A decade ago, international brands like Zara and Mango had already launched in the Indian market but were unable to win over the country’s young working women who did not care to burn a hole in their wallets for ‘fashion’.
At the time, Tanvi Malik, an Assistant Brand Manager at Titan, was a mere on-looker. Keen on understanding the economics of fashion, she realised that price came first and not the idea of fashion as a form of self-expression for most of India’s youth.
This led her to quit the stable corporate life. Accompanied by her childhood friend, Shivani Poddar, she entered the fast fashion market with ecommerce ventures FabAlley in 2012, and Indya in 2016.
Today, the Indian fast fashion market is booming with interest from China-based companies Shein and Club Factory, Sweden-based H&M, and many others from the US and Europe.
And from a five-member team to having 900 employees today, FabAlley and Indya have successfully created a strong presence online. The founders claim that the brands have achieved a 60 percent growth rate on the company website this year, and have also started selling horizontally on platforms like Myntra.
Besides, the brands are present in departmental stores like Lifestyle, Shoppers Stop, and Central, and the startup has also opened 30 stores across India in the last eight years.
One of Tanvi’s greatest source of happiness is being an agent of change and redefining womanhood so that no woman succumbs to the expectations of patriarchy. She is driving this change with her high street fashion brand.
“Women are supposed to be a certain way – size zero, skinny or look a certain way. All of this is a function of the male gaze, the societal expectations that men have of women that is now completely internalised by us. So that's where Fab Alley is the one to say, ‘you go, girl’,” says the feminist entrepreneur.
From friends to co-founders
Building a successful fashion venture with your childhood friend may seem like something straight out of a movie. And Tanvi says that their greatest strength is that they regard each other as co-founders.
“When you think of someone as a friend, it's a whole different set of expectations. So, we are clear that when we're at work, we have our own responsibilities and things that we need to stick to. I would tell any entrepreneur starting up with their friend to draw a line,” she explains, adding that the duo is quite the recipe for success.
On a positive note, the friendship aspect comes with a deep understanding. According to Tanvi, when difficulties crop up in one’s personal life or when things get too overwhelming – which is more likely for an entrepreneur – your friend will have your back.
Not Fast but Rapid Fashion
Bootstrapped for nearly 18 months, the co-founders raised their first funding of $2 million in 2013, followed by another Rs 60 crore in 2018. More recently, they received Rs 8 crore in venture debt from Trifecta Capital. And all this capital has helped drive the speed of business.
“When you are pioneering fast fashion – in our case, rapid fashion – there is a lot of need for freshness,”says Tanvi.
Largely supported by a Zara-like marketing intelligence model, FabAlley is also designed so that one can see what's working and what’s not in real-time. It has a team of 20 designers who produce 200 unique designs every month just 45 to 60 days ahead of launching.
“We produce around 250 items of a design and see how it performs for two weeks and accordingly replenish what moves fast. This way, we may sell a thousand pieces of a dress in a month or season,” explains the Delhi-based serial entrepreneur.
Going ahead, Tanvi and Shivani hope to operate a total of five sizeable brands. Besides FabAlley and Indya, the two also have Zyra, a three-month-old fashion jewellery brand.
Challenges and the Joys
Tanvi shares that being an entrepreneur is humbling, to say the least, recalling the initial days of multitasking, including packing and sending deliveries by themselves.
“But if you have an entitled mindset thinking something is too small for you and that you’re more educated for certain tasks, then entrepreneurship is going to bite you,” she added.
Tanvi suggests that one needs to come to the table free of prejudices and biases and to never presume that you understand consumers without speaking to them.
The most important of all, she emphasised, is to remain flexible..
Now, having built a fashion empire for Indian women, Tanvi and Shivani are leading for a stronger feminist world. The two are undoing the fabrics of patriarchy, liberating Indian women one cloth and accessory at a time.