Keen to provide working women with formal wear options, this IIM alumnus launched fashion tech startup FableStreet
Indian women may be spoilt for choice when it comes to apparel, but there’s one area where they struggle: western work wear. Offline or online, finding the right pattern, size, and fit can be an uphill struggle.
Enter, a technology-enabled premium workwear brand exclusively tailored for Indian women. The Gurugram-based fashion tech startup was launched by Ayushi Gudwani in 2016.
Ayushi, an engineer did an MBA from IIM-Calcutta, after which she worked with McKinsey & Company as a Senior Engagement Manager.
“Any woman in management or anyone looking for good quality formal wear never found it back then in 2007. When I was applying and had to go for interviews, I could not find even a single brand offering business suits for women,” Ayushi recalls.
The seed of FableStreet was sown then. It germinated during her time at McKinsey when she shopped a lot outside India. When she compared the work wear to Indian options, she realised that it was tough to find well-fitting, comfortable, and quality formal wear in India. The potential to build a business was there.
“I did quick market research and realised that there was a good opportunity to build a genuine brand. There were many factors, the foremost being the increase in the number of women entering the workforce. Secondly, this area seemed to be a big white space. There were no brands catering to this segment, at least till three-four years back,” she says.
Ayushi adds that a few Indian brands offered women's workwear, but most were proffering menswear converted into womenswear.
“They did not take into account a woman’s size, fit, and styling. A bunch of international brands, on the other hand, did not specifically focus on women’s workwear,” she says.
The fact that women’s workwear was an independent category and big opportunity in many other geographies led to the birth of FableStreet.
A brand, not a marketplace
Ayushi was particular that she did not want FableStreet to be “just another apparel brand” and decide to tap technology to make a difference.
“We thought we would build a brand and not a marketplace. The brand focused on some fundamentals. The first was a great product, which means stylish apparel that fits you well and looks great on all body shapes and sizes. Then came functionality; something you can wear morning to evening. We realised that functionality was integral for it translates into comfort,” Ayushi explains.
As India is a somewhat conservative market, she realised that factors such as length and sleeves needed to be considered, and specific requirements such as pockets had to be taken care of.
“We were super-focused on getting the fit right, because no one focuses on fits in India. Western wear fits are very difficult to get right – they can’t be too body hugging or too loose. The third thing was providing high quality, which was lacking in India,” Ayushi says.
FableStreet may compete with the likes of Marks & Spencer, Massimo Dutti, and Zara among others, but Ayushi is clear about her startup’s vision.
“I come from a professional background. I think my vision was how to make professional women feel beautiful and confident. That's the vision we wanted to stand for. We wanted to be it an experience. From browsing to deciding to buying the product, even the packaging, you need to feel special. And then eventually wear it and get compliments,” she says.
Today, FableStreet is a team of about 100 employees with about 20 employees in the core team.
Tapping technology for better fits
To ensure that the size and fit focus translated into stylish-yet-comfortable apparel, the team researched and collected information and data about all body shapes and sizes. They soon realised that most Indian brands followed international sizing charts.
“The garments that work there cannot work in the Indian context, just purely in terms of sizing. So, the first thing we did was research. We collected body measurement data of about 250 women to figure out similarities and differences, and created an Indian sizing chart,” Ayushi says.
This data is updated as and when more data or samples come in. Ayushi believes that more data will help the startup create archetypes that are heavily analytics-driven.
The algorithm asks for three self-measured body measurements from shoppers. It then uses these to generate the body measurements of the user, and then converts them into garment measurements.
The startup offers standard sizes and custom-made apparel, including suits, trousers, jackets, skirts, culottes, and tops.
“Cutting and sewing is still a very standard process. But we use technology to track body shapes. Our algorithm is able to understand body shapes and sizes,” she says.
FableStreet has optimised tech enablement in the made-to-order process. “So at any point in time, we can tell you where the order is just by looking at the order number. We have bar coding to track the order at every stage. We are very, very efficient on this and can actually do made-to-order in about one to two working days,” Ayushi says.
The startup has a manufacturing unit in Gurugram.
The numbers game
The women's formal wear market is one of the fastest growing markets across the globe. The market is anticipated to expand at a CAGR of around 6 percent during 2017-2024, with revenue reaching more than $690 billion by 2024.
FableStreet claims to have served over 30,000 customers till date with an average order value of about Rs 4,500.
It clientele includes top management across companies and the “right target segments”. About 50 percent of its revenue every month comes from repeat customers.
“We have basically 3x the average order value, because of our sizing and fitting algorithms. Our product returns are under seven percent,” Ayushi says.
The team in December 2019 raised Rs 21 crore in Series A funding led by Fireside Ventures. In 2017, it had raised an undisclosed sum in seed funding from angel investors, including fashion veteran Harmeet Bajaj, Unilever Vice President Pameela Pattabiraman, and Fusiontech Ventures, apart from other investors in the consumer, retail, and technology sectors.
In the future, FableStreet plans to enter offline retail with brand-owned stores, starting with Delhi.
“We will be adopting an omnichannel model and also plan to expand to other marketplaces,” Ayushi says.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)