[HS Conversations] With former Victoria’s Secret CEO on board as advisor, homegrown lingerie brand Clovia eyes global expansion

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In an exclusive interaction with YourStory, Sharen J Turney, former CEO and President of global lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret, and Neha Kant, Co-founder, Clovia, talk about navigating international markets and Tier II and III towns.
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If there is one category in the D2C segment that has seen significant growth, it is the innerwear market. Homegrown consulting firm RedSeer’s report ‘Indian Female innerwear’s $12 billion opportunity’, stated that the women’s innerwear market in India was at $6 billion in 2020, and will be touching $12 billion by 2025, marking a 2x rise.

And one such brand to experience this sharp and significant rise is - Clovia. Founded by Pankaj Vermani and Neha Kant in Noida in 2016, the company once claimed that in just six months, the brand had seen over 100 percent growth. 

The brand also recently announced that Sharen Jester Turney, former Chief Executive and President of global lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret, is partnering with Clovia as an advisor. 

Neha Kant, Co-founder, Clovia

Taking an aggressive path 

After spending 16 years at Victoria’s Secret, Sharen is all set to help Clovia further expand, innovate, and grow into international markets. 

“With Sharen on board, we are looking to bring in newer product lines, reach different consumer bases, and expand deeper into existing domestic and international markets,” says Neha. 

In an exclusive conversation with HerStory, Sharen and Neha spoke about the brand and its plans to innovate and expand into the global market. 

Speaking of why she chose to partner with Clovia, Sharen says, 

“When you meet the co-founders, and the talent that the founders have been able to put together, it is amazing. Another important factor is the customer centric culture. For me, that is very powerful. I always say, the customer rules, and you need to learn from the customer and be aspirational for the customer. Innovation to survive is a must.”

Talking about the team, Sharen says what stood out is the Clovia team's ‘can-do’ attitude, and "the world is your oyster" frame of mind. “When you build world class brands, you have to have big goals, set a high bar, and have a top line and bottom-line growth strategy.”  For me if people are passionate, it is a major battle won. 

To get a sense of the brand’s phenomenal growth, it saw Rs 52.8 crore in revenue in 2018, but then raised Rs 75 crore in January 2019, a fact attributed to pent-up buying. Clovia witnessed considerable growth in the second wave of the pandemic as well. 

“I think what Clovia has built from a technology perspective is different and unique. Especially, in the ability to mine for data. Everyone talks about data, but Clovia has built a platform to do that,” adds Sharen. Clovia today has over 140 million data points from its three million users.

She also notes that India has a long runway for growth, pointing to Clovia’s growing product range - from lingerie to personal care, and lounge wear to sportswear.  

For Sharen, joining Clovia was in the works for long. The team had been working around this partnership for close to a year now.

With this partnership, Clovia founders know they have come a long way. Neha recalls the time when the company first started, and the challenges involved in getting innerwear grouped as a regular category. 

“There were existing national brands and other similar international brands. But what worked for us is that we stood true to our customers. There are complexities that come with our categories. India has multiple body types. We used our tech to effectively optimise our brand and inventory,” says Neha. 

An ever-changing market 

In the last year and a half, the world around us has changed as we knew it. Sharen notes that work from home and lockdowns have brought about a significant shift in lifestyle. People are increasingly looking for comfort, and a fit that is easy for lounging. 

Having been in the industry for so long, Sharen has also, over the last two decades, seen the early 2000’s market slump, 9/11, and the 2008 financial crisis. She says, post all these slumps, the lingerie category was the fastest to rebound. As she explains, 

“There will be cycles. You need to have agility to bring the right products out at the right time. There will be ups and downs, but the first responsibility is always towards the brand. You need to understand what your brand equities are, understand what is changing in the marketplace, and the customer mindsets or socioeconomics around you. So, being part of a brand and being able to double the profits and triple the sales is key.”

Steering the brand  

Sharen is quick to add that it’s a different matter when the brand is big, we’re talking $500 million and upwards. “The opportunity to have an international perspective with different markets and regions, to note the real and superficial differences, working across different supply bases and partners who can deliver, is invaluable. As Victoria’s Secret was number one, we had the responsibility to innovate, and innovate by not just creating something different, but do it to solve a customer problem,” she says.  

It also boils down to really knowing your talent, when to hire, promote, and even when to let go. Neha adds that while the first wave of the pandemic in India was about IQ, the second wave has been about EQ. 

“We have been able to successfully steer our product and brand. We have grown our sleepwear and lounge category 10x from the first wave to the second wave. Studying the impact of SARS in Southeast Asia, we focussed on maternity, and have seen a growth in this segment,” adds Neha. 

According to Sharen, market shifts like these have always proven that times will never the same again. 

“I guess, globally, more people now have done online shopping than ever before. They have found a comfort that is not going to change. The expectation now is on speed of delivery,” explains Sharen. 

A growing Tier II and III segment 

Neha says with direct-to-consumer businesses gaining traction, robust logistics is going to be extremely important. And with growing demand coming in from Tier II and Tier III towns, it becomes all the more important to have the right logistics in place. 

Attesting to this, the RedSeer report explained that the growth of the female innerwear market in Tier II+ cities is significant, and is estimated to be 1.5x that of the metro cities. Digital penetration and brand awareness are two major growth factors driving this phenomenal growth from smaller towns.

Addressing the biggest consumer base

It is no longer a secret that women are drivers of the economy today. And yet, there are biases. On this, Sharen advices,

“Be yourself and be confident. If a woman feels confident, our world does better. If a mom is happy, everybody is happy. You are empowered and you are who you are, so set your boundaries on what you can accept and what you are not willing to accept and know your stuff.” 
Edited by Anju Narayanan

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