Why this former Miss India winner teamed up with actor Samantha Akkineni to launch an affordable fashion brand
While studying architecture at the RV College of Architecture, Bengaluru, Sushruthi Krishna thought of building a home décor and lifestyle brand.
Her mother had been an entrepreneur for 10 years, and this instilled in her a sense of starting something new and on her own.
But, in 2016, Sushruthi entered the Femina Miss India contest where she was adjudged the first runner-up, and that win changed her trajectory in life.
“This opened me up to a world of fashion and also gave me a deeper understanding of the influencer community and their strength in driving commerce. I became interested in influencer/celebrity-led brands, and I felt that there is a lot of scopes for them to be built differently in India. That's when my journey in building D2C brands started, and I have stuck to it since then,” Sushruthi tells HerStory.
Her affinity for design led her to the brand-building space, where Sushruthi found a great synergy between her love for design and the ability to build a scalable business around it.
Sushruthi started Merch in April 2020 to build multiple direct-to-consumer brands in fashion, lifestyle, and other emerging categories.
She explains, “Ethnic wear and fusion wear is a massive market with close to 85,000-90,000 crore turnover, coming from both organised and unorganised markets. Despite that, we don’t see a lot of brands operating directly to consumers online. We want to take advantage of this gap, coupled with a celebrity angle for tapping into wider regional distribution networks that aren’t buying online. We believe it is a massive opportunity to unfold.”
Merch’s first brand Saaki — launched in September 2020 — is a celebrity-led fashion and lifestyle brand in association with actor Samantha Akkineni.
While ideating the brand, she reached out to Samantha with a pitch via a common connection.
“She really liked the idea, and we met to explore how we could build this together. We aligned on the design sensibility and brand voice; she liked the vision I had for building this as a landmark brand. We found a lot of synergies and she jumped on board,” Sushruthi says.
Samantha is the Co-founder and Chief Style Editor of Saaki.
From wearing Saaki outfits at home, during her travels, and even shoots, the brand has become an integral part of Samantha’s lifestyle.
“She also tries on every single sample before it goes into production. She is involved right from the ideation of designs to the shoots and to marketing the products very closely. The team works closely to incorporate her thought process into what we are building on all levels,” Sushruthi adds.
Sushruthi works with a 14-member team out of Saaki’s office and studio in Bengaluru.
The clothes designed by the designers are produced by an exclusive manufacturer in the city. The brand has also tied up with factories across India, which develops the designs.
Led by a social media community
Samantha Akkineni in Saaki
The brand offers different kinds of apparel — sarees, kurtas, sets, dresses, tops and tunics, bottom wear, and accessories, available at prices starting from less than Rs 1,000.
While its customers are largely from India from across Tier I, II, and III cities, it is also seeing a lot of demand from overseas.
It ships products to 15+ countries across the world, including the US, the UK, and Australia.
Saaki has raised angel funding from prominent investors.
“We have grown steadily and aim to turn EBITDA-positive in the next three to four months. We are looking to grow 2-3X in revenue in FY22 and are well on track to achieve the same. We intend to grow into a Rs 200 crore brand in a four-year window,” she says.
Sushruthi believes the key to Saaki’s success has been a strong digital community of women on social media who play a pivotal role in making brand decisions.
“Everything — from picking brand colours to finalising our logo to what kind of styles we make — is strongly led by our social media community, who constantly help us in ensuring we bring out the right products for them,” she adds.
At present, the brand is focused on offering only apparel wear. However, Saaki intends to expand and move into offering a complete wardrobe solution — accessories, skincare products, and a few other emerging categories.
Having come from a family of independent women, Sushruthi says she didn't have to face many challenges in her entrepreneurship journey.
“Even though we have come a long way, we still have miles to go before we have an equal representation of women entrepreneurs in the business world. Don't let anyone tell you what you are capable of. You are your own master, and as long as you have an unwavering belief in your ability and calibre, nothing should stop you,” concludes Sushruthi.