Fashion has considerably grown in recent years in terms of choice and availability, both online and offline. Clovia is India’s fastest growing lingerie brand. They design, produce and sell premium lingerie, innerwear, women’s nightwear, and shapewear under the brand name Clovia.
Recently, we had the honor of interviewing with Mr. Pankaj Vermani. Given below is the complete unabridged interview.
1. What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? Why should the younger generation aspire to be in this role, and what would be your message to people wanting to become an entrepreneur?
Lingerie has always been talked about in hushed voices in our country. It has always been a pain for women to shop from neighborhood stores as men mostly ran them. We all have heard stories about women facing some funny and some embarrassing situations at their neighborhood lingerie store. While traveling abroad, Neha, my Co-founder, had seen many solutions and size options available to women there. That’s how we realized that there exists a significant gap in intimate wear for women in India.
The evolution of this category in India had not kept pace with the fast changing outerwear fashion. Upon more profound research, we found that the current distribution channel restricts the flow of customer feedback back to the brand, and therefore, there is a lack of innovation and variety. With the expansion of internet penetration in the country and the already existing gap in the lingerie business, we decided to take the plunge into this business and Clovia happened! We started in 2013, and since then there has been no looking back.
For the wannapreneurs – “Do or Do Not, There is no try” by Jedi Master Yoda fits perfectly well. Sitting on the fence is gossip. The real action is in the field! For the start-ups, there’s just straightforward advice. Get your KPIs right and track them relentlessly. Your business will make or break the basis of the success parameters you define for it. E-commerce went into a tizzy because the success parameters changed from business health/customer loyalty to GMV. So focus on building a business and not a story. Remember, every successful business is a great story, but every great story may not be a viable business.
2. What is the USP/competitive advantage of Clovia?
Clovia is a full stack lingerie brand, which controls every part of its supply chain from mind-to- wardrobe. We procure raw material, design in-house, manufacture in third-party facilities working exclusively for us, ensure our own 4 level quality controls and sell through a host of direct sale channels. Every product we create is first made in small quantities. These are monitored via a state-of-the-art backend technology, which predicts future sales (based on sales patterns and customer feedback) and recommends what further quantities should be produced.
This leads to a genuine fast fashion brand that is low on cost (as the middlemen are cut out), high on consumer appeal (thanks to our 100+yrs of combined design experience in-house) and super efficient on inventory (we have the best inventory-to-sales ratio in the industry), leading to better margins and cash flows even in a high number of SKUs/Sizes business. So in short, the brand positioning as an affordable-premium fashion-solution and the supply chain backed by superior mind-to- wardrobe and technology backend gives Clovia an unparalleled edge.
3. Would like to throw some light on the startup scene of the country?
India is currently the leading country in the global economic growth rate and with GDP growth rate of 7%. We are expected to become the world’s No. 1 most populous nation in 2050 with about half the people being 28 years old or younger. This will enable India to support a high labor economic growth rate in the future. The speed with which trends are changing, one needs to leverage technology to the fullest. It’s a brave new world and the brands that are the fastest in listening to the end customer and acting on it have the best chance of winning. Innovation is the only word relevant in today’s ecosystem. The advances in technology like AI, Machine Learning, Blockchain, etc. will provide better business opportunities in the future.
4. How has technology enabled you to scale up your venture?
We are based on an amalgamation of fashion and technology. Clovia has built a proprietary technology engine known as ReX (or ReqS, i.e., Short for Requirement Simulator). We have patent-pending algorithms that help us gauge the customer purchase pattern through our sales channels and track their feedbacks fast. It helps us know which product, design, color are being purchased more and also, more importantly, which products have a high satisfaction score. This helps us provide better products and also plan our inventory accordingly. We also use smart technology and big data analytics for intelligent management of our list, ensuring we have the industry best inventory holding, one of the most critical parameters for scaling an apparel business.
In the lingerie industry, standard production runs are of a few thousand units, and therefore, a brand could not offer more than 100 styles in a year. We had to launch 100+ styles every month while keeping a tight control on inventory. We had to, therefore, convince our production partners to work on this seemingly crazy production plans. However, we could show them on how by using technology, we could come up with optimum production plans. Now we offer more than 200 styles per month, and over 75% of our inventory is less than 30 days old.
Clovia also came up with breakthrough technology and has created a tool called the “Fit Test” to solve this fundamental problem. We did extensive research and developed this test that asks a woman five questions about her body type and then recommends the right bra. We have a very high customer satisfaction score here.
5. Tell us more about your journey so far.
The journey as an entrepreneur has been a roller-coaster ride. I have had my share of high and low phases while being in business. The major challenge was to build a supply chain that can churn a large number of styles every week to keep up the freshness of our catalog. We have developed a team that believes in the brand and is dedicated to its success. Working with a highly motivated team and seeing Clovia grow and evolve, keeps me motivated in this journey.
Clovia has made exponential strides growing aggressively quarter on quarter, and has introduced several initiatives to position itself as a leader. It sells over 500,000 pcs of lingerie a month and is now one of the fastest growing brands in the nascent $4Bn market. As of now, more than three-quarters of its business is online. The brand launched in the offline market six quarters ago has been seeing aggressive growth there. They now have 12 exclusive brand outlets and a total of 150+ sales touch points including retail chains like Central, Globus and Brand Factory. Last year the company expanded overseas. The idea is to continue the growth and accelerate both the online and offline channels with an equal push.
6. What are some of the challenges that you face daily? Would you like to share your thoughts on work-life balance for entrepreneurs in general?
Challenges on a daily basis
Our biggest challenge since the day we started was that with bras, customers didn’t understand sizing, especially the cup sizes. They were, used to a salesperson appraising them visually and suggesting a size or just merely buying by band sizes regardless of cup size. The company started educating women about how to size themselves, sister cup sizes, and their body shapes. Then, we used our proprietary algorithm based ‘Clovia’s Fit Test’. This was accompanied by our extensive research and developed a test that asks woman five questions about her body type and then recommends the right bra. We have a very high customer satisfaction score here.
A right work-life balance has a direct effect on productivity. One cannot be about all work and no play. Having interests outside of work improves skills and makes one a more rounded individual. It is necessary to take out time from work for your interests and family, to make both professional and personal lives productive. A positive way of life automatically leads to amazing results.