Started up in pandemic, how this entrepreneur built multi-crore menswear brands
Sreejith Sreekumar likes to swim against the tide.
When his family wanted him to become a doctor, Sreejith, who grew up in Kollam, Kerala, took a course on fashion at the National Institute of Fashion Technology “accidentally,” and that’s how he was introduced to the industry.
In 2020, when the pandemic-induced lockdowns shuttered some businesses and forced others to survive, he remained undeterred and started up in the hugely competitive apparel industry.
He launched Giacca and Abito Sartorial Fashion Pvt Ltd, a Kochi-based startup whose brands—T the Brand and Bare Brown—are now recording multi-crore turnovers.
Building a brand
Though Sreejith chose fashion against his family’s wishes, he felt vindicated when he got the opportunity to work with leading apparel companies like Raymonds and Arvind Lifestyle. Starting in 2008, he managed their key brands for about one decade.
The stints also gave him global exposure, enabling him to pursue higher studies in Italy. Sreejith’s interest didn’t list in design but rather in the business of fashion and building categories, and this got him interested in the suits and blazers segment.
Having the experience of building and nurturing brands, Sreejith had the urge to do something of his own. He understood the dynamics of the apparel industry and was aware that to carve a niche in the crowded space, one needs to be patient.
“Building a brand is a very slow process and consumers tend to show trust if it is present offline,” the Founder and CEO of Giacca and Abito Sartorial Fashion tells YourStory.
He decided to give the company an Italian name—Giacca and Abito Sartorial Fashion Pvt Ltd—which combines Italian words for suits, jackets, and tailoring. The founder says that though the name might sound complex, it sticks with people.
Sreejith decided to initially foray into the suits and blazer segment, which was one of his strong points. This segment is very seasonal in nature, however, he noticed there was a change taking place. While suits were still a seasonal purchase, blazers were being bought around the year.
“Blazers have become more versatile, becoming easy to wear and easy to care for,” he says.
At the same time, Sreejith looked into the market dynamics of the apparel industry and decided that he would get into the offline segment before venturing online. The reason was very simple—there was a high rate of return in the online apparel business, and as a young startup, he could not afford that.
The team of Giacca and Abito Sartorial Fashion Pvt Ltd
Given his experience in the apparel industry and engaging with numerous retail outlets over time, Sreejith reached out to multi-brand outlets (MBO) to place his products.
He explains that MBOs face a different kind of challenge when they place orders with leading brands. According to him, they pay around 80-90 percent of money upfront for the entire season collection, which also means that they have to hold the inventory. Adding to this, the time taken to replenish the stock is around 25-30 days.
Sreejith proposed his products be placed along with other brands and be priced aggressively. Also, he requested the MBOs to pay him some money upfront as he was still running a startup.
“Our product was placed along with the other leading brands, but we were still a fresh brand,” says Sreejith.
Though Sreejith did not look at packaging his products as a season collection, he focused on replenishment in smaller cycles of 45-60 days, which would be done within 24-48 hours.
However, the key was to maintain the quality of the product. Sreejith says, “The team at our startup is very important to me and we will never compromise on quality.”
Giving an example, he says their blazers have specially designed pen pockets or a place to keep the cloth that one uses to clean the spectacles. He believes these minor things make a big difference.
The pandemic also proved advantageous for Sreejith as he outsourced the entire manufacturing process to the garment units in India that were lying idle.
“Garment manufacturers generally do not entertain a startup but we went with a cash and carry model where I gave them work commitment every month,” he says.
At present, the startup designs the apparel and merchandise in-house, while the rest of the processes are outsourced.
The first brand Sreejith instituted under Giacca and Abito Sartorial Fashion was T the Brand—for formal menswear covering suits, blazers, shirts, and leather accessories. This was complemented by Bare Brown, which is focused on casual wear.
The prices of these products cuts across ranges. Suits are available in Rs 8,000-9,000 range, blazers at Rs 4,000-6,000, and shirts in the price point of Rs 1,500-2,000.
Starting from Kerala, the entrepreneur worked with MBOs including Jayalakshmi and Kalyan Silks to house his products, and now, the company sells pan India—including in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, and Punjab. It has presence in over 100 outlets in Kerala alone.
“We are looking at markets where there is a large presence of multi-brand outlets, and we are nimble-footed,” says Sreejith.
Giacca and Abito Sartorial Fashion is now a self-sustaining business, starting with a turnover of Rs 80 lakh in the first year of operation, which reached Rs 5 crore in FY22. The team of 22 employees is now aiming to reach Rs 20 crore by FY23.
Bootstrapped, the Kochi-based apparel startup recently raised undisclosed funding in an angel round for a small minority stake. Sreejith also receives credit from vendors, which increases the sustainability of his business.
On the choice of Kochi as the base, Sreejith says he always wanted to do something in Kerala, and the added advantage was the lower cost of operations.
He says the biggest challenge the startup faces is cash flow, and any disruption in the segment can have a ripple effect on the startup’s operations.
Sreejith plans to enter the ethnic wear segment, and is also taking steps to move into the online space. It has established its presence in ecommerce marketplaces like Amazon and Flipkart, besides having its own online presence.
According to a report by McKinsey and Company, India’s apparel market will be worth $59.3 billion in 2022, making it the sixth-largest in the world. This startup also faces competition from established brands such as Louis Philipe, Van Heusen, and Arrow, to name a few.