorded over just a weekend.
For the truly stylish
Stylecracker targets the more savvy shoppers in the 23-40 age category, the ones who do not draw much value from ‘social commerce’ platforms and are also not motivated by discounts alone.
“We had decided right from the early days to grow organically and to spend very selectively on any type of marketing or advertising,” reveals Archana. Their revenues have grown 300 percent year-on-year, while their usership has seen a 30-percent steady climb month-on-month.
The market size is massive. As the entire ecosystem develops, side-by-side with technology, consumers are becoming increasingly time and quality-conscious, and they do not want to necessarily browse through thousands of products to find what they like. As user tastes and preferences mature, the two buzzwords emerge- ‘personalisation’ and ‘curation.’ Online fashion and beauty in India is estimated to be over $12 billion by the end of this year, which will more than triple by 2020.
StyleCracker's young team has raised an undisclosed amount in a seed round from a set of HNIs. With the newly infused funds, Archana now plans to focus strongly on Tier II cities this year.