This woman entrepreneur grew her Rs 4 lakh investment into a handcrafted, sustainable children’s clothing startup
Children’s apparel brands are a dime a dozen these days. Homegrown brands are giving international ones a run for their money, but parents, keen to give their children the very best, are looking for more. After colours, designs and fits, they’re now looking for sustainable materials and understated elegance.
Enter Elizabeth Jacob and her brand Liz Jacob, a handcrafted range of artistic, elegant, and sustainable clothing for children up to six years of age.
Launched in 2014, the Bengaluru-based startup sources the softest cotton and combines it with artistic techniques such as block printing, screen printing, hand painting, applique, and embroidery to create “a range that is fun, fresh, and creative”.
But how did this creative journey begin? Elizabeth has been an artist since childhood days, and missed an opportunity to design clothes, glam up interiors, create colourful scrapbooks, or just experiment with watercolours.
“I also happened to spend a good part of my professional life in the company of creative people at leading multinational advertising agencies in Bengaluru, creating advertising campaigns for top fashion and lifestyle brands. This fuelled my passion for design and creativity, and gave me a sound understanding of brand building principles and the importance of customer satisfaction,” says Elizabeth, who worked in the corporate sector for 15 years.
She says she imbibed her ideas and philosophy from her family while growing up in Kerala. “I learnt the subtle nuances of understated elegance. This was evident in everything my family did – the clothes they wore, their home décor, and even family events.”
Why children’s wear?
Elizabeth’s corporate career did not give her time to think about art until 2014 when she took a maternity break. That year, she struggled to find classy and eclectic clothing for her toddler son.
“There weren’t too many stores that offered unique styles. The large multi-brand outlets had designs with mass appeal. I felt that styles for kids were overdone. Colours were loud, clothes were embellished with too many sequins or embroidery, fabrics were synthetic and garment silhouettes way too uncomfortable for children who love to run and play all day," she says.
Parents with evolved design sensibilities often shopped abroad for aesthetic clothes. Elizabeth saw this as an opportunity to build a homegrown brand that focussed on natural fabrics, simplistic elegance, and perfect finishes. And Liz Jacob was born.
She began to do pilots with few hand-painted garments and promoted them through her Facebook page and mom-centric forums. The apparel caught people’s attention, and orders picked up from 2 pieces per week to three to 10 pieces per week. Constant engagement with her customers gave her the confidence that there was a need gap in the market for her kind of handmade exclusive clothing.
“I used to personally paint these designs (over 100 pieces) for my customers when we started the company. This line, while very popular, was not scalable and profitable. Painting on fabric was as tedious and time-consuming as painting on canvas for days, and I could not command that high a premium on a child’s garment to justify the effort and time taken,” Elizabeth says.
She began to experiment with different artistic techniques such as embroidery, applique, screen printing, block-printing, tie and dye, digital printing, and more. And she had found what the market needed. By 2016, she registered her company and orders began rolling in.
Building the business
There is no easy way to build a brand, especially in the cluttered fashion category. It takes huge investments to grow quickly, but Liz Jacob was bootstrapped with an investment of Rs 4 lakh.
Elizabeth had to create every process herself, and was helped by her husband R Thomas. Together, they created the inventory management processes, and handled website development, trademarking, business registration, and brand photography.
Scalability was becoming a huge issue with the hand-painting line. Each garment took 1.5 to two days to complete, and the margins didn’t justify the time. However, Elizabeth did not want to abandon the core creative and artistic values of the brand and decided to work with artisans who could transfer her ideas to fabric through scalable printing techniques.
She found clusters of block and screen printing artisans and weavers in Bengaluru, who used sustainable practices that fitted very well with the brand’s ethos. The dyes were natural and herbal, and the printing studios were Fair Trade registered and adhered to fair wage standards and provided safe and clean working environments to employees.
To go international, she developed exclusive and differentiated fabric prints. ”We spend hours trying to come up with illustrations under a theme concept that can be creatively developed on fabric as an interesting collection for kids,” Elizabeth says.
What Liz Jacob offers
The children’s apparel brand offers a range of soft, elegant cotton and organic cotton babywear, along with a semi-formal and formal clothing line for girls and boys up to six years of age. All clothing is made out of gorgeous cotton, linens, and handloom fabrics woven by Indian artisans in remote villages.
“I love to travel and understand cultures. Very often, I find my inspiration for the next collection coming from my experiences during these trips,” she says, adding that her ‘Origami’ series was inspired after a holiday to Japan. “It is our constant endeavour to find fabric compositions that have a soft feel, but are easy to maintain even after multiple washes.”
The company uses natural dyes that are eco-friendly, biodegradable, non–carcinogenic, and generally non-allergic.
“We have certified organic cotton-wear range for discerning customers willing to pay a small premium. We are also developing sweet nursery décor elements like buntings to better utilise leftover fabrics and reduce wastage at our end,” Elizabeth says.
Over the last three years, the brand has been running at a 30 percent year on year organic growth, fuelled mostly by word of mouth. Its handmade products are priced in the range of Rs 1,200-2,500.
The processes are expensive and there is mass manufacturing-cost efficiency benefit as most garment details are added by hand and not by machines. "Despite that, we offer the clothing within an affordable price range,” Elizabeth says.
Liz Jacob manages its limited inventory efficiently without running into risks of dead stocks or damaged garments. It maintains a dynamic floating inventory exposed across multiple online shops at the same time.
The ecommerce startup, which claims to be “a profitable business”, does marketing and distribution only through Facebook, Instagram, and the company website. Most purchases are on Facebook itself, the founder says.
What’s in the future?
Brands like Fabindia, Nicobar, and Good Earth offer a small capsule collection for kids in their stores along with multiple other handmade product categories, but it’s tough to find dedicated outlets for a classy selection.
The children’s apparel market in India is booming. According to Statista, the market is projected to reach approximately Rs 1.7 trillion in 2025, an increase from about Rs 580 billion in 2015.
The startup fulfils several orders a month and the founder is now scaling up the business to get to 100,000 orders a month in the next 18 months. She does not reveal present numbers, saying she is currently raising money to scale up.
Elizabeth is now also eyeing international customers. She already has clients in Dubai and Australia, and looking to scale up further. The startup will soon offer apparel for children up to 10 years of age to target a growing clientele.
“We want Liz Jacob to be a one-stop-shop for Indian mother's for their children,” Elizabeth says.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)