In conversation with Lubeina Shahpurwala, Cofounder, Mustang Socks and Accessories, who says the secret to being world class is not luck and genetics but extreme hard work.
Socks have been an essential part of our wardrobes, from early childhood and the shiny whites that were a part of all our uniforms, to the designer ones for office, and statement socks that are a fashion rage now.
In keeping with the love affair each one of us has with our socks, Naazneen Katrak founded Mustang Socks in 1987. She saw that India did not have reasonably priced good quality socks and wanted to be the one to offer them.
"Our brand is recognised as a family brand, where its socks are worn from grandparents to grandchildren. In fact, today, grandparents are getting inspired by socks worn by the youth," says Lubeina Shahpurwala, co-founder of Mustang Socks and Accessories.
Naazneen borrowed Rs 500 from her aunt, which went into manufacturing. She started out by getting workers to hand-link socks, and would set out to sell them herself. She met Lubeina in 2001, and the duo together brought machinery to Mustang. With that, came innovation in design and the materials used.
Lubeina joined Mustang and initially helped Naazneen with the business. Three years later, in 2004, she took up the mantle of co-founder with a vision to make it a premium global apparel brand.
Mustang Socks, as a brand, symbolises a trendy lifestyle, making socks a necessary fashion accessory for every occasion, across age groups. Mustang Socks’ designs are not only limited to school-wear or regular office use for men, but also for social occasions, formal meetings, and sportswear and fitness wear.
The company produces over a million pair of socks every month, and has 40 distributors across India. It has tie-ups with large brands, retailers and e-tailors including those like FirstCry and Hopscotch.
Though the brand is now well known, it has had its share of struggles. Lubeina says that for starters, a woman running a manufacturing unit and business by herself was something the industry could not digest.
Naazneen and Lubeina struggled for Mustang to be taken seriously as a brand that manufactures its own products, as opposed to outsourcing them. "Coming this far and looking back, it doesn’t feel like a struggle anymore," Lubeina says. On the current trends in the market, she says,
"Consumers' tastes and preferences are changing. The horizon of needs and wants are ever increasing, but traders are worried and not all are receptive to this change. Bright, trendy colours and unconventional designs are the thing, while subtlety takes the back seat and gradually will be on its way out."
Mustang follows a hybrid model where it ensures it allows customers to reach out to it directly through its web presence. Says Lubeina:
"Our direct sales team enables us to meet the emerging demands in the market. Our pan-India network enables us to reach out to consumers by ensuring availability of the products locally. We also have a channel sales model consisting of resellers, where the focus is prompt and efficient product delivery."
Lubeina says a lot of work has gone into distribution, and is now looking to venture into the rural market. Mustang's annual revenue is around Rs 70 crore, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 18-20 percent.
Lubeina says innovations at Mustang are led by consumer needs and preferences, and she is working with a team of technicians to automate various processes to increase efficiency.
"Taking from a personal insight, we previously created a special range of health socks made from anti-bacterial sanitised yarn. My grandmother was diabetic and often used to complain of her socks troubling her. Curious about how to better innovate, we came up with health socks. Soft elastic, non-compression socks that also help people with water retention problem."
Mustang also has a range of microfibre athletic socks. With an arch support added to the knitting technique, these socks are sweat and odour free, and fit seamlessly.
The team's challenge today is keep offline and online product synergies intact. Also, raising awareness about socks as an apparel rather than a commodity has been a tough ask.
For Lubeina, an entrepreneur is "someone who sees an opportunity in enriching and adding value to their trade, profession, industry or skill. The ultimate mastery lies in being able to improve and enrich lives of people around us, at the same time provide a product or service where we are able to create and foster new entrepreneurs or leaders."
"The inspiration instilled in us through the years was a sense to better everything we do. That clearly explains how we came up with the idea of ensuring that we make a world class product. We are a customer driven brand and that is the only inspiration behind our growth."