[100 Emerging Women Leaders] Launched from home, these sisters' D2C startup has attracted celebs like Anushka Sharma, Taapsee Pannu

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In this feature of 100 Emerging Women Leaders, we feature Akanksha Chhabra, Co-founder of Pastels and Pop, who found her calling in entrepreneurship with a brand that sells Punjabi juttis.
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Sisters Akanksha and Aarti Chhabra were over the moon in 2016 when actor Taapsee Paanu wore a pair of Pastels and Pop juttis. The actor’s stylist reached out to the brand to help get a pair that suited the look they had in mind. 

As the founders of Pastels and Pop, a designer handcrafted jutti brand, the sisters had started the company to revive the lost art of Punjabi juttis. A year back, they were running a Facebook page from their room at home, and their wardrobe doubled as their warehouse. 

“When we had the idea of Pastels and Pop, we had commissioned a kaarigar in our hometown in Punjab to make 10 designs, which we first sold to our family and friends,” Akanksha tells HerStory during an interaction. 

Taapsee Pannu in Pastels and Pop

The wedding that changed it all

A software engineer by profession, Akanksha calls herself and her sister “accidental entrepreneurs”. They plunged into entrepreneurship soon after their older sister Neha’s wedding in December 2014. 

“Aarti and I had to be wedding shopping ready. We got everything figured, we did the entire wedding planning. What we enjoyed the most was making the outfits. Since ours was a north Indian wedding, we had decided to get the material and find a boutique in Delhi to make our designs,” Akanksha says.

The duo soon realised they were good at it and mulled over the idea of starting a homegrown designer wear brand. 

“I had a full-time job at an MNC. I wasn’t sure if I could do a business. I went back to my 9-5 job and realised that I simply wasn’t cut out for it,” Akanksha says. Aarti was still in college.

Reviving the craft 

After quitting her job, Akanksha was back in Punjab, where she spoke to a contractor who was helping with their family home’s renovation. 

“He told me he belonged to a family of jutti makers; his father and forefathers were making juttis. I was surprised to see why he was not doing what his family was doing. He told me that juttis do not have the same appeal anymore in the market. Fast fashion has taken over,” Akanksha recalls.

 

This came as a surprise to her, Born and raised in Punjab, she and her sister had worn juttis — one of the biggest handicrafts in the region — all her life. 

The sisters returned to Bengaluru and created 10 embroidered jutti designs. She sent them to the contractor to check how they looked on the actual footwear. 

“We were trying to add a modern touch and comfort to the juttis that was missing earlier. We got the juttis back in two weeks, and quickly took pictures and shared them with friends and family. With their reviews, we decide to make it a business,” she says. 

Akanksha invested a part of her savings in the brand as seed money to get Pastels and Pop up and running.

The sister duo started with a Facebook page, photographing the juttis in their backyard. Within a week, they had over 100 followers and orders started coming in. 

Akanksha says this was the turning point and they launched the Pastels and Pop website in July 2015. . 

“Having conversations as a young woman isn’t easy. I was 24, and Aarti, 21; we were young. While the love poured in, we didn’t know how to get the production done for the orders we received. But the money was coming in, and we could get things done,” Akanksha recalls. 

Celebrity love

Initially, the sisters did everything — from packing orders to storing juttis in their wardrobes and dropping orders. In 2016, they got their first 200 sq ft warehouse space with two karigars. 

Around the same time, celebrity spotting also started happening for the brand. Now, Pastels and Pop regularly sends look books to celebrity teams, who choose the juttis, order them, and credit the brand.

Aarti and Akanksha, Founders of Pastels and Pop

Akanksha says this happened organically. 

“When people specifically started asking for juttis worn by Taapsee Pannu, we realised the impact a celebrity can have on the consumer mindset. Fortunately for us, other celebrity stylists got in touch — Karisma Kapoor, Anuskha Sharma, Malaika Arora, and many others,” Akanksha says

This brought more visibility to the brand. By 2017, Pastels and Pop had got a 1,500 sq ft store; the average price of a jutti is Rs 1,500. 

According to an Avendus report, India’s D2C business will be worth $100 billion in five years. The country has as many as 600 D2C brands — a number that will significantly grow in the next five years — and over 16 brands with an annual turnover of more than $60 million. 

Pilgrim, Nykaa, Plum, Mamaearth, Sugar Cosmetics, Bellora, Vilvaah, etc., are some of the well-known D2C brands in India. In the footwear segment, Pastels and Pop competes with Fizzy Goblet, Misfit Pandas, Paaduks, and others. 

Today, Pastels and Pop ships to over 100 countries and sticks to its core: Punjabi juttis. It has also expanded to designer clothing.

“The contractor who joined us in 2015 is now the Head of Production for the brand,” Akanksha says. 

Edited by Suman Singh