Shilpi Yadav started out with her own designer wear brand back in 2014 wanting to work on something that gave her complete creative freedom coming from the lack of it working for corporates. From exhibiting her designs on pop-ups in the beginning, having Bollywood Celebrities wear Khara Kapas designs and grossing $6M in annual sales, Shilpi tells us how she built Khara Kapas.
Tell us a bit about your background and what lead to starting Khara Kapas?
I have a design background – did Bachelor’s in Graphics and later on Masters in Apparel from NID, and I also went to FIDM Los Angeles for a short period. In coming years I wasn’t very sure of how to put all of this education into use – stuff like do I go for clothing or do I go for styling, interiors, etc, so back in India I worked with a couple of fashion houses over a period of 3 years before I started Khara Kapas. The only reason I started back then was because I felt I wasn’t able to utilize my creative energy in the right direction because of the restrictions imposed while working for someone – you have to follow their sensibilities, especially in the corporate sector, a lot of times there are limited budgets, something’s not possible because it doesn’t suit somebody’s aesthetics and sensibilities. That was a little frustrating for me as I kept wanting to do things my own way, even if things didn’t shape up the way I wanted to, it would make me happy and gave me that satisfaction to have given it a shot. Why Kahara Kapas? Because I did a couple of projects where I did collections for my company and my designs were a big hit so I realized the same and for me, it wasn’t just about making clothes, its everything that goes around it, the kind of fabric, colors what kind of visual language you want to give, the words you choose to describe it, etc, the whole idea of having your own thing was really enticing and that’s why I gave it a shot.
What was your initial experience when you started out, what unexpected things did you face?
In the beginning, there just was a lot of running around all which was actually quite enjoyable. I used to make something, then I used to shoot it and put it online and it ended up getting a good response. Initially, when I started, I did an exhibition and showcased my collection at a small pop-up and the response there was very good and I started getting orders and I had business cards so calls and messages started coming in. Back then I was like “I can’t do this, I can’t be responding to everyone, I could either make clothes or respond to all the inquiries” and later on I had people coming in my small workshop in my house, and it did not have enough space to display all the clothes, so I had a small office set up inside my house just so I could take the appointments and it got really chaotic. That when it made sense to build a website and within 20 days of the first exhibition we got the website ready. It made things a lot easier and small things like chimes notifying the orders really made me happy – thinking of having people buy your stuff from a small establishment like yours and running everything from your home, really meant a lot for me.
You mentioned that you started off by exhibiting your collection at pop-ups. How has your marketing evolved since then?
Actually, when I started Khara Kapas there weren’t a lot of people doing something similar so I had that as an advantage and I used to work with Facebook and Instagram – which worked well for me. I’d just put up stuff on Facebook and Instagram profiles, didn’t do Ads as part of Marketing back then as I didn’t understand much about how they work, so just like any other brand, we made sure we posted regularly and especially so while launching new collections. However this was a few years ago and now things have changed – we’ve grown into a bigger brand and Facebook has implemented changes to control and limit our reach, so organic posts don’t deliver as much as they used to. We now collaborate with similar brands, influencers, and got covered on popular magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, etc. Celebrity clientele like Mini Mathur, Gauhar Khan, Divya Bhushan, Athiya Shetty, Kritika Kamra, Shilpa Rao, Kubra Sait who’ve bought from us, they help spread the word in Bollywood and it has worked well in our favor so far. Also, there have been instances where we’ve had a few overseas customers reach out to us after they bought from us and wanted to place bulk orders from us for their own little boutiques and outlets. All of this has been very organic and we try to keep it that way, word of mouth has worked so well for us, being the growth driver and having shaped the brand itself, I don’t want to move away from that as well. In the long run, we might have to come up with Marketing plan and allocate budgets. We still stick to Facebook and Instagram for promotions and haven’t yet explored other Ad platforms like Google yet, but at some point we will.
What kind of money did you invest in Khara Kapas to start it off?
I can’t really think of a number as I didn’t really have a budget back then. I invested about Rs. 20,000 ($250) in two pieces of equipment I used, both of which were pre-owned. Apart from that initial costs for material, employee salaries, etc, would have added up to about Rs. 100,000 ($1500). As soon as we started making money after that, we put it all back into the business. Today we have 30 machines and about 35 people working for Khara Kapas.
How much did you sell in the first month? What has it grown to now?
Again, I don’t remember the details but the 1st pop-up I did, We sold for about Rs. 130,000($2000). Right now we’re doing anywhere between Rs. 28-30,00,000 monthly($350,000 – $500,000). And we only spend about Rs. 30,000 – 40,000 ($500-$600) on Ads currently which is a really small portion of our revenue. In the future, as we look to expand and increase sales, we’ll definitely spend more on Ads as our growth stabilizes and current marketing channels start to saturate.
What would you do differently if you were to start Khara Kapas from scratch in 2019?
For me, I’ve been learning every day as and when we’ve been growing and there were no plans in the first place to have looked upon on blunders as something that went wrong. So I can’t really think of things I could have done differently, maybe could have pushed a few things sooner, or later, but differently is tough to answer. I’ve enjoyed every bit of the process, the blunders and mistakes are all part of it and I’d be happy to do it exactly the same way as I did it back then – apart from the timeline, which is something you need to consider for every business.
What kind of advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs?
I just feel there is no right or wrong and you just have to do it. One thing Khara Kapas has taught me is whenever smaller issues come up, there would be some mistake or some disgruntled customer, I would just ponder and think a lot about it but later on, I’ve realized these to be much smaller in the large scheme of things and fixing and figuring things out the fly is where it should stop. You don’t really need detailed plans to start a business especially with the kind of exposure we have in today’s age, if there’s something you’re passionate about, you should definitely give it a shot without giving it a lot of thought in the first place.