This Bengaluru-based startup aims to be the “Amazon for circular fashion"
US-based engineers Ashri Jaiswal and Varun Ramani’s passion for fashion and circular economy brought them back to India to launchin 2018 to make luxury fashion accessories accessible to the Indian audience.
An engineering management graduate from George Washington University, Ashri talks about a time when she always purchased new clothes ahead of a vacation ever since she was a kid.
Varun Ramani and Ashri Jaiswal, Co-founders of Ziniosa
“It was neither sustainable nor pocket-friendly. Once when I went to Hawaii for a vacation, I came across “Rent the Runway” and got a couple of outfits from there because I couldn’t afford to buy new stuff every time . I had just gotten my first job and was living all by myself in the US,” she tells HerStory.
This experience became the foundation for Ziniosa. Founded in 2018, Ziniosa rents and resells luxury fashion accessories like shoes, handbags, and sunglasses from brands, including Prada, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton.
Decoding luxury fashion
The duo spent about a year interacting with customers and researching before officially launching the startup.
A fashion enthusiast, Ashri says despite one’s wardrobe filled with clothes and accessories, they still feel they have nothing to wear, and she wanted to solve this problem.
However, taking a deep dive and talking to customers outside malls across cities brought four clearly defined problems to the fore.
She says affordability is the first barrier keeping a major chunk of shoppers away from enjoying luxury brands as these brands raise their prices by 25 percent every year.
The duo also noted that even as luxury shoppers increased in India, there were no online stores for the same but only a handful of stores in cities like Delhi and Mumbai.
Ashri says the Millenials are a wholly different demographic whose Instagram life dictates they do not repeat the same outfits and accessories.
“Many, interestingly, told us that they would get a dress from malls, wear it without removing the tag, and return the same. That's how important it is for them to be seen in a different outfit or handbag,” she explains.
The fourth and the most concerning of all is that such consumerism trends have made fashion the second-most polluting industry in the world.
The founders thus felt that Ziniosa could be a solution that fulfils audience needs while helping build a circular economy.
When in doubt, talk to customers
What initially began with a subscription-based rental model pivoted twice to suit the customer’s needs.
When the startup was selected for incubation at IIM Bangalore's entrepreneurship centre NSRCEL, the mentors asked the founders to break away from their assumptions of how customers want things and talk to about 1,000 people over a weekend.
“We opened a pop-up in JW Marriott in Bengaluru, spoke to about 500 people, and found that people didn't want a subscription model. They wanted to pick up and rent anything off the website, just like any other ecommerce platform, and we made the first pivot in 2019,” Ashri recalls.
“Go completely agile and do whatever the customers want” was the advice that continues to drive Ziniosa today.
Moreover, weddings are one of the main reasons why renting luxury accessories has thrived. But with the COVID-19 pandemic putting a definite end to big fat Indian weddings and giving rise to smaller and intimate weddings, Ziniosa started losing its customers and sales.
However, noting that many were looking to sell luxury products, the startup began testing its now successful model of reselling “pre-loved” accessories by auctioning them on Instagram.
In 2020, Ziniosa adopted the resale model with a detailed way of pricing, where sellers need to send pictures for authenticity check, along with purchase price, and Ziniosa’s stylist calculates a selling price based on the condition.
This ranges anywhere between Rs 15,000 and Rs 5 lakh, while the rental model charges users 8 to 10 percent of the MRP. To increase the inventory for its resale model, the startup bought products from its competitor that was shutting its store.
“It really helped us navigate the pandemic because so much has changed, including the fact that the population regularly shopping for luxury couldn’t travel abroad initially and began buying the pre-loved items,” Ashri says.
In FY21, it saw a 4.7x growth in sales. Bootstrapped with Rs 20 lakh, the startup broke even in March 2020.
Embracing rented and pre-loved fashion
“One of the biggest challenges we still face is that a lot of people do not like to share the fact that they have rented accessories. We are trying to tackle this through community-building efforts and collaborations with influencers who believe in pre-loved items for a circular economy,” she says.
In fact, Ziniosa has worked with Ami Pandya, a bride from the Netflix reality show Big Day, and now has all her bridal wear and accessories up for sale on the platform. She also suggested the proceeds from the sale go to NGO The Railway Children fund.
Moving ahead, Ziniosa hopes to scale further and hire more in the marketing and sales team. It also aims to grow beyond accessories and venture into portfolios like clothing and become the “Amazon for circular fashion.”
“We also want to explore the Southeast Asian markets like UAE to source products from them because a lot is going on in the region when it comes to luxury. If they are willing to sell, I think there is a huge audience in India willing to buy,” she quips.