Fashion house High Street Essentials Pvt. Ltd., has announced its foray into the personal care segment with the launch of an in-house brand, Indya Skin Care. Marking its entry into the steadily growing beauty and wellness industry, this brand extension strengthens the company's vision to be a one-stop lifestyle destination for its customers.
Aligning with the company’s plans of utilizing funds from its latest round of funding in June 2020 to venture into new categories that are pertinent to current times and valuable to its audience, Indya Skin Care fulfils the functional and emotional aspect of self-care at home in this new post-pandemic era.
Talking with Indian Retailer, Shivani Poddar, Co-founder, HSE spills the beans on impact of pandemic, foraying into new category, future plans and a lot more.
Here are the excerpts:
What was the impact of the pandemic on the brand?
When the pandemic started, we were initially not doing good but from October 2020 to February 2021 the business picked up.
Earlier, we were profitable, growing and doubling the revenue every year. Things were looking good for both the brands - Faballey and Indya. Mid-March onwards things had started stopping depending on the state, etc., and revenue started declining, and there was a time we went to zero.
My co-founder, Tanvi Malik, and I discuss that it took eight years to get here, and then it took us less than eight days to go to zero. It was a difficult period because India was the only country where e-commerce was not allowed, so part of the business also came to a halt. The initial few months were tough, so the first quarter of this financial year was extremely slow. But we were agile because we knew we have to use this time fruitfully and understand what it is that the customer will be looking in the post-lockdown world and not the post-pandemic world.
From a fashion house point of view, we were looking at what categories will work. We started making masks very early; we were one of the firsts to start masks. We began doing categories like loungewear, athleisure, etc.. We used those months, where revenue was low, in developing the category that would be the future for the year.
Whereas business was heavily impacted, for us offline is the large part of our business and that went to zero since footfalls were very low post-lockdown. Still, our online business started exploding, so that did exceptionally well both on our website and marketplace partners, etc., and that is something we continue to focus, and we will continue to build there.
As consumers are still wary of stepping out, so do you plan to bet big on offline retail still, or do you plan to expand your online channels further?
As a company, we have been online first for the 5-6 years of our journey. As a company, we aim to have both online and offline presence. Now in the short term, which is for the next 12 months or so, our online business will definitely be much larger than the offline business, but that’s the trend we’ve seen in the last eight months as well, I think that will continue to happen.
We will focus more on the online business and continue to build there. Having said that, businesses are built for a long period, and we have been here in both the channels online and offline, so we’ll continue to build offline as well. We have opened two stores in the last two months in some of the country's top malls, so our bets are still there. I believe that for at least 2021, online will be the larger business, it will grow faster so that’s where we will focus more.
To cope with the pandemic impact, what are the innovations you have introduced at your offline stores?
The first thing we did in June when the lockdown had lifted in some states was that we introduced a home shopping module where we made a mini-website, and the link was sent to your customers about the products available in the stores. It had about 150 styles. As a customer, I could go through the website, and I could see the styles and just add whatever I like to my home shopping basket. So, if I’ve added 15 things, then that order would go to the nearest store, and then somebody from that store would take those 15 things to the customer’s house, where the customer could try, obviously necessary precautions were taken and whatever they like they can buy there and then. This helped us in the initial months. Just to keep the customers engaged and tell them we are happy to serve them even at their house. This was our first innovation.
Of course, on the storefront besides sanitisation and hygiene, we ensured that our customers know that there is no risk. We were not allowing more than 2-3 customers at a time depending on the area of the store, etc. In the early months, a lot of those things were done to give the customer the assurance of the safety.
On the product side, we did a lot of innovations. Masks have become one of our highest selling categories from day-wear masks to the evening-wear mask. We realised that post-October, wedding functions have started happening. As masks are a part of the wardrobe now, so those who were attending wanted masks that are a little fancy.
Innovations across tech, products were done. I believe we told the team that this is our time to hold and step back and build a stronger foundation.
