How Tjori braved the dip during COVID-19 and continued building in its niche
In 2013, Mansi Gupta started Tjori in Delhi-NCR with a personal savings of Rs 10 lakh. A Wharton University graduate, Mansi saw a huge demand for Indian handicrafts abroad but did not see many Indian brands fulfil this need. Thus, Tjori was established as a multi-category, online-first artisanal ethnic brand comprising apparel, wellness, home, and mother and child products.
The startup — which began on a small whiteboard — focuses on traditional and heritage handicrafts of India. “The inspiration was Zara, which started from a small boutique in Spain, and now has taken over the world of fashion,” recollects Mansi.
Letting its presence known in over 195 countries, as of 2019, the company was clocking an annual revenue of Rs 50 crore. The startup had raised Rs 1.5 crore from family and friends in 2017, and in 2019, had raised pre-Series A capital to expand Tjori as an omnichannel brand.
Mansi Gupta, Co-founder and CEO, Tjori
When the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit India in March 2020, and the country went into a nationwide lockdown, as with every business, Tjori too felt the shock.
“For the first few months, the supply chains were hit badly, and everyone was impacted. But as soon as the deliveries began, ecommerce as a segment saw significant growth,” says Mansi.
The team saw a $50,000 run-rate during COVID times, and a 10 percent growth after the initial flat months in 2020.
Tweaking the offerings
Tjori then tweaked its offerings to match the prevalent mindset. Mansi explains it is now focused on introducing an Ayurvedic way of life in its wellness category, that will help everyone build a strong immunity for any calamity like this in the future.
“We have partnered with an Ayurvedic research organisation to launch an ancient Ayurvedic way of life with a contemporary twist. This is to have a sense of better living, while still being able to ease into our current lifestyle. We have onboarded a set of doctors and advisors to help enhance the customer experience and make the transition a smooth one,” says Mansi.
While the first wave was about rediscovering for the sake of survival, the second wave impacted the company in terms of health and wellness.
Mansi says, “The second wave was emotionally an exhausting time for the company at large. Its impact has been severe on life and people, leading to a small dip in demand for lifestyle products and buying frequency in general. But that wasn’t our concern. I was more concerned about people and life than just work. In many ways, the second wave was harder,” admits Mansi.
Through all the struggle, the company did manage to grow and even signed an equity deal of Rs 16 crore with media organisation Hindustan Times.
The deal goes beyond equity investments, providing branding and marketing. The establishment with Hindustan Times will help build brand awareness in India, and accelerate growth at a global level.
“The unique opportunity here is a platform access to HT shop where Tjori as a brand will be featured, with an aim to create exponential avenues for both the brands,” explains Mansi. She adds that while the deal was supposed to have closed last year itself, it took longer due to the pandemic.
Commenting on the partnership deal, Piyush Gupta, CFO of Hindustan Times, said, “We are pleased to announce our partnership with Tjori as it helps us venture into the ecommerce market. The deal is bound to bring an ocean of knowledge for all our readers, regarding the re-modernised way of traditional Indian goodness that Tjori strongly recommends and we as allies also believe in.”
Setting the base
Besides taking Indian artefacts abroad, what Tjori has also done is helped create jobs for 500+artisans and craftsmen. As of 2019, the company had over one million visits per month, and a repeat customer base of close to 50 percent.
The brand has set up a manufacturing base across different parts of Delhi-NCR, and raw materials for Tjori’s products are sourced through authentic and ethical sources, making sure the original art form of that state is given due credit and value, and each piece has state of the art design and fabrication.
A case in point being the jamdani collection, which was sourced from the regions of West Bengal. “We use chemical-free and cruelty-free products for manufacturing, and keeping in mind the delicate skin of kids, we use plant-based fibre and milk fabric for their clothing category,” says Mansi.
Focus on Indian handicrafts
As a brand, Tjori’s focus is on the goodness of traditional Indian ingredients and crafts. Mansi explains they firmly believe in the virtue of Indian products, which are handcrafted and authentic in their creation, with a fusion of modernity, to stand at par with brands from all over the globe in terms of both quality and preference.
Today, there are brands like Okhai, Kessawear, and others operating in the segment. Tjori operates very differently from the competition, that is, on a limited sales model.
"We do not pile up inventory and block capital. Rather, we undergo clearance every 20-30 days bringing in new stock,” says Mansi. She adds the sector is a $12 billion market, and there is still much to be done and accomplished in the space.
“Tjori is all about bringing the best of India forward. We do this either by imbibing traditional Indian wisdom in our daily life, or showcasing the modernised consumable version of heritage fashion to the world in ways that make them feel ecstatic about their choices, and leaves a sense of uniqueness,” says Mansi.