Zivame's Richa Kar on the fun and fervour in selling lingerie online in India
Lingerie as a category IS under-served in India. Retailers stock only fast moving sizes.
Success Quotient is a weekly feature that appears every Friday on Firstpost, which looks at the pains and joys en route to success for a head honcho - whether a CEO, MD or an entrepreneur. The column looks at the ideas that helped launch a company, its highs and lows.
Lingerie as a topic is taboo in public for many in India. Richa Kar, 34, Founder and CEO, Zivame – an online lingerie retailer – speaks to Firstpost about the hurdles she had to step aside to launch her venture, the challenges she continues to face and her goals for the company.
Excerpts from the conversation:
What did you want to do after acquiring an engineering degree?
After I completed engineering from BITS, Pilani in 2002, I worked in the IT industry for a brief period. During the course of my work I also started thinking about my next step. I always had an inclination towards understanding the way businesses operate. I decided to pursue my management studies in 2007 from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies as I believed it would take me closer to my area of interest. I worked briefly with a retail and tech firm for four-and-a-half years after my MBA.
How did you zero in on the lingerie business?
As part of my previous job, I was working on an assignment to study a global lingerie brand. That got me thinking about lingerie as a category in India. I soon realised that the customer experience in the category is very poor in India. Right from unavailability of size options to presence of male sales executives, every single step of lingerie shopping posed a bottleneck for a woman. This made me think about starting a business in this sector.
What were the reaction from family and friends to the idea?
My mother was shocked at the idea. She said, Apne friends ko kya bolungi? Meri beti bra-panty bech rahin hai computer par? (What will I tell my friends? That my daughter is selling bras and panties online?). My father did not quite understand what exactly I wanted to do. However, after the initial shock got over, both of them were very encouraging. Of course, the initial days were filled with funny reactions. I remember when we were looking for a place to set up our business. I was in conversation with the landlord and was about to tell him that my business was online lingerie shopping, but I paused for a second and said that I would be operating in the space of online ‘apparels’, just so that he does not change his mind about giving us the space!
I started Zivame in 2011 with Rs 35 lakhs from my savings and contributions from friends and family. After that, the first round of funds came from Kalaari Capital and IDG Ventures.
You have since then received multiple rounds of funding and investors.
We have raised around $48 million until now from marquee investors like Khazanah Nasional Berhad, Zodius Technology Fund, Unilazer Ventures, IDG Ventures India and Kalaari Capital. The funds have been primarily used to expand business, develop new products, hire talent, spruce up technology and market our products. The focus has always been on upping the ante when it comes to offering a great customer experience. Funding has helped us pursue our private label strategy successfully. Today, our private labels Pen.ny and Cou Cou contribute to around 60 percent of our revenues. We have also been able to stay ahead on the technology front being the first player in the country to come up with a dedicated lingerie app.
What does the name Zivame mean? What were the initial challenges you faced? What are the hurdles now?
‘Ziva’ is a Hebrew word that means radiance. The word Zivame means ‘Radiant me’.
I think the initial hurdles were more to do with the category. For example, incorporating the company, getting a payment gateway or renting office space! There is so much discomfort associated with lingerie as a category even today; people are not really OK to talk about it. Even today, our everyday battle is to remove taboos surrounding the category and get people to talk about it.
What have you been able to achieve with this 'private' industry on the online space?
Lingerie is a Rs 12,000 crore market in India. While there are many players, we clearly own the majority of the market in the online space. I think it is the broken customer experience in the category that ails the industry. Lingerie as a category is under-served in India. Retailers stock only fast moving sizes, while tail ends of sizes remain under-served. Sales personnel only push sales, rather than providing consultation on the right fit and style. This being a long tail category, most shops do not keep a comprehensive mix of sizes and variety that a woman requires; while smaller shops have male salesmen making it really difficult for a woman to convey what she needs. For a woman it is quite embarrassing to step into a lingerie store, and have the salesmen scan her and say, 'Madam, 34 B will fit you.' It is extremely tough for women to gain education and consultation on the category anywhere. It is to solve all these issues that Zivame was started.We have come to understand that women are embarrassed to receive lingerie at a work place or even in a joint family. This made us come up with discreet packaging, so that no one except the woman will know what she has received. If sold in any retail store, our products are at par with international standards and quality, if not better.
You have a fitting salon.
Yes, in Bangalore. We have trained consultants here who help women find their right fit. All one needs to do is to book an appointment and walk into our office to discover perfect support and comfort in total privacy. The pilot fitting lounge at our office helped us realise that about 4 out of 5 women go wrong in finding their right fit. We plan to launch many more fitting lounges in the next three years across the country.
Your sales have risen five-fold in four years. What is your target for the next fiscal?
While the intimate wear market in India is growing at the rate of 15 percent year on year, we have witnessed a 300 percent year-on-year growth in our revenues. This is the result of women increasingly shopping online for lingerie. We sell one bra per minute while Shapwear as a category has seen a 336 percent increase in a span of one year. Around 60 percent of our revenues are from in-house brands. Around 30 percent of business comes from tier 2 and tier 3 cities. In terms of the quantity of products shipped, we have seen an increase from approximately two lakhs in 2012 to 10 lakhs in 2015.
What are your plans for Zivame?
We think the category offers a great potential and we have not even scratched the surface yet. We want to create the best lingerie shopping experience for every Indian woman driven by technology which inculcates our ability to comprehend their exact needs and requirements. We are working hard on our private labels, filling gaps and launching categories and styles that Indian customers have never had access to so far.
Your business is evidently your passion. But do you have hobbies that you find time to pursue?
I like going to the spa and soak in hot water. It calms me down. Holidays though are not as much of a stress-buster as working out. I try and make it for workouts about three or four times a week. I also like watching a series or a movie on TV after work. It relaxes me and I know there is a world beyond what I do.
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