04 Jun 2015 19:54 IST

When Ratan Tata found the right fit in Kaaryah

Tata’s investment gives the fledgling start-up for women’s Western wear a leg up

Nidhi Agarwal is one happy woman. Ratan Tata, former Chairman of Tata Sons, has invested an undisclosed amount in Kaaryah, her women-only fashion portal. The online venture offers Western non-casual wear — that is to say, everything casual that is not jeans and t-shirts, says its founder. Ever since the news broke, Agarwal has been flooded with congratulatory messages and ‘likes’ on her Facebook post announcing this.

Eleven months old, Kaaryah has been looking for funding since last August. “We were not able to get funding because we were a start-up, and hadn’t broken even,” Agarwal says. “Our goal became to break even,” she adds. And the plan changed to seek growth funding, as opposed to seed funding.

One would assume that Agarwal has taken this achievement, like all her others, in her stride. Before starting Kaaryah, Agarwal worked as a director of strategy with Honeywell India, and helped establish its space and missiles business and take its automation control business from B2B to B2C. Before that, she was with Bain & Company. She has also worked with Bharti Airtel. She graduated with top honours from the Kellogg School of Management in 2008. And she is a chartered accountant to boot.

Highs and lows

But what most onlookers fail to recognise amidst the euphoria that surrounds the high point for her fledgling company is that Agarwal has done her share of time in a dark tunnel. “I have felt like I wanted to give up,” she says. “And there have been times we thought we should just shut this down,” Agarwal adds. “Emotions run high and deep. But we pulled through it,” she adds.

There are high points and low points every day in the lifecycle of a venture. But a support system is extremely important to overcome it, she says. “One needs to be patient, and learn how and when one needs to compromise and deal with the crunch in talent and funds.”

But what compelled Agarwal to quit her thriving white-collar career to start something of her own?

A white shirt

It all started with a white shirt, Agarwal explains: “The entire business idea came to me at the Bangalore airport. I spilled some coffee on myself at work before I caught a flight to attend a meeting. After spending a couple of hours looking for a new shirt in a mall in Gurgaon, I still wasn’t able to find one that fit me right.

“And the typical consultant that I am, I decided to find out if other women have similar issues,” she adds. She ran a survey across 250 women to find the answer to this, and a whopping 80 per cent had the same problem: fit was always an issue. Why don’t these stores stock more sizes, she wondered. “Two main problems face apparel manufacturers that prevent them from keeping more sizes: rent and inventory liquidation. “If we had to succeed, we realised our business model needed to stress on being rent-neutral and should rely on omni-channel inventory,” she says.

Range of sizes

And thus Kaaryah was born; a mass premium brand of non-casual Western clothing to cater to women, who, like Agarwal, increasingly felt that nothing ever fit. Kaaryah offers not just six but 18 sizes. “We studied 1,500-odd women, with varied body shapes to come up with the sizing. We came up with three variants in each size. So, if you’re a size six, you can be a petite or regular or curvy,” she says. “We have now got it down to an algorithm,” she adds.

One doesn’t need to bother with complicated mathematical charts to buy the perfect fit. “Women can wear our clothing from 9 am to 5 pm,” she adds. And we customise, but in a standardised manner. “For instance, we found that Indian women struggle with, for lack of a better term, camouflaging their midriff, a problem area for them, so we came out with clothing which does that,” she says. “Apart from that, every month, our design team works on finding ways to do this with a new problem area, based on the feedback from our marketing team,” she adds. “These are our problem solvers.”

Target buyers

So is their target audience the metros? “Fifty-five per cent of our sales are to non-metros,” says Agarwal. “And we have a return rate as low as 3 per cent,” she adds. Apart from this, sales have improved on a month-on-month rate and 33 per cent of our business comes from return visitors, she says. Everything is priced between ₹1,000 and ₹7,000.

Now that Agarwal has achieved the short-term goal of securing growth funding, does she have any words of wisdom for those looking to start their own business or thinking about it?

“If you feel you have a good idea, then I’d suggest you run with it. However, if you don’t have one, then don’t half-heartedly get into something. It’s a 24/7 job being an entrepreneur, so you need to be very committed.” Instead, she suggests they work at a full-time job before they start something. “Learning and knowing your likes and dislikes is a large part of this journey. To be able to do this, I feel it is a good idea to work elsewhere before getting into it,” she adds.

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