Online fashion needs tech, not just style, to succeed: Preeta Sukhtankar, The Label Life
In a fireside chat with Shradha Sharma, The Label Life Founder Preeta Sukhtankar and Style Editor Sussanne Khan opened up about the challenges of building private labels in India.
After rounds of finance and technology sessions, celebrity interior designer Sussanne Khan and stylist Preeta Sukhtankar brought a splash of colour and style to the TechSparks stage, teaching the techie-preneurs in the room a thing or two about the business of fashion. The women showed how they’ve not just survived in a sea of technology startups but also broken even.
In a fireside chat with Shradha Sharma, Preeta and Sussanne opened up about building private labels in India. An e-commerce lifestyle brand based out of Mumbai, The Label Life houses specially curated clothing, accessories, and home décor products.
Following a round of funding, The Label Life launched three new brands — the home decor category, The Home Label, headed by interior designer Sussanne Khan; the clothing category, The Closet Label, headed by Bollywood actress Malaika Arora Khan; and the accessories category, The Trunk Label, led by Bipasha Basu — by 2013.
In a market flooded with fashion brands, it is interesting to know how The Label Life created a niche for itself. “With consumers getting smarter, we are trying to create a lifestyle approach to a brand. Our disruptive approach was to bring together three connoisseurs of lifestyle and get them to dictate our look and style. They are not so much our endorsers as our partners,” said Preeta. Sussanne stressed the importance of price, quality, and design, saying, “Everybody can put out a lifestyle product, but the price and quality to be in a certain zone is what makes us really special. We strive for the quality to match our buyers’ expectations.”
When Shradha quizzed her on how an entrepreneur can get a celebrity on board as a partner, Preeta explained how they first put in place a plan of having style editors and creating a lifestyle store where the pieces were curated by professionals.
The company made a brand note that defined who their customers were and what they wanted. Then they looked for style connoisseurs who met their criteria and had earned a name in their respective fields of expertise.
One can’t be faulted for thinking that with Sussanne, Malaika, and Bipasha as partners, funding could never have been an issue, but Preeta was quick to interrupt with, “I come from a middle-class Maharashtrian family. My first salary was Rs 3,000.” She pursued fashion media and worked with popular brands like including Elle, MTV, L'Officiel, and Seventeen in different roles, from styling to sales and marketing. This helped her network with people from the glamour industry.
In a market where people generally opt for e-commerce, how does one raise money for creating a private label? What challenges did The Label Life face? According to Preeta and Sussanne, the biggest hurdle was when, on approaching VCs, they were asked, “Who are you like?”
Preeta’s response then, and what she still believes, is that “We are like no one. There isn’t anyone abroad who is doing what we are doing the way we are doing it.” The Label Life is a brand with three influencers who work together to create their signature collections. While it was tough initially, three years down the line, the label boasts of a good gross margin and several loyal customers.
With the fashion industry evolving every day, it must be a challenge to stay on top of their game. “We research and analyse a lot — colours, trends, fabrics. We forecast the trends and look at India’s climatic conditions. And of course, there is a certain style element. I follow my gut and my vibe which has worked correctly with the international trends. We want fashion to be like quiet luxury,” explained Sussanne.
Mistakes and more
About mistakes they could have avoided, Preeta said that back when they started they were confident about their product and taste and thus did not focus on marketing it. They did not follow online performance analytics or put in more time on building a superior-quality website. This is something she would’ve preferred doing differently.
Sussanne emphasised the importance of being humble and never being overconfident about one’s product or idea.She is also looking to invest in startups.
The company has a sustainability model in place and uses leftover fabrics and usable packaging. In the near future, they plan on expanding into the beauty market.
The company broke even early this year and is looking to close a new round of funding.