Gioia is leveraging a 30-year-old company’s legacy to bring premium leather products to India
During the lockdown, the mother-son duo Vashisht Bhatia and Diksha Bhatia strategically launched a Made in India brand, leveraging D2 International’s extensive manufacturing experience with global luxury brands.
For 30 years, Kolkata-based D2 International Pvt Ltd has made and exported leather goods to global brands such as Harrods, Galeries Lafayette, Anya Hindmarch, Emporio Armani, and Karl Lagerfeld.
In November 2021, Vashist Bhatia, the second-generation entrepreneur in the family business, and his mother Diksha Bhatia, decided to venture beyond catering to foreign brands and introduced, a brand tailored for the domestic market.
"Our mission has been to reshape the perception of 'Made in India.' Today, foreign brands are impressed by the exceptional quality we consistently deliver. They acknowledge the level of luxury we are capable of producing. Gioia is another step to fulfill this mission," Vashisht tells SMBStory.
Within a year of its launch, Gioia opened its first flagship store in Kolkata at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Airport. Subsequently, it expanded its presence to Mumbai by inaugurating a second store at Phoenix Market City Mall in April 2023. The brand is now gearing up to establish its third store in Bangalore.
The brand is also available on online marketplaces like TataCliq Luxury, Nykaa, Ajio, and others.
The parent company of Gioia, D2 International Pvt Ltd, had humble beginnings.
Rajiv Bhatia, Vashist’s father, moved to Kolkata from Kanpur in 1991 to work as a Quality Assurance Executive for an American leather company, Wilsons Leather.
The job required him to visit different factories and inspect the goods manufactured for Wilsons before they were shipped to the company in the US.
According to Vashisht, his father was stringent when it came to quality and craftsmanship, however, he found that the factories he visited weren’t maintaining product quality.
Not satisfied with how things worked in those factories, Rajiv decided to switch careers. He secured a job at Tata in the marketing department.
“When he put in his papers, what happened in Wilson’s was quite surprising. As they could see the quality difference when the goods were inspected by him, a Wilsons' executive encouraged him not to quit and instead pursue a manufacturing venture because of his keen eye for quality and craftsmanship,” says Vashisht.
Since Rajiv did not come from a business background, starting things from scratch was difficult as he had no capital to start a factory.
Randy Steen, the Wilsons executive, proposed a solution—Wilsons would provide him with advance funds for a few trial orders.
He received an order for 15 to 20 pieces and obtained raw materials on credit from tanneries. Setting up a small factory in a single room with one pattern cutter, he personally oversaw every step from cutting to stitching.
The first shipment was successful, marking the beginning of D2 International in 1994. Orders continued to increase, growing from 15 to 500 pieces.
“Thirty years later, D2 International remains committed to its original ethos of delivering the highest quality and craftsmanship,” says Vashisht.
Today, the company specialises in manufacturing and exporting high-quality leather bags and accessories for men and women. It boasts a production space of 120,000 square feet with a capacity of 60,000 handbags and 75,000 small leather goods per month.
In FY22, D2 International’s revenue stood at Rs 112 crore, which increased to more than Rs 150 crore in FY23. However, the founder did not disclose Gioia's specific contribution to this revenue.
Addressing the gaps in the luxury space
Leveraging the manufacturing capabilities and craftsmanship of its parent company, Gioia aims to address the existing gaps in India's luxury leather segment. It is focused on offering products that are long-lasting.
The product lineup features handbags, including sling bags, shoulder bags, tote bags, backpacks, and other products designed for both men and women.
Additionally, there is a selection of accessories, including laptop sleeves, AirPod cases, clutches, wallets, and other small leather goods. Handbag prices range from Rs 4,500 to Rs 26,000, while the average price for accessories is around Rs 3,500.
Gioia identified two primary gaps within the luxury segment: firstly, existing Indian brands in the market resort to less durable polyurethane leather to maintain competitive pricing. Also, brands usually outsource manufacturing which means that they are unable to maintain quality.
"Secondly, the imported foreign goods, using original leather, incurred a 30% duty, resulting in significantly higher product prices for customers. These were the gaps we aimed to resolve," says Vashisht.
Gioia’s manufacturing unit is located in Bantala Leather Complex in Kolkata which has many tanneries. It uses responsibly sourced full-grain leather from Leather Working Group-certified tanneries. The Leather Working Group evaluates tanneries based on their environmental performance and ensures that the leather used is a by-product of other industries.
At times, the leather is sourced from other countries like Italy, Thailand, and Korea, especially for larger-sized products. Indian hides have a higher tendency to develop wrinkles on the top surface, a phenomenon known as pipiness. Moreover, Indian hides are typically smaller in size, requiring stitching to create larger products, which can potentially interfere with the overall design.
“We have all the processes and systems set in place and every collection is made in-house which is a big advantage compared to the competition. The craftsmen have many years of working for global luxury brands so they are used to maintaining a certain standard,” says Vashisht.
The products are designed to withstand extreme weather conditions, with a strong emphasis on attention to detail, including edge painting and thorough hardware testing.
"We also serve as technical associates of the UK-based BLC lab. Gioia rigorously follows their standards and conducts tests in accordance with their protocols. BLC lab is a trusted laboratory catering to many global brands," he adds.
Gioia possesses an in-house design team led by Diksha. This team is responsible for evaluating various aspects of the product, including its tactile qualities, seasonal colour palette, functionality, hardware allocation based on pricing tiers, and more.
When it comes to the quality of materials and price points, it competes with international brands like Michael Kors and Charles and Keith, as well as homegrown brands like Nappa Dori and Da Milano.
According to a report by IMARC, the global luxury fashion market size reached $237 billion in 2022. It is expected to reach $294.7 billion by 2028, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 3.60% during 2023-2028.
According to Vashisht, the brand's expansion plan involves initially establishing stores in Tier I cities before moving into Tier II cities. Looking ahead, the founder says that within the next three to five years, Gioia will contribute significantly to the parent company's overall revenue.
Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti