Zeven aims to prove that an Indian sportswear brand can compete with international companies and cater to the needs of professional and recreational sports players.
Every four years, right after the Olympics concludes, questions are raised as to why India, the country with the second largest population, isn’t able to bring home more medals. Those who started Zeven wondered the same thing. Launched in 2016, it was co-founded by tennis star Mahesh Bhupathi, and business leader Hemchandra Zaveri, with a mission to transform the sporting culture in India by encouraging more individuals to actively participate in sports.
Zeven’s direct goal isn’t to bring medals for the country or create professional athletes but to raise the bar and get more Indians to be active. Here is their story.
Story so far
Talking to YourStory, Poojaa Kumar Deepak, Leader — Marketing, Zeven, explains that while the company may be mainly known for its clothes, footwear and accessories it lives by the bigger philosophy of encouraging every Indian to ‘go out there and play’, irrespective of age, gender or physique. Also, the highlight of their first brand film, the company claims to have this philosophy from Day 0.
From conception to design, Zeven claims to have invested significant time and funds for research to develop sports apparel, footwear and accessories to cater to the diversity in Indian terrain, climatic condition and body type. She says, “For example, the average Indian man’s foot is broader than his western counterparts. Products available in India by MNCs haven’t been customised for Indians.”
At the time of inception the startup had raised about Rs 50 crore from external investors. The venture currently consists of a 60-member team spread across different roles. Poojaa, though, shares that the company’s unofficial journey began in 2015 when Mahesh and Hemachandra, who had known each other for a long time, decided to work together to solve a pain point they saw in the Indian market.
As a former international athlete, Mahesh has a keen understanding of what professional athletes look for and what kind of equipment causal players should ideally use. Hemachandra, Co-founder of Forum Synergies (India) PE Fund, on the other hand, is an experienced business professional. Talking about a worrying trend in India, Poojaa says,
Most of us today grow up on sports and actively participate during our school and college lives. Then most of us become inactive and turn into ‘commentators in our houses’ who give out advice while watching sports on television.
Mahesh and Hemachandra wanted to leverage Zeven as a platform to bring a catalyst movement in India and get the average Indian to go out and play sports again. Poojaa clarified that the goal is not to create national champions or athletes but get people to engage in sports.
The market gap
In a country where kids play street cricket barefoot or in chappals and where recreational players look for multi-purpose footwear, Poojaa posed an interesting question:
Apart from professional sportsmen, how many casual players do you estimate are playing sports with the right products suited to their needs?
She notes that based on their research, the answer was not more than 20 to 25 percent. The right products are sometimes sold at such premium prices that recreational players don’t buy them. But, on the other hand, budget-friendly gear that is poorly made can hamper the sport playing experience. Zeven’s goal is to find the sweet spot that lies between quality and price and provide affordable products than have been customised for needs of Indian consumers.
So Zeven works with many professional athletes and invests in R&D and spends time testing products before launching them in the Indian market. Owing to the extensive and diligent research, commissioned nearly two years before its launch, Zeven notes that it has been quickly able to roll out a wide variety of products across different sporting criteria like cricket, football, tennis, cricket and running, training and fitness for both men and women.
Zeven products are available on all major online marketplaces, including Amazon.in, Flipkart, Snapdeal and Paytm. To provide an offline ‘touch and feel’ experience, the company recently opened its first brick-and-mortar store in Bengaluru, inaugurated by brand ambassador Ravindra Jadeja. Zeven claims that the store has witnessed 60-percent sales conversion rate in the two months since it was thrown open to the public.
Poojaa explains that so far most of their marketing efforts have been focused on digital marketing and on roping in brand ambassadors. It has been able to associate with players including cricket stalwarts Shikar Dhawan, Jadeja, Mithali Raj and tennis star Rohan Bopanna.
Also, a few months after its launch, Zeven was signed on as the official kit partner of the Royal Challengers IPL team. In early 2017, through its collaboration with the All India Tennis Association, Zeven was announced as the apparel partner for the Indian teams (both senior and junior) set to participate in the Davis and Fed Cup later this year. Zeven also has an association with ICC as merchandising partner for 21 countries for the next four years.
Brand ambassador Bopanna sported Zeven apparel and footwear at two of the biggest sports events in the world – the 2016 Rio Olympics and Wimbledon. Zeven’s creativity was in display with the limited edition designer T-shirts and shorts in white with hues of red, a tribute to the British tradition of serving strawberries and cream during Wimbledon. It is the first Indian sportswear brand to be showcased in the international arena.
According to a recent report by KPMG, India has a long journey ahead on its path to developing a strong sports culture. The report noted that to achieve excellence in sports the primary focus has to be on developing an environment conducive to growth and development of sportspersons, similar to the path of academics.
While many want to play sports, they face challenges such as figuring out places to go and play and also finding time in their schedules. Zeven aims to address all these pain points with products and the Zeven World portal, which includes content from international and local events to inspire people, and also provide information about arenas nearby where they can play sports.
Talking about another hurdle, Poojaa explains that the Indian education system and the job market have been designed on the basis of grades and academics in India. Employment opportunities of athletes after retirement are few. She says,
Lot of sportsmen or women with great potential, generally go into alternative careers because of lack of support required to make it big.
Poojaa also highlights the fact that in today's scenario most local governments and other sports bodies generally recognise only national and international level players and hence only they are able to thrive.
While Zeven has so far relied heavily on digital marketing and brand partnerships on the marketing front, Poojaa says that as their distributor network and sales grow they will look to invest in traditional advertising avenues like print and billboards.
While Zeven's target audience is dominated by millennials, Poojaa remarks that they want to cater to as diverse an audience as possible. Their products have been designed for all age groups and categorised according to the difficulty level of the players, mainly training, recreational, amateur and pro-gear.
Hence, the goal going forward is to go deeper into existing product categories and focus on the entire Indian market, while also launching new product categories for different sports.
Website- Zeven World
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- Mahesh Bhupathi
- Sport in India
- Royal Challengers Bangalore
- Hemchandra Zaveri
- cricket gear