How this 28-year old influencer and entrepreneur is fueling the blooming personalised gifting industry

Delhi-based The Initial Studio is tapping into the unorganised personalised gifting market, providing solutions to both individuals and corporates.
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Gifting is not an easy job. As a worldwide tradition that dates back as far as we can remember, one would think it is an easy enough task, but most people who want to give gifts do not know where to even begin.

One has to factor in likes and dislikes of the gift recipient, the relationship between the giver and the receiver, the occasion, and the message the gift aims to to convey. With all of this in mind, it is no wonder that vouchers and cash coupons are perceived as the easy way out! 

Tarini Manchanda, Social Media Influencer, Founder and Creative Director of The Initial Studio

Enter Delhi-based The Initial Studio, that aims to address this pain point by allowing every user to order personalised gifts, for others and themselves. The one-stop-shop studio focuses strongly on aesthetics and quality, while providing gifting solutions for both personal and business needs.

“In an otherwise highly unorganised market, we aim to cut through the clutter by providing end-to-end solutions from conceptualisation, to execution and delivery - and everything in between,” says Tarini Manchanda, Social Media Influencer, Founder and Creative Director of The Initial Studio.

Following the call 

Growing up, Tarini was always fascinated by her grandfather’s personalised products. From his embroidered handkerchiefs, to the reading chair engraved with his last name on it. “For me, luxury always meant the idea that something has been created especially for you,” she adds. Additionally, growing up with an art historian grandmother and heritage conservationist mother made sure she carried a strong sense of aesthetics and designs.

After studying Anthropology and International Marketing at The School Of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at University of London, Tarini returned to India, and took up a job with independent digital agency, RepIndia. She worked with clients across MNC, Fashion and lifestyle, healthcare, F&B and entertainment industries. 

At the same time, she developed a keen interest in graphic designing as she now had  strong knowledge in branding and digital strategy. Tarini enrolled herself for a graphic design course at Sri Aurobindo College for Arts in New Delhi. Her fascination with monogrammed leather trunks, as a child, soon converted to her obsession with sleek embossed notebooks, and interesting logos. 

Personalised card holder by The Initial Studio

“After working for over four years, I decided to work with tangible products. At first, designing t-shirts and little gifts for friends,” she says. Mattress-in-a-box startup SleepyCathad just launched then, and the brand gave Tarini the opportunity to develop its press kits. “Setting up The Initial Studio seemed like the natural next step,” the 28-year old entrepreneur adds. 

Founding the company in 2017, Tarini officially launched The Initial Studio in 2018. While the ecommerce startup is pan-India, and works with artisans and suppliers across the country, it has its headquarters in Delhi. The Initial Studio established a retail studio space in Delhi last month , allowing customers to physically view the products. 

Best of both worlds

Besides being an entrepreneur, Tarini is also a social media influencer. She has organically built a community of more than 37,000 followers on social media platform Instagram. “I lend my name to an association or recommend others to try a product of service only when I’m really convinced about it,” she says.

Tarini has been instrumental in the launch and brand visibility for brands including Kiehl’s India, Corum Watches, Ted Baker, Kate Spade, MAC Cosmetics, Ritu Kumar, Bira 91, LBB, Ritu Kumar and H&M, among others. 

Tarini Manchanda, Social Media Influencer, Founder and Creative Director of The Initial Studio

“I really enjoy having an additional platform to express myself. The pros are that I get to play with my creativity while at the same time, understand the kind of content that works to generate sales,” Tarini says.

Having said that, like everything else, being popular on the internet comes with its set of challenges as well. “The judgment that comes with leading a so-called ‘open life’ on social media, the generalisations of being vapid and superficial that somehow have become synonymous with the word ‘influencer’. Another con is that I feel the constant need to create content, although this has more to do with internal pressure – something I am working on,” Tarini explains. 

Personalised for each customer 

Early on in the entrepreneurial journey, Tarini had established that the company could not compromise with the quality of products. “We initially faced challenges with the discrepancy between what we designed, sampled and the final production...One big lesson was to focus on the quality of products, not to cut costs and work with trusted, albeit expensive, vendors,” she explains. 

For its retail channel, the website, The Initial Studio designs a range of products -- loungewear, daily and travel accessories, that customers can order seamlessly, without any restriction on the quantity. “We design everything from scratch with different product designers for each range,” Tarini says. The products created by artisans are then personalised at the studio. 

Satin Robe by The Initial Studio

For its corporate orders, The Initial Studio works closely with the brand teams to create merchandise unique to the brand identity and campaigns. 

For its ecommerce platform with a storefront, 90 percent of the products are priced under Rs 3000, “Making them ideal for birthdays and recurring gifting occasions,” says Tarini. Under the second revenue model, The Initial Studio works closely with individuals or brands to create bespoke products for larger gifting products such as for weddings or corporate g ifts. Under the third model, which the team is still toying with, is the concept of influencer gifting. Since The Initial Studio creates press kits for some of its clients, the team has now also started sending them out to relevant people so as to introduce the brand to the correct audience, especially when it’s a new brand. 

“We typically charge a design fee and management fee on such products instead of the traditional way of adding a mark-up to the product price,” Tarini explains.

Talking numbers 

Bootstrapped since inception, The Initial Studio’s target audience is largely people between the ages of 24 and 45. Most of its sales, almost 68 percent, come from social media and ads that the startup runs online. The repeat customer rate stands at over 20 percent. 

“We heavily invest in SEO...For our corporate clients, it has been largely via word of mouth and in 2021, we hope to pitch to more clients,” she adds. 

While The Initial Studio continues to work with its first accidental client, SleepyCat, over the years it has acquired more B2B clients. Some of the corporates that The Initial Studio today works for include Saudi Aramco, BMW, Google, Tinder, and Bombay Sapphire, among others. 

Road ahead 

According to Technopak, the total size of the Indian corporate and personal gifting market put together amounts to about Rs 25,000 crore this year. Of this, the corporate market in India is expected to be at Rs 12,000 crore, growing at a CAGR of 200 percent. 

Some of the startups bidding on this emerging market include The Messy Corner, Vista Print, and Presto, among others. However, Tarini believes that The Initial Studio’s USP lies in the transparency the startup guarantees. 

The Initial Studio is constantly launching new products. Going ahead, the team plans to launch personalised tech accessories including laptop cases, airpod cases, and phone covers. “We are also expanding our range of baby products,” Tarini reveals. 

Edited by Anju Narayanan

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