Vegan, cruelty-free brand Zouk expands into footwear, eyes global market
Disha Singh, Founder and CEO of vegan accessories brand Zouk, talks to HerStory on the startup’s expansion into cruelty-free footwear, working with artisans, and responsible choices.
In 2016, Disha Singh launched, a Mumbai-based vegan brand for bags, wallets, and accessories.
An IIM Ahmedabad alumna, Disha has positioned Zouk as a vegan, cruelty-free, PETA-approved brand that marries functionality with Indian motifs, prints, and fabrics. The brand has categories across bags, wallets, and accessories, including laptop bags, women’s office bags, backpacks, handbags, wallets, and eyewear cases. The products can be purchased on Zouk’s website. Zouk is also part of Amazon’s Launchpad brands.
Last week, Zouk announced its expansion into cruelty-free footwear along with a rebranding.
In an interview with HerStory, Disha spoke about the brand’s foray into the footwear segment and outlined its plans for the future.
HerStory (HS): What prompted Zouk’s expansion into footwear?
Disha Singh (DS): From the start, we wanted to operate in multiple categories in the lifestyle segment. We saw a gap in the bags market and hence entered that first with our “Proudly Indian and Cruelty-free” Zouk products.
At the start of this year, we evaluated other categories that we could enter under Zouk. We engaged with customers and the top choice was footwear; so we decided to expand into it.
HS: Tell us more about the footwear range.
DS: We have entered the footwear segment with a collection of bellies, sandals, chappals, and sliders. These are targeted at women in the age group of 25 to 40 years, our existing customer base for bags. They want to carry something classy and elegant.
Our products are by the people, for the people, and we focus on well-designed versus flashy and designer. That has been the Zouk secret sauce when it came to bags and we have extended the same to footwear.
Beyond the Zouk secret sauce as a differentiation, we have spent a lot of time to make our footwear super comfortable. We want them to be women’s first choice for daily use in office and outside, at parties and for holidays.
We will expand our collection in the coming months as we get more customer feedback.
HS: What are the selling points of the footwear range?
DS: Our footwear will be at sweet price points, similar to our bags. Currently, all our products are priced under Rs 2,500. We have launched with around 40 SKUs and plan to add more in the coming months.
We are making Indian classic footwear cruelty-free and super-comfortable.
HS: Tell us about the rebranding process. What did it entail?
DS: We went through a rebranding process since we felt our customers deserved a much better brand experience. So far, we were working with something that was created at the start of our journey.
Once the why was clear, we spent a lot of time understanding what we wanted in the new branding. We realised that our products already meant something to our customers and we wanted the brand to reflect that.
We spoke to our designers and artisans to understand how they come up with a new design. We organised focused group discussions with our customers, who shared what they felt about the products. Interestingly, both stakeholders had most things in common. They loved our India inspiration and our cruelty-free focus. They also felt that Zouk added subtle elegance to their personality. With this brief, we conceptualised the new branding.
HS: How did you overcome the challenges of the pandemic?
DS: As a brand operating in the non-essential space, we had to stop operations during the first lockdown. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It allowed the Zouk family to introspect, connect with customers, and chart out a long-term path. It also brought the entire team closer.
The most challenging part was to continue supporting our artisans as a bootstrapped early-stage business. We did not lose a single employee at that point. The growth has been phenomenal, too.
HS: Can you share numbers of the Zouk growth story.
DS: We operate in a space that picks demand when people go to office and vacations. Though this was all muted in the last two years, we have seen a 16X growth in the business. We crossed 200,000 happy customers during this phase. The shift to online shopping gave a D2C brand like ours a big boost.
HS: You raised a Pre-Series A round in July 2021. How has this helped you?
DS: Beyond just the capital, every investor has had a massive impact in our journey so far. They have led us to dream bigger, shared their experiences, and guided us in our growth path. They have been massive cheerleaders for the brand.
HS: Sustainability is now a buzzword, but what has made Zouk popular?
DS: When we started, vegan products were a foreign concept. In one of our early Instagram posts, I remember someone joking when we said vegan bags. We did a lot to educate them to make a more responsible choice.
More customers today want to make a more responsible choice. But it is yet to become mainstream. We feel it will become a top criterion in the next few years. The ultimate test would be if consumers are willing to absorb the higher cost of such products by paying a bit more.
HS: Tell us about your initiative to upskill and support artisans?
DS: Our handcrafted products are meticulously crafted by expert artisans. This count has now crossed 300 people, who are trained on how to use vegan leather and fabric, which is new to them. Post that, they weave their magic to create product with superior quality, finish, and shape.
HS: Does Zouk have plans of going global?
DS: We always wanted to build a global consumer brand from India, with products that have an essence of India. This year, we plan to expand our products to the US, Canada, and Europe via the online route. We have already catered to some bespoke orders, thanks to word-of-mouth awareness created by our existing customers in India. We will build on this base to create a large international business from India.
Edited by Teja Lele