From three brands to one umbrella brand, The Label Life’s journey of taking tough calls and surviving rough winters.
“Have we lost the plot?” “Is this why I really started the business?”
These are questions most entrepreneurs either avoid or never quite get around to answering. Preeta Sukhtankar, however, reached this stage within a year of starting up.
The Label Corp has been in existence for over three years now, but the team celebrated their first-year anniversary this year. The first anniversary marks their shift towards one single brand. Preeta says,
I remember sitting and taking that pause. We had taken off on a jet plane and weren’t sure where we were headed. We were delusional. We thought we had a unique proposition and no other Indian brand was doing what we were doing. Why would we fail? While delusion is one trait that keeps entrepreneurs charging ahead towards success, it also is one of the big reasons why they fail.
Preeta was faced with some tough questions. Vani Kola, an early-stage investor in the company, had told her in simple terms that if they didn’t do something, The Label Life would just crash and burn. Her words had an effect. They galvanised Preeta into action. They raised a round of funding and launched three brands — The Home Label with Sussanne Khan, The Closet Label with Malaika Arora Khan, and The Trunk Label with Bipashu Basu — by 2013.
A time of reckoning
However, three brands didn’t mean they had everything sorted out. If anything, it made life more complicated. “We had no clue what we were doing; we were just launching brands. We barely had over 50 SKUs with The Closet Label and for over a year, we were at a measly number of 15 transactions a day,” reminisces Preeta.
2014, thus, became a year of reckoning. The numbers showed Preeta just one thing — they had good taste but not much else. Almost running out of money, the team got their lifeline in the form of a partnership with Amazon. Preeta adds that this partnership helped them understand their business at scale.
“For three months, we put our heads down and simply learnt things with Amazon,” she says. But during the whole process, Preeta kept going back to the basics. When she had started The Label Corp, Preeta had no idea of how to run a business and surrounded by hyper-funded startups founded by IIT and IIM alumni, Preeta just knew one thing — there was a need for a brand that understood the working Indian woman’s needs.
She had noticed that the tide had shifted, with working Indian women looking for the kind of dresses that suited their body types. While there were brands like Zara and recently, H&M, entering the market, Preeta felt they weren’t suited to the needs of Indian women.
“However, we decided to start with Home, because it was the easiest and we felt that the category was the most underrepresented,” she recalls.
A second lease of life
But one and a half years down the line, Preeta was rethinking her plans. With three brands, she realised she had essentially just shifted traffic to three different places, and that’s when the idea of combining them germinated.
"When we founded TheLabelLife.com, our vision was to build a one-stop-shop for the culturally curious and fashion-forward Indian urbane woman — a lifestyle brand where we handpicked, styled and designed by us, experts in our own fields — fashion and décor,” says Malaika Arora Khan, Style Editor at The Label Life.
It was the second life that the brand needed. Mining all the data the team had collated with the three brands, they broke down the market they were targeting, as well as the price points and products they were looking at.
Resetting the scales
The team claims that from November 2015, when the three labels combined into one, they have seen 5X revenue growth, have broken even (post variable costs), and are poised to operationally break-even by 2017.
“We realised that people were willing to spend for clothing at a certain price point, but if you give them some fashion-forward products that are available with you for a slightly higher price point they are willing to spend,” says Preeta.
The past year has been a tough ride. Combining the three brands meant scaling up, taking another look at their SKUs, and generally improving everything. The merchandising team put their heads together and decided on looking at getting better deals from manufacturers and working on better access towards credit instruments. Today the team of 65 believes they have survived the toughest part.
“Sussanne, Bipasha, and I travel frequently for work and it's extremely gratifying when we meet people all over the country who know of and love TheLabelLife.com as a brand. But what's more inspiring is our team of over 50 ambitious women who are working hard to achieve what they aspire for, to stay motivated every day and to take this brand to new heights,” says Malaika.
Stylists in a cookie-cutter world
That one year meant bringing in the right set of experts. Preeta says they were a team of stylists and shopaholics who needed people with business sense, which meant hiring the right set of marketers and experts. The team concentrated on their margins and returns.
The team claims they have the best-in-class rate of return and repeat customer base. Preeta adds that this has been all thanks to Sonam Shah, who had joined in as a junior merchandiser and is now leads a team of 15 in merchandising that put out over 100 styles a month, Yashika Punjabi who designed the company logo and is now co-founder of The Label Corp and Melissa, who has been there from day one and now handles customer service and retention.
Mithun Sachetui, Founder, CaratLane, and mentor for The Label Life says, “The manner in which their customers sport their merchandise and tag them proudly across their social media is a reflection of the brand they have managed to create. All this has been achieved by spending peanuts compared to what the rest of us have these past few years to attract, engage, and retain their customer.”
The world of lifestyle fashion e-commerce is fast growing. Last year, Delhi-based digital fast fashion private label StalkBuyLove raised an undisclosed amount of funding from a consortium of investors, including Mato Perić, former CEO, Rocket Internet, and nine others. The other platforms focused on fashion are Myntra, Jabong (acquired by Myntra), and Koovs.
However, The Label Life team say they are different.
“Our philosophy is that if you are looking for a white shirt, we won’t give you 10 options; we give you four that you should be wearing. We are stylists who choose for you. You cannot come to us and expect the same thing in four different colours,” says Preeta.
Currently, the team believes they have found their mojo and will continue to focus and grow in the same direction.