Launched in 2016, XXLLENT is an online marketplace selling the idea that beauty is beyond size with its plus-size clothing for men and women.
Most of us often turn to retail therapy to unwind, but did you realise that it’s not inclusive? What feels like a wonderland of possibilities for slim or average-sized shoppers is an anxiety-ridden experience for anyone in a plus size. After all, being told repeatedly that something your heart is set on is just not made in your size isn’t something your self-esteem can handle easily. The subtext most brands are trying to put out seems clear – fashion is not for everyone.
That’s what Raksha Shetty, with her plus-size-only fashion marketplace XXLLENT, is trying to change. She is offering the latest fashion choices and trends to plus-size divas and men, ensuring that they sail through every single day in style.
Why her – and why this?
Raksha, 30, was out shopping on a regular day with a cousin when she was exposed to what she terms as a “hard-hitting reality of the apparel industry”.
“My cousin, a size XXXL, found it impossible to find a dress of her choice in her size – across stores, across brands,” she recalls.
Unable to fathom how something most people take for granted can be such a tough experience for someone of a larger size she spoke to a couple of people to know more. The problem ran deeper than she had imagined.
“Most people in the overweight to obese category turn to local tailors for their clothing needs, almost never a pleasant experience. But they’d still rather break their heads with a tailor because going to a store inevitably means being in the embarrassing situation of being told, ‘Yeh aapke size me available nahi hai’,” she explains.
Raksha made up her mind to fill this gap in the fashion industry. At the time, she had completed her master’s in marketing from Aston University, and held a job as an investment advisor and financial planner. She was then laying the groundwork to bring biodegradable cement bags to India – but the financial unviability of that project eventually deterred her from seeing it through.
Growing up in an affluent Pune family, she was raised in a liberal atmosphere where her parents never tried to contain her ambition and always encouraged her. Raksha made the switch and resolved to follow her idea – and heart.
Having zero knowledge of the fashion industry at that time, Raksha dedicated several months to researching apparel retail – specifically the plus-size market in India – and chalked out model after model to make a profitable entry into this space. She considered importing products from South East Asia, tying up with local boutiques and even joining hands with freelance designers.
“None of these ideas worked out due to either high cost, low quality of products or logistics. So, I started selling sourced clothes via WhatsApp and Facebook groups,” she recalls.
Baby steps to a plus-size kingdom
After her exercise received sweeping support, through some more trial-and-error, she realised that the most cost-effective way to take on this category would be to produce in-house. This would also ensure high quality with dependable logistics, and be unified into a common platform, which would be a more seamless experience for customers. This platform is what we now know as XXLLENT.com.
An online e-commerce portal for plus-size clothing, they house both women’s and men’s wear, across the Indian, western, casual, couture wear, innerwear, sleepwear and sportswear categories. Their sizes start from ’L’ and go up to 8XL. They also plan to introduce the largest online sizes available in India – 9XL and 10XL – shortly. Eighty percent of their products are produced in-house while 20 percent are sourced externally.
“It’s not an inventory model that helps us control costs and maintain profitability,” she reveals.
XXLLENT also introduced size customisation at a very early stage.
“Some of our products are definitely one-of-a-kind in the largest sizes available in India – the torn jeans and the dungaree dress. We also house a collection of plus-sized intimate sleepwear and lingerie,” she says.
Most of their models are students and working professionals.
In order to create a buzz, Raksha decided to leverage the following of some of the most popular plus-size bloggers in the country.
“In India, plus-size bloggers are quite a hit so we tied up with several of them to showcase our products via their channels. Since they are abreast with trends in the fashion industry, we tried to understand the kind of products that would work for the Indian customers from them. Our marketing has solely been digital, along with word of mouth,” she says.
Some of the most prominent plus-size bloggers like Aashna Bhagwani and Meenu Goel have also modelled for them.
Big sizes, bigger numbers
January 2017 was the testing phase for the website. What started out at the scale of two sales a day through WhatsApp and Facebook groups, through the facelift provided by a unified website, not to mention highly targeted digital marketing activities, escalated to about 8-10 orders a day by the end of February 2017.
“During this period, we focused our marketing efforts in six cities, mostly metros,” she explains.
By April 2017, they expanded their reach to 25 cities and their order number rose to 20 to 25 orders per day. Between July and August 2017, however, their sales figures stagnated since their website could not handle the increased incoming traffic.
“We upgraded the website capacity and technology in order to expand our reach further. Raring to go by September 2017, they now target 35 cities across the country, and as of last month – they have been clocking 40-50 orders on a daily basis and Rs 12,00,000 to Rs 18,00,000 in monthly revenues.
“One of the most touching moments was when one of our customers, a size 7XL (Jaipur-based homemaker) called to thank me for giving her the best western wear options in her size. She told us that ours was the first western wear she ever wore. She also mentioned that she has never been so confident with her physical appearance ever before,” Raksha says.
While Raksha has not raised any external funding yet, she is looking to raise money in the near future to scale their operations and increase their marketing bandwidth.
“We are currently focusing on establishing a strong presence in Tier-2 and 3 cities. We are also working towards getting into brick-and-mortar and/or a franchise model within two years,” she signs off.