In just 5 years, this entrepreneur built a Rs 5 Cr hip-hop products brand catering to underground artists

Yash Gangwal’s hip-hop brand Urban Monkey clocked Rs 5 crore turnover in a span of five years, and now plans to start a new product range

In just 5 years, this entrepreneur built a Rs 5 Cr hip-hop products brand catering to underground artists

Thursday February 27, 2020,

6 min Read

Urban Monkey

Yash Gangwal, Founder, Urban Monkey

Hip hop fashion has drawn a lot of Indian youth, especially the millennials and Gen Z, under its wing. The hip hop streetwear style, which predominantly consists of hoodies, t-shirts, jackets, and sneakers with bold graphics and colours is what young customers are demanding from fashion retailers today. 

As the youth clearly become more experimental in their choice of brands and looks, there are over a dozen street-inspired labels that have cropped up in India in the recent years.

Catching on this trend is Urban Monkey, which was started by Yash Gaganwal in 2014 to represent the underground street culture in India. The six-year-old brand has collaborated with celebrities such as Rannvijay Singh, Raftaar, Emiway Bantai, and many more. 

In an interaction with SMBStory, Indian born Yash Gangwal, who was raised in Hong Kong, shares how he started the brand after seeing the lack of street-culture in the country.  

“I was one-year-old when my parents moved to Hong Kong and grew up skateboarding in the gritty streets of Hong Kong. During my summer breaks, I used to visit India to see my grandparents in Mumbai,” he says.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

SMBStory: How was Urban Monkey started? What is the product range?

Yash Gangwal (YS): It all started with my childhood passion for skateboarding. After college, I moved back to India at the age of 24. I did not find many options for skateboards, and the ones available were only for professionals. There was no good headwear or sunglasses to match the hip-hop persona. I immediately realised that not only was the street culture in India missing, but there was also no real presence of any fashion brands to represent the culture. 

This realisation led to the conception of Urban Monkey. Urban Monkey was started with the vision of bringing together skateboarding, street wear, and music.

I joined a small skateboarding academy when I came to Mumbai and even the activity didn’t match my expectations. I had a group of friends who would ask me to get skateboards, caps, and t-shirts from Hong Kong. This made me start my own brand.

Urban Monkey is focused on cultivating the street culture in India. We believe that helping the street culture grow in India is a vital element for the growth of streetwear brands in the country. Hence, we launched the brand by introducing skateboards. 

Soon, we realised we cannot grow in the business keeping just one category as demand for skateboards was very niche. We tried launching shoes, power banks, and bluetooth earphones, but these categories were not capitalising. 

There were a lot of trials, errors and losses before we came up with our fast-selling products which include sunglasses, head wears, wallets, and portable storage bags. 

Urban Monkey

Raftaar and Bhuvan Bham wearing Urban Monkey caps

SMBS: How do you manufacture these products and what are the selling points?

YG: We have collaborated with third-party manufacturing units in India, China, and Bangladesh to manufacture our products. In India, we have a third-party facility in Tirupur. 

Urban Monkey sells its products through its website only and is not listed on any ecommerce portals.

We were listed on Amazon, Flipkart, and Paytm, but they did not give us enough customers and there were fluctuating sales. So, I decided to deboard. There were other brands as well who copied us after which we withdrew our brand from all ecommerce portals.

SMBS: Can you tell us more about your collaboration with celebrities and influencers?

YG: It was important for us to build a community as we built the brand. We chose to sponsor, organise, and collaborate with over 150 small events all over India that supports our community. We have been part of numerous popular events such as Breezer Vivid Shuffle (Dance), Jugaad (Skateboarding), etc.

At Urban Monkey, we take the correlation between the community and brand very seriously. Over the years, we have built a network of over 250 underground artists, athletes, musicians, and hype beasts. We have also collaborated with mainstream artists such as Rannvijay Singha, Raftaar, and Bhuvan Bam. Other celebrities such as Divine, Ranveer Singh, Varun Dhawan, and Badshaah can regularly be seen wearing Urban Monkey products.

Collaborating with Rannvijay and Raftaar was a fruitful coincidence. One of the group members from the academy was in close association with Rannvijay in his sports. He used to wear Urban Monkey caps during the practice sessions, which caught Rannvijay’s attention. He called him up to know about the brand and the rest is history. After this, Rannvijay and I collaborated.

Today, Urban Monkey caps can be seen worn by both participants and hosts on pop shows like Roadies, MTV Hustle, Dance +, Dance India Dance, and Splitsvilla.

Due to the tremendous support from the community (and the Indian street culture), our products were also worn by actors in movies such as Gully Boy and Street Dancer

Till date, we have sponsored and been a part of over 60 hip hop artist videos, and recently, we launched our own music channel on YouTube called Super Future, where we are focusing on bringing music and street culture videos to our audience. 

Urban Monkey

Rannvijay Singh and Sushant Khatri wearing Urban Monkey

SMBS: What are the major challenges in the business and who is your competition?

YG: Cash on Delivery (COD) option in the delivery of products is one of the biggest challenges. The COD orders have a higher return ratio. It also becomes difficult to deal with the courier partners as well. Though we have removed some of the pin codes from the list as non-delivery areas, we are still in the process of solving this problem. 

Sourcing from the right manufacturer is also a challenge. At Urban Monkey, we are strict about the quality, and have an in-house design team to do a quality check before the product is dispatched. Working with the right manufacturer is a boon in the business. 

Urban Monkey

Urban Monkey collection

SMBS: What are your plans ahead?

YG: In 2020, Urban Monkey will be introducing several new verticals including watches, wearable tech, headphones, and clothing. We aim to redefine the Indian street culture by starting our own home-grown business.

Our products are consciously designed for functionality over aesthetics and our upcoming designs reflect that. We are also weaving influences from our beautiful Indian heritage into our designs in lieu of promoting the Indian culture and local artists.

We have also built platforms and vehicles for our community to grow. In 2019, we started our own recording studio where we help budding musicians record their music and videos. 

(Edited by Megha Reddy)