Why this sibling duo decided to start a gender-neutral kidswear brand
Gender-neutral fashion may slowly be picking up, but when it comes to kids and babywear, the old adage – pink is for girls and blue is for boys – still holds true in retail outlets.
To change this, sibling duo Anushka Jhawar and Arjun Doshi started Cuddles for Cubs out of Mumbai earlier this year. Anushka explains that the brand aims to encourage a genderless and imaginative childhood that blurs archaic distinctions between ‘boy’ and ‘girl’, paving the way for an empowered, uninhibited future.
“The brand identity is rooted in fun and colour, and some of our prints are unlike anything available in the entire country. They combine vibrance, quirkiness, and are created specifically for the desi market. Recently, we sold out our “Aam so Cute” pyjama set at the peak of the mango season, and our sleeveless set titled “Hearty the Haathi” featuring an adorable Asian elephant. We’re also the first kids' retailer to make evil-eye themed prints,” Anushka tells HerStory.
The Cuddles for Cubs brand
Building the ops
Having worked in the edtech and educational consulting space, Anushka has been passionate about children’s well-being. She even launched a curated online learning startup for children who weren’t able to attend playschools during the first wave of the pandemic.
Arjun, on the other hand, has been a performance marketer for D2C ecommerce brand The Souled Store. The siblings started incubating Cuddles for Cubs in November 2020.
They faced immense challenges – from web development to production – with the latter being particularly difficult to execute in a remote capacity. Anushka is based in Delhi and Arjun is based in Mumbai, thus, by default, creating a culture of process-driven decentralised work that has made it perfect for hiring highly motivated talent across the country.
“Since launching in May 2021, our 10-member team is currently working remotely from Gujarat, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Delhi-NCR, and Kerala. We outsource certain key business functions to highly specialised individuals and companies, thus staying lean from the get-go,” Anushka says.
Fully made-in-India, the D2C brand works with Indian vendors that have decades of experience and know the right fabrics suitable for children. While currently operating on a D2C model, the brand is also building the capacity to list on all curated marketplaces.
Understanding the market
Anushka studied at Babson College in Boston and London Business School, while Arjun studied at the University of Pennsylvania.
“There’s a joke about foreign-educated kids 'identifying a gap in the market' and copy-pasting/imposing a model that worked overseas onto the Indian consumer base. We discussed how we would navigate carefully around this. Right from the beginning, we focused on planning brand tonality, communication, design aesthetic, and cultural preferences,” Anushka says.
Their efforts have been validated by the traction the team has seen, where certain colours work better in certain regions of the country.
“The trick seems to be in keeping our ears to the ground and just keep talking to the customer. The contact number that we have on Instagram is one of our personal numbers as we want to keep understanding the psychographics and pain points of the first few thousand customers,” Anushka says.
The segment and differentiation
The Indian kids wear market was valued at $16.62 billion in 2020, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5.89 percent and reach $22.53 billion by 2026, according to ResearchAndMarkets.
Some of the brands in the space include Alia Bhatt’s Edamamma, Keebee Organics, Little Pockets Store, Greendigo, and others.
Talking about what sets them apart, Anushka explains they are focused on design.
“Many affordable brands dump export-surplus or ‘stock-lots 'of inconsistent or questionable qualities. These products were mostly created for a Western export market and lack affinities for the Indian consumer. We want to keep our brand relatable, adorable, and affordable. Our products are presently 100 percent cotton grown and spun in India.”
She says they want to put the comfort of the child at the centre of their design approach. For example, the baby sleepsuits feature anti-slip grips to enable children to start walking early.
“We even use a safe flap lining to prevent any zippers from having any contact with the child. We also use AZO-free dyes to prevent harmful chemicals from coming in contact with the child’s skin,” says Anushka.
The bootstrapped startup has an average basket size of Rs 1,200, and got over 1,600 orders in 2.5 months.
Speaking of their future plans, Anushka says, “This is a crowded industry, but still very underserved. We’re looking to develop more unique products, constantly innovating on various fronts. There are a lot of exciting projects that span across the kids’ ecosystem that we are excited to explore.”