How Bengaluru-based e-commerce platform Kalpané is taking the ‘Made in India’ experience global
Graduating with a degree in fashion design from NIFT Delhi, Nikita Sethi worked as a fashion stylist for brands like Tanishq, Flying Machine, Nalli and television shows like Band Baaja Bride, Hunt for the Kingfisher Calendar Girl as part of their creative campaigns. It was her move to Bengaluru that saw her turning from a fashion stylist to an entrepreneur. “While doing up our home in Bengaluru, we had to make multiple trips to different boutiques and decor stores across the city to find decor products. We didn’t want the regular run-of-the-mill products that were being offered online. At the same time, we wanted functional products that had Indian aesthetics,” shares Nikita.
Coming from a design background, Nikita knew there were a lot of home-grown contemporary Indian designers and brands, but there wasn’t a platform that brought all of them together. The personal pain point led to the realisation that there was a gap in the market for a curated marketplace for decor and functional products that spoke in the language of contemporary Indian ethos. “When I looked at the larger picture, I realised that global customers often visualise Indian handicraft that are very traditional in design and form. While this definitely has its merits, a lot of customers today are looking at blending traditional art and handicraft techniques with form and functionality. And, I realised, the way to connect the dots was to build an online platform.”
In 2017, Nikita started her journey as the founder of- a marketplace for handpicked, artisanal and curated handcrafted products from some of India's niche homegrown brands and artisans. With its platform built on a .in domain extension, today Kalpané is establishing its presence in the e-commerce space. “Kalpané translated into imagination in Kannada. So, when I decided to start Kalpané, I imagined building a platform that showcased the made-in-India experience to a global audience. And, nothing says you are from India like a .in domain extension. In a way the domain helped to bind our story together,” says Nikita.
She emphasises that for a business looking to tap global consumers, there is no better medium than online. “The online ecosystem helps us deliver products handcrafted by artisans in a small village in Madhya Pradesh to a customer in Boston. This is the best time to build an online brand,” she shares.
“We spend a significant amount of time scouting for Indian makers that we feel should be part of the Kalpané tribe. Currently, there are no platforms to convey the story of made-in-India, contemporary products to the global customer. For us, making in India is an experience that can be offered and our products are selected and designed to offer that experience,” says Nikita.
Karan Anand, a former Vice President at Goldman Sachs, who joined Kalpané as a co-founder in 2020, adds, “From a consumer standpoint, we do a lot of the heavy-lifting for them by spending a significant amount of time before we onboard any maker or the products to Kalpané.”
On the other hand for the makers, a platform like Kalpané opens access to a focused and ‘sticky’ customer base. A focus for Kalpané is also to convey the story of each of the makers and their products that puts forths their USP to customers, says Karan. “We have been able to onboard 80+ curated brands that offer unique products - across home decor, furniture, beauty, women and men’s accessories, gifting and even an entire section dedicated to pets,” shares Nikita. The brands that Kalpané partners with include artisans, small and upcoming brands run by entrepreneurs who work closely with artisan clusters across India and designers who work with manufacturers. “For instance, we have an artisan who does the traditional tikri mirror artwork that is a signature of the palaces in Jaipur. We worked with the artisan to help him understand the customer demands, shared product references and helped bring those products to the platform. And, today he is retailing exclusively on our platform. We also work with a designer who works with women artisans in Muzaffarnagar to upcycle textile waste and make unique furniture pieces,” shares Nikita.
Spending the first year building the core tech platform and brand partnerships, Kalpané began witnessing traction soon after. “In 2019 we were able to achieve nearly 250 percent growth. 2020 saw Kalpané launch global shipping. While we did see a dip in the business owing to the logistical challenges and restrictions on e-commerce shipping during the national lockdowns and extended, we were still able to achieve 180 percent growth,” explains Karan.
Today, most of Kalpané’s order flows in from the metros. But, the brand is also witnessing a steady growth from Tier I and II cities in the domestic market. “We have observed that while the share of the customer base from Tier 1 and II cities is relatively small, they are a lot more sticky,” says Karan. He adds that global shipping has also started picking up pace this year in addition to a traction on B2B business. “We have positioned Kalpané as a B2B2C brand. While B2C has been at the core of what we do and will continue to be so, we are seeing a viable opportunity on the B2B side of the business. This is also because, we are not only able to meet their unique needs but can also cater to small order quantities and personalisation needs. And, that's the beauty of handcrafted manufacturing,” he says.
While the range of unique products and partnering with brands that align with Kalpané’s core vision have helped the e-commerce platform establish itself, the other reason has been Kalpané’s focus on providing a personal touch to the experience by interacting with brands and customers alike. “We have a lot of customers reaching out to us on WhatsApp, social media channels and e-mail and asking our suggestions and inputs on styling and products. And, we put in a lot of effort to respond to their queries. While, in the long run we might look at automating conversational commerce, so far we have intentionally maintained a human touchpoint,” explain the co-founders.
As Kalpané continues to provide upcoming makers a chance to take their products to the global audience, the months to come will see the brand strengthening its global reach and building a larger portfolio.