The decade starting 2010 has changed the way India shops. Online shopping penetrated across the country for across categories. Be it – electronics to lingerie. Richa Kar, the undisputed queen of lingerie retailing launched www..zivame.com in 2011 and five years down the line, she has managed to literally bring lingerie out of the closet.
It is difficult to imagine that something that is considered second skin for women can be sold online in India. But for Richa Kar this was precisely the gap that had to be filled. Where a lot many neighbourhood stores existed that sold lingerie, the entire experience to lingerie shopping wasn’t too pleasant for woman in India. The idea to launch Zivame hit Kar while she was working on one of the projects to study a global lingerie brand. With an engineering and management degree in hand and experience of working in two firms for a period of almost 5 years, she set out on her entrepreneurial journey with an investment of Rs 35 lakh to launch www.zivame.com.
To hear it in her words, “Working with Spencers and SAP retail consulting gave me an understanding of the retail business, its systems and processes. At SAP retail, I worked on global brands and realised that lingerie is a big category everywhere. I also understood that in our country, the category has many gaps and there is a huge potential to address these. For example, the lingerie buying experience is still surrounded by a lot of discomfort. The offline lingerie shopping is still dominated by salesmen who often have inadequate knowledge about the category. They also stock limited variety and push the fast moving styles to the consumers, without taking into account their body profiles. All this makes lingerie shopping in retail stores a five minute experience for most women. Looking at these challenges, I decided to take the category ahead. This move gave privacy to women to shop for their most intimate needs without the fear of being observed, judged or rushed. Taking the business online also alleviated the problem of limited stocking. Zivame is using technology to give every Indian woman access to the right innerwear in an environment that is private, convenient and friendly.”
Adding further, she shares, “I launched Zivame as a bootstrapped entrepreneur with Rs 35 lakh from my savings and contributions from friends and family. We started working out of a small office and launched the website on August 25, 2011 after five months of starting up. We waited for five hours for our first order. It was placed from Gwalior and was worth Rs 7000. The initial response to the offering was great and that motivated us to keep working hard. Earlier, Zivame retailed over 20 brands including Triumph and Lovable to name a few. We also had three of our in-house brands; Pen.ny, Coucou and Rosaline which are now being sold under the brand name ‘Zivame’.”
The experience a woman had shopping at Zivame surpassed all that she would have encountered before. From personal assistance in way of chat to offering a perfect measurement chart, each of the nuances were well taken care of. Infact, the portal went a step ahead to offer measuring tape with all of their orders during their initial days.
Citing the initial challenges the team faced, Kar reveals, “I think the initial challenges were more to do with the category. For example, incorporating the company, getting a payment gateway or renting office space! There is so much discomfort associated with lingerie as a category even today; people are not really comfortable talking about it. I remember there was always a 10 second awkward silence when we told someone that we were a lingerie company.”
On the investments received so far, the first round of funds came from Kalaari Capital and IDG Ventures. The brand has raised around US $48 million from marquee investors like Khazanah Nasional Berhad, Zodius Technology Fund, Unilazer Ventures, IDG Ventures India and Kalaari Capital. The funds have been primarily used to expand business, develop new products, hire talent, spruce up technology and market our products.
To reiterate, it is the customer service and personal touch extended that makes shopping at Zivame different and delightful. Highlighting the USP, Kar shares, “Our ability to offer a personalised, delightful experience along with our focus on educating the buyer and helping her select the right products is what differentiates us from the rest. For example, customers can measure themselves using our online bra size calculator; one could also book an appointment online through which they can experience a personalized fitting session with one of our Fit Advisors at the Zivame Studio. We offer various ways and means of shopping assistance. We also dive into great depths while providing information about each product. Today, we are India’s leading lingerie destination and I believe our consultative approach has had a big role to play in this.”
She adds, “The private and non-judgmental environment we have created is helping women experiment in terms of brands, styles, and price-range. They are much more open to trying new things now. We have launched categories like shape wear, Zelocity activewear and leisure wear that were underserved and we have seen customers quickly adopting them. Consumers are also becoming more fashion forward. Our lacy lingerie collections have done very well and looking at the demand, we have introduced extremely fashionable ‘statement-making’ lingerie as well.”
Going the Offline Route
Where the brand has managed to serve remote pincodes, it is now exploring the offline channel launching Zivame stores across the country. “We have explored the offline channel with Zivame Studios across the country. Zivame has successfully launched studios across Bangalore, Pune, Delhi, Jaipur, Chennai and Cochin. At the Zivame Studio, women can discover, try, experiment and create their unique lingerie wardrobe with exclusive products in an uninhibited, premium space. Each store is designed to suit the lingerie needs, dreams and desires of every woman, offering a personalized shopping experience with Zivame Advisors and comfortable changing rooms,” explains Kar. 2017 is when the offline stores would spread further across the country thus putting to rest all debates on online retail canabilizing offline retail. If a lingerie brand can do it, other categories for sure have a much better scope.
In the last five years, Kar has taken giant steps in this category. To encapsulate her journey, from launching Zivame to getting all possible lingerie brands on board under one roof to going ahead and launching private labels which are eventually now being exclusively retailed through the portal to launching Zivame retail stores, she has literally captured the lingerie market in India.
On a concluding note, she shares her take on the lingerie market in India, “Challenges are at every point. To begin with, it is the category itself – There is still a lot of discomfort surrounding lingerie as a category in India. People are not OK talking about lingerie. The hushed or the suppressed nature of the category, has led to various myths and misconceptions being attached to it. I was sure that Zivame was the solution to lingerie woes of thousands of Indian women. However, when I told someone about this, there was an awkward 10 second silence. As a team, our prime focus is to remove the hesitation associated with this category and make it more acceptable.”