Mumbai-based entrepreneur Akshay Narvekar’s business card doesn’t mention a definite designation. That’s because the founder of online custom-made shirt manufacturer Bombay Shirt Company (BSC), has, in the last two years, done everything from physically packing orders, hand delivering them, recruiting tailors and even giving design inputs for his brand new store in Kala Ghoda’s art district.
The 32-year-old former private equity analyst, who launched BSC in September 2012, introduced India to the concept of ordering a tailored, one-of-a-kind shirt with the click of a mouse. Right from choosing the fabric, sleeve style, collars and cuffs, to personalising buttons, pockets and pleats, http://www.bombayshirts.com offers customisation parameters to create a truly unique shirt. With nearly 130 types of fabrics (sourced from India and Europe), 14 collars, four cuffs, three pockets, four plackets and “nearly a million permutations and combinations for customisation”, BSC’s made-to-order shirts are now available for both men and women.
And while Narvekar has subsequently taken his online business offline, with kiosks in malls and door-to-door tailoring services, it’s with the brick-and-mortar store that he hopes to build a brand legacy. His four years working in strategy and operations at international label BCBG Max Azria and a brief stint with Mumbai design studio Obataimu, have stood him in good stead. Having secured seed funding from Amit and Arihant Patni in recent months, Narvekar recently ramped up operations and now commands a 30-strong team of employees. Here, he talks about lessons learnt, reinventing the brand and future plans. Edited excerpts:
Why did you feel the need to take your web enterprise offline?
When BSC launched two years ago, I didn’t have the capital to start a brick-and-mortar store. I thought a website would be more cost effective, which, in retrospect, isn’t true. We ran it as a web-only business for six months and realised there were a couple of drawbacks. Firstly, we relied on customers to give us their measurements. These aren’t always very accurate, even though we provide videos and tutorials on how to do it. And secondly, people wanted to touch and feel the fabric. In terms of expenses too, drawing traffic to a website costs a lot of money.
So, we started off with our Travelling Stylist programme, where we send people to your house to replicate the experience, with books and swatches and buttons. They measure you up and take your orders. And then we launched our pop-up kiosks in malls (CR2 Mall, Nariman Point and Inorbit Mall, Malad) to reach out to clients in different parts of the city. This flagship store is more of a brand-building exercise. Now, we’re a custom shirt brand that has multiple channels and formats — essentially a four-pronged approach.
How is the design of your new store representative of your brand?
The brand is a mix of old-world Mumbai charm and modern contemporary design. The building the store is housed in — Sassoon Building — is a heritage structure and we’ve maintained the vintage look. We’ve just refurbished, rather than reinventing the wheel. This ties back to the classic world of tailoring, but at the same time, offers contemporary design in terms of fabric as well as all the choices in collars and cuffs. Also, the interior is a little modern, minimalist and in tune with current international design trends.
Since you have a physical store now, how will you reinvent the website?
Right now, a majority of the online sales are coming from outside Mumbai, because people here can have a stylist come over or visit our store directly. We get a lot of business from Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore and Pune, as well a fair share of international orders. We’ve got distribution partnerships in UK and in Dubai and we’re looking at expanding in eastern Europe. Also, we want to make the user experience on the website as simple and seamless as possible, taking into account shoppers’ feedback. This should happen in a couple of weeks.
Your views on the future of customisation and growing competition.
A white shirt is a white shirt, but you can have a small detail or contrast that separates you from the guy next to you. Everyone wants to be different nowadays, and that’s the type of individual we’re catering to. Also, in terms of price points, we’re priced at the same level as a readymade shirt from Zodiac or Louis Philippe. So, the idea is to get a custom-made shirt that fits you better and that is designed by you for you at the same price. As for competition, it’s a big market and there’s space for everybody.