of the week!!
Being a Sindhi, I was exposed to entrepreneurship right from birth. All my family and most of my extended family were entrepreneurs. Some very successful ones. Most Notably: Gopal Vazirani of WMI Cranes and Dinesh Vazirani of Saffron Art. But business never excited me. I had one dream. Being a pilot. It was the only thing I ever wanted to be.
I was in Std. 10, when my father’s business of exporting scarves started to tank. And boy it tanked, at a blinding pace. Suddenly we faced a situation where a business of over 20 years had tanked within months. The entry of China in our primary export market of Iran, the change of fashion in the Iranian market from Indian scarves to Turkish scarves meant that we were kicked out of a market which we had dominated for years. Unfortunately, we were not prepared, a bit for such a situation. Lack of Funds became an issue, which would now dominate and shape my life for years to come.
I no longer thought about what I wanted to become. I now wanted to help my father to get things back on track. The toll it was taking on our lives was getting heavy by the day. But the Scarf business was beyond repair. All our eggs were in one basket, and we were paying a heavy a price for that.
One thing my father really does well is design and he has tremendous knowledge about printing. We had to use this expertise in some form, if we were to start something afresh.
One uneventful night, after dinner, we were all watching TV. There was this segment on Leather Bags on a news channel, when my dad asked me as to why were there no prints on the leather handbags, why were they just plain. Just dyed in different colors? Well I had no answer. I had never even keenly observed a handbag before.
Next day, we went about Dharavi leather market, to find an answer to his question…Over the next few days, we extensively surveyed all the branded and unbranded bag shops in Mumbai and we finally concluded that there was no technique for multi-color, scratch – proof printing on leather!!
My father set about trying to find a way. All the little funds we had, were invested in this experiment. The experiment did succeed, he did manage to develop a way to print on leather, but it took a good two years.
It was a huge breakthrough. We were elated. But during this period we also learnt that there were two other international companies already doing such type of printing. Were are printing techniques the same? I can’t say for sure, but the results were the same. However, we were doing something right, that brought our prices down to less than 1/10th to what they were asking for printing.
So even though, we were not the first movers in the space, we were the only one’s in India and probably the cheapest company doing such a process in the world. The future seemed bright. The applications seemed endless from fashion bags to footwear to furniture. We decided to focus on Handbags.
Marketing ladies bags!
Due to my lack of technical printing knowledge, I could not help out in the development of this process but I was determined, id help him market it. I had a lot of confidence in the product. I was sure I could sell it. So at the age of about 17, I started to market Ladies leather handbags to various companies. A far cry from my pilot dream, but that’s what the situation demanded. Armed with a list of companies from Google, I started to tap leads. I had no time to get training, and had to learn on the field itself. It was a question of survival.
I approached a lot of companies/shops ranging from the shops at Dharavi to companies like TATA International, Metro Shoes, The Bombay Store, and Shoppers Stop. Each company/shop, and the experience I’ve had with them, is an interesting story in itself.
But to summarize a long story in short, I did see some success, but it was not enough to remain sustainable. We were barely surviving despite having a unique product. The common grouse was that the End product was too expensive for an unknown label for the Indian Consumer.
My bags ranged between 2000-4000. Whereas similar bags abroad, ranged upwards of 300 USD!! Most companies did understand this, but ultimately what everyone considered were the sales figures at the end of the month.
A lot of people suggested us to use the same technique on Synthetic leather, so that retail prices could come down. But we were adamant to target not to “degrade” ourselves to synthetic materials, we wanted to operate only in the “Genuine/Authentic Leather” market. It was, in hindsight, a stupid decision not to adapt as per the market.
The Change –Part II
I finished graduation and still our financial woes were very much ongoing. Survival was getting tougher by the day. Finally, to stay afloat, we decided to make the switch to Synthetic Leather to bring down our prices and tap a vast market of Gujarati and Jain customers who would otherwise not touch our products.
We sold off our ancestral house, so that we could fund the business well. For the first time in years, we had seen some surplus funds in the liquid form. I was given the option to make an exit, pursue an MBA and get a safe job.
In what has probably been the toughest decision for me yet, I decided against an MBA, as I knew, that though we had little bit of capital now, it was very limited. Not enough to comfortably fund both my education and the business. Besides, I still considered, this printing on leather and synthetic leather techniques to have tremendous scope and scalability. It would just require more time, commitment and effort from my end.
This decision proved to be very costly on the personal front. It was one of the primary reasons the girl I loved, lost faith in me. She decided it was best to part ways and left after a stable period of 5 years.
I’m now 23 and travel to various parts of the country, still doing the same thing- selling printed ladies handbags. But now, in synthetic leather. This time I’ve been a little more successful in my efforts. It’s been just 6 months since I’ve started to tour the country and we are now close to being a sustainable venture. The new price points of handbags ranging between 700-2000 have become an instant hit. “Vaz” handbags are now available in over 7 cities across the country. My bags have recently been launched on Myntra and will be rolling out by the end of May on Amazon India, Snapdeal and Shopclues. Offline you can find my handbags at The Bombay stores, Sapna Book House amongst others.
Now that sustainability is close to being achieved, im now aiming to create an offline presence in every state in the country along with a brand recall value for our products in the market.
Biggest Lesson learnt:
If you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth! But you gotta be willing to take the hits. And not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! (From Rocky Balboa)