When the world’s largest furniture retailer opened shop in India recently, it made headlines with images of unprecedented crowds storming its premises. Of course, it remains to be seen whether this initial buzz and curiosity will sustain in the long term; but, the question that it prompted is, ‘Do Indians really love imported furniture so much?’
The furniture and home décor market in India is teeming, and is predicted to reach a whopping $27 billion in less than five years by 2022, according to a report by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. While the unorganised sector still rules, organised and branded players are slowly but steadily catching up. And despite being a small fraction of this organised space, in recent years, online furniture players have been making their presence felt.
Fabuliv is a startup trying to set itself apart from other online players, who mostly deal in contemporary furniture. It offers handcrafted furniture and home décor products with a tilt towards traditional Indian design, but well-suited for modern users. Fabuliv was co-founded by Ishita Singh, Sumit Rastogi and Anurag Singh. Both Sumit and Ishita are petroleum engineers and Anurag an IT engineer who were working in the corporate world when they were bitten by the proverbial entrepreneurial bug.
With ample global and domestic exposure, Ishita always had an inclination for Indian culture and the rich craftsmanship of handcrafted products. So she enrolled in an export management course at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), New Delhi.
She narrates an interesting anecdote about how the thought for Fabuliv came about. When travelling in Spain, she fell in love with a beautiful décor item. She checked the tag to know about its origin and was surprised to see that it said ‘Made in India’. What was even more surprising, she adds, is that similar products were hardly available in the Indian market, and if at all they were, then these were restricted to high end stores which only the super elite could afford to buy from.
So Ishita began researching Indian handcrafted products and found that the best quality products, though manufactured here, were only available for exports. That is when she decided to try and bridge this gap by introducing these export quality products to Indian consumers at affordable prices. She approached a number of exporters to tie up with them as vendors. After a fair bit of struggle and no positive response from the exporters to sell these products in the Indian market, Ishita and husband Sumit decided to start their own manufacturing unit.
Sumit had some prior entrepreneurial experience having assisted his father in their family-owned business. Even he was learning more about the size of the home décor industry, and how it had the potential to grow, with a number of untapped and unexplored opportunities, especially for quality handicrafts from India.
“Initially it was a tough decision and our family and friends were sceptical since no e-commerce company was involved in direct manufacturing and retailing of such products. But both Sumit and I were headstrong and decided to move forward. The initial days were really tough as they are for any other startup too but as they say, all is well if it ends well. Today we can proudly say that our efforts are paying off for both our artisans and our consumers. We are creating best quality products with almost no carbon emmisions and are contributing to the environment as well,” says Ishita.
So, they set up Fabuliv in 2017. Today, their factory in Hapur in Uttar Pradesh manufactures furniture and home décor items made from wood, metal, glass, terracotta, pottery, and Eco-Mix.
According to Ishita, Fabuliv’s USP lies in the fact that it is an eco-friendly brand and offers both premium yet affordable products, and also brings to life the aesthetics of traditional Indian art and design. “While there is no dearth of retailers online who can facilitate world-class products, there was a clear shortage of those doing it at affordable prices, and Fabuliv has created a niche in both these sectors,” she says.
They sell from their own website as well as through online platforms such as Pepperfry. At present, they ship 6,000 pieces a month overall. They also export to Malaysia, UK, Singapore and the US. “Sales recorded in the first quarter after we began (April-June 2017) amounted to Rs 5,00,000. From there, Fabuliv has now touched sales worth Rs 1 crore per month and has seen a growth of 50 percent month on month,” says Sumit.
It hasn’t been easy getting here, says Sumit. “Even though India is home to cheap labour, it was extremely difficult to find skilled and experienced artisans. After months of looking, we found artisans whose families had been working in this field for generations. The biggest challenge was to relocate the artisans near the factory to manage the whole production smoothly.”
Packing and transport of the goods was another challenge initially, says Sumit and adds that in the early days, Fabuliv incurred a whopping 10-15 percent loss due to damage of goods during transit. Following this, they invested time, money and effort to ensure that all the goods were packaged, handled and delivered well.
“Coming out unscathed from all these experiences is less of a miracle and more of an outcome of all the choices we made,” says Sumit. He adds that the key growth drivers for Fabuliv can be traced back to the vision of the company, namely its design exclusivity, its adherence to the Made in India programme, and its commitment to India’s traditional art, culture and style, all of which is translated into a range of products meant not only for decoration, but for utility as well.
“In their testimonials, happy customers have often shared that they love how a decorative piece can also be used to store things as well. Earlier, wooden centre tables and hanging shelves did not have so many purposes, but most of Fabuliv’s products can be put to multiple uses. For example, our walls shelves can be hung on the wall, kept on the floor, used to store things and more,” says Sumit.
Being eco-friendly means going the extra mile when it comes to procuring raw material. “We invest a lot of time in procurement of the right wood, right metal and coating elements to keep our products eco-friendly and affordable. We are constantly looking for scalable processes and options so that the quality isn’t compromised and the cost doesn’t increase. For instance, initially we sourced seasoned wood from Rajasthan, but now we have an in-house wood seasoning plant which cuts down costs, yet ensures that the quality of the product and brand is not diluted,” says Ishita.
The Fabuliv team today has 90 employees -- 60 artisans and 30 people working out of the main office in Gurugram. Ishita takes care of the creative side by studying trends, ancient art forms, the taste and the preference of artists and accordingly fabricates designs that resonate with Indian art, culture and heritage. Sumit, with his prior experience of running a business, handles the operations and marketing. Anurag is the CTO and manages the whole e-commerce experience.
Apart from this, Fabuliv has a very strong community ethos. “We want to facilitate our artisans, who are our backbone, and we want to grow with them. We have provided for their accommodation, the education of their children, health insurance, and training and skill development. It brings us great satisfaction to be able to provide for so many rural artisans who were once unemployed. We truly believe that the business segment will be different if those who are working for us are happier, satisfied and content,” says Sumit.
This is probably why the artisans are extremely invested in what they do. “Not only the artisans, even our quality check team is extremely discerning and carefully examines each product on the basis of its colour and appearance. Only after they give their nod to the final product is it listed for sale,” he adds.
Currently bootstrapped, the startup’s future plans includes expanding their range of furniture offerings in solid wood and venturing into eco-friendly clothing – plant-based clothing, natural cotton, and natural silk. At present, they don’t have plans to venture into the offline space.
“Just a couple of years ago, buying home décor products online wasn’t a feasible option, but now, with just one click, people can buy all the furniture and decor products they need for their house, from upholstery to wooden cabinets. Even years from now, Fabuliv aims to rule the online space for eco-friendly products,” says Sumit.