What was the idea behind foraying into a new category when the business was already slumping?
Tanvi and I started this company in 2012, it has been nine years for us, and we’ve been building this thing for a lifetime. Some of the innovations are best done when there is time, and you realise that so much more can be done. Skincare was something that Tanvi and I wanted to do for a long time but never had the time and bandwidth because so much was happening and we were going so fast that we never could put our mind to it.
Skincare is also a category that goes very well with what we do at Indya. It is a mix of east and west, and it’s the best of Indianness. We thought our customers would love it. It took us a long time to work on this category, and by the time we launched, it was almost 8-10 months. We also knew it’s just a matter of time.
We need to innovate and continue to grow, which means to do things that will get growth because that’s the future. We cannot stop the business for six months and wait for things to get normal.
It’s a new category and a new launch for us; hence, we are hoping to do well there.
From fashion to skincare, it’s a different ball altogether. How do you think the categories are going to shape up for you?
We have a customer base that loves our ethnic wear brand Indya, and the thought is that we can also give great skincare products to the same customer who already loves Indya. I think that’s where the idea originated from.
We are expecting skincare to contribute 15-20 percent of our overall Indya’s sale for the next 24 months. Firmly on the path to do that with respect to our product offerings, price availability, etc., that’s what we are working on. We also strongly believe that the great products we have in Indya blend well with India’s skincare as well. Hopefully, we’ll go hand-in-hand with the already existing apparel category.
What’s the USP of the products? How is it different from the other brands available in the skincare range?
The one thing we wanted to think about before we got into the skincare category is how to be different. As founders, Tanvi and I do a lot of things that we feel like a need for ourselves because we are our own consumers almost all the time. Even for skincare, the thought was can we look at the brand that uses Indian ingredients very well but also mixes it with the western ingredients and make it all-natural. We don’t want to put any chemicals and artificial substances. It’s paraben-free, SLS-free, and cruelty-free. Can we look at that side and say let me use Haldi but let me also use Retinol. We are not saying we are Ayurvedic, but a beautiful blend of Indianness present in mulethi or Haldi, and great scientific ingredients from the West. This is the USP of our brand. It is also affordable because we want to reach out to a large base and not restrict it as a premium offering. To reach a large audience, the average price is Rs 400-500.
How are you planning to beat the competition from the already established brands in the country?
Skincare is personal, and to the very consumer, there are many preferences and loyalty in a way. For us, more than beating competition, it is more about putting a product that customers love.
For Indya also we thought there are 100 other fashion brands out there and if we put a great product at a price that customers feel is affordable, it will be a hit. We had a similar thought process for our new skincare category. There will be competition in everything you do, but if your product is different, useful and good, you’ll win the market.
Any plans to foray into any other new category?
Absolutely. We are looking at both Indya and Faballey as lifestyle brands, and hence we’ll be looking at adding more categories like accessories, bags, shoes, juttis, etc. In the next six months, there will be a lot more innovations on the products side. We will be looking at building it as a holistic fashion house.
How many stores do you have currently and how are you planning to increase the store number?
Currently, we have about 35 own stores and have presence in 500+ department stores. For this year, the plan is to add 10-12 own stores and 100 plus department stores. It is not a short term bet when you open a store, and you are looking at 5-8 years of investment. This is a good time for us to enter the market and go wherever we want in terms of locations. So, we’ll use this and continue to expand offline also.
Are you making any changes in your store sizes going ahead keeping the pandemic in mind?
We have always been a small-format store. Our average size is about 550 sq. ft. We weren’t making large-size stores anyways because we felt that we want to experiment more in the market as a new brand, and we’ll continue with this strategy.
Are sales back on track? And if not, then by when are you expecting it to be?
For us, sales were back on track in the last quarter. Online is doing well, and offline is still getting back on track in a way. For the next financial year, things will be back on track, and we’ll see growth start happening again.