EDITIONS
Startup

Why this Chennai-based businessman ventured into the world of leather and luxury

Sindhu Kashyaap
23rd Jul 2018
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Tohl, an online brand for leather goods and accessories, is synonymous with luxury and craftsmanship. The brand is now focusing on establishing a strong offline presence. 

At a glance:

Startup: Tohl 

Founder: Manish Kawlra

Founded in: 2016

Where it is located: Chennai 

Sector: Ecommerce 

Funding: Bootstrapped 

For long, leather has been linked with timeless style and classic appeal. For Manish Kawlra, who had worked Gaitonde Group, leather was a part of life for 25 years. He felt there was enough room in the market to create and scale a well-designed, high-quality line of leather accessories that could be retailed at affordable prices. That led to the genesis of the brand - Tohl. 

Tohl was conceived as far back as 2006, but was formally introduced as a line of high-quality leather accessories towards the latter half of 2013, in Chennai. A decision was taken to scale up the brand in 2016 and Töhl was relaunched in August last year with the launch of an online store.

I felt there was a perceived gap in the market for high-quality leather accessories, presently dominated by brands like Hidesign and Da Milano, which gave us the inspiration to launch Töhl. We manufacture all our products in-house and do not outsource, thus controlling all aspects of quality during the production process,” Manish says. 

Tohl Team

 Why Tohl?

It was his love for the industry that Manish that in 2002 set up Shoeline, a manufacturing setup for shoes in Chennai. This was after his stint at Gaitonde Group, which he left as a vice president. Shoeline manufactures footwear products exclusively for export to Europe. The company claims to have Europe’s Mephisto, Hogl and Gabor as its client. 

When Manish had the idea of Tohl, he had established The Sac and Satchel Company in 2012, which also exports leather bags and accessories to several premium brands in Europe. With a manufacturing facility in Chennai, it is a sister concern of Shoeline. Tohl products are manufactured out of The Sac and Satchel Company

“Since we have already been in the manufacturing profession for over a decade and a half, setting up our own factory for diversification into bags and accessories was not difficult,” Manish says. 

The manufacturing process

He says the factory presently employs around 75 skilled craftsmen and has a capacity to produce 60-75 bags per day or between 250-300 small leather accessories, which covers both exports and production for the Tohl brand.

Since The Sac and Satchel Company is a sister concern of Shoeline, the leather used for Tohl products is mostly made in the in-house tannery. Some leathers are also sourced from Italy and France. Manish adds that they use a range of specialised treatments and finishes combined with laborious handcraft techniques. 

“We treat our handpicked leathers with artisanal respect, ensuring that all processes meet global standards. Since our footwear division and more recently our bags business have been exporting to several international brands, we have access to the latest textures, colour palettes, and fashionable leathers, which we incorporate into our Tohl products,” Manish says.

Creating the designs 

The process begins with the leather and design R&D. The design teams identify leather qualities and colour palettes, followed by design style boards and trim identification. After an internal review, leather development is moved to the tannery, and style prototyping is executed in the sample room, often going through several iterations. 

After sample review, approval, and range review, assembly and stitching of bags and accessories is done by in-house craftsmen. Where required, special laminates, finishes, and decorative grains are applied for desired visual effects. The selected leathers are tested for their durability and flexibility, and are tanned adhering to global standards.

“Töhl products undergo a series of rigorous quality checks to ensure customer delight. Products are meticulously ‘filled’ before packing to ensure maintenance of shape, and stored carefully till dispatch. Leather care and maintenance details are prominently displayed on our ecommerce site. Training programmes for vendors are available for consistency of brand language,” Manish says. 

Selling online 

All the women’s bags and accessories are light-weight, under 1.5 kg in actual weight. The signature design integrates international fashion in terms of colour and texture of the leathers used. The bags have interesting and useful features such as mobile pockets, additional slip pockets, internal zippered pockets, and dog hooks.  

Once the orders are placed from either the website or other ecommerce portals, products are shipped from the warehouse within 48 hours. 

“We maintain ready stock and have a very strong customer care team that responds to customer queries within 12-24 hours and operates Monday-Friday from 12 noon to 8 pm. We have a flexible exchange and return policy,” Manish explains. 

The challenges 

The brand was first formally re-launched through their online store only, but has now also been introduced on fashion portals like Myntra, Jabong, and Amazon. “We are now focusing our efforts towards establishing a strong offline presence in specialised boutique stores, large format stores, and select MBOs. Eventually, the aim is to establish our own stores through the franchised model,” Manish says. 

One of the biggest challenges the team faces is that of organising financial and human resources to be able to scale up the brand. 

“Added to this is the competition in this segment from both leather and non-leather brands, since we are operating in the luxury segment. We are addressing these issues at present and finding innovative ways to solve these constraints,” Manish says. 

What next?

The Indian luxury goods market is expected to cross $20 billion by 2018 and is fast growing. Some of Tohl’s competition includes The Leather Boutique, Hidesign, Nappa dori, Holii, and Baroque.

Currently, Tohl products begin at Rs 1,600 to Rs 1700 and go up to over Rs 10,000. Starting from 3-4 units a week, the orders are now at 4-5 units per day to date. “We now sell between 100-150 units a month, and this figure is growing steadily,” Manish says. 

The team plans to extend the footprint of the brand to overseas markets like the Middle East, South East Asia and, at a later stage, Europe. 

“We plan to extend the brand into categories such as light-weight leather garments, corporate gifts as well as leather home furnishings, where we see another huge opportunity for an organised player,” Manish says.

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