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Building the SALT empire — Dipti Tolani’s journey with women’s workwear

Nama Virmani
1st Sep 2017
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In Dipti Tolani’s view, Salt, that ingredient so essential for balance, was what workwear collections for Indian women lacked. To remedy this, she introduced her own brand, one which strikes the balance between sophistication and simplicity, presenting Indian women with numerous options when it comes to dressing for work.

“I envision SALT to be more than just a clothing brand. I plan to build a community around it for women; one that is a safe haven for them and that stands up for everything women face,” says Dipti, Founder and CEO, SALT Attire.

Necessity is the mother of all invention

While on a vacation to India, Dipti remembers having to attend an unplanned work-related meeting. Not having brought any workwear on her vacation, she decided to go shopping. Despite having a clear idea of what she needed, however, finding workwear in India proved a herculean task. In her own words,

“A search for simple workwear proved to be everything but quick as I struggled and compromised over tradeoffs between designs, price, fabric, and fit. Further, when I enquired with my colleagues and friends who work in India, they all seemed to have the same issue. They mostly bought clothes on their trips abroad or if they would get lucky, they found some clothes but after a lot of hunting. The shopping experience for my friends, colleagues, and myself back in the US was far from this.”

This made Dipti realise that there is a gap in India when it comes to business casuals and workwear for women, and the demand for such clothing is only going to increase as more women are entering the workforce.

So she conceptualised a one-stop shop for 9 AM–9 PM clothing needs, giving birth, in July 2016, to SALT Attire, where any piece of clothing that you pick can be worn both to work and after.

Jumping over the hurdles

At Gurgaon-based SALT, most of the fabric is imported, posing a problem as it was very important to source just the right fabric and work around hurdles like a lack of variety.

Moving back to India was also a huge change for Dipti, and she feels that “it requires some time to calibrate personally and then starting up on your own in the midst of that can be daunting. Professionally also, ease of doing business in India was a huge hurdle to overcome. Even the basic administrative paperwork can drain you.”

Speaking about issues related to women, Dipti says that working late hours, that too alone, is very challenging. She adds, “This has been quite a blow in terms of me wanting to spend long hours at the unit, doing a late-night shoot, or meeting people after. The safety factor for women in North India can really impact your working hours and schedule and that can impair work, especially in a startup environment.”

Building the brand 

After realising the gap between what working women want out of their clothes and what’s available, Dipti started digging into the reasons why the gap exists and trying to eliminate it. Some core factors such as design, fabric selection, and fit stood out clearly.

Dipti admits to doing a lot of ground research and studying the industry and the designing process in detail. From making a list of manufacturers on Google Maps to going from manufacturer to manufacturer in Noida and Gurgaon, there was a lot she had to get done before making her first four garments.

Dipti shares, “I would visit the manufacturing unit and sit with the workers, watching them craft the garment from a design sketch that I provided to the final product. This experience gave me a lot of operational and business insights, ranging from tailor wages to workflow, from designing a clothing item to its implementation.”

SALT has come a long way from that and now has an in-house team that designs, develops, and produces the clothing. They study and predict trends, preferences, and user behaviour based on social media analytics.

What makes SALT Attire different from other clothing brands? 

What makes SALT interesting is that whatever you buy from the store is both work- appropriate and something you can wear socially. Most importantly, though, the clothes are made for Indian body types. Since India is a big export hub for the garment industry, everything from the measurements to sizing is based on Western proportions (mostly UK/EU). Items produced for consumption in India are sized and fitted by leveraging UK size charts. SALT has created its own body measurement ratios based on research on Indian body shapes and sizes.

After surveying and researching all major brands available in India, SALT has generated a massive list of items cross-referenced with the fabric used, the finishing implemented, the stitching done on the garment (affecting its longevity). Using this data, they came up with an algorithm which gives the industry price of an item given various grades of fabric, stitching, workmanship, and detailing. To their surprise, as the fabric goes further up and away from typical cottons, the prices rose exponentially. The idea is to connect with the customers and understand their needs; what they like, dislike, and how can SALT can play a role in that.

On a parting note, Dipti says, “Our assertion to our consumers is that given our fabric, our finishing, and our workmanship, SALT Attire will give the best bang for your buck.”

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