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Ethik: Turning the vegan leather trend into a fashion possibility with premium footwear that steps up ahead of the competition

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Customers demand value and have become extremely conscious about what they shop for. Gone are the days when it was only about picking anything, mindlessly. Now it is all about mindful shopping. This trend has redefined the fashion & lifestyle industry and every brand is trying in their own way to make their products and processes sustainable, so that it clicks with their customer base. One of the key trends in this direction is the adoption of faux and vegan leather. Any leather that is made without the use of animal products is considered vegan leather. The growing popularity of vegan leather is an opportunity, which the D2C ecosystem has adopted, beautifully. According to a report by Grand View Research, the Indian polyurethane synthetic/artificial leather market size is expected to be valued at USD 8.14 billion by 2025.

To know more about this market, we talked to Bharat Ranka, Co-Founder, Ethik. 

Ethik is an India-based premium non-leather brand that is offering high-quality non-leather products. Using science, technology, and innovation certain fabrics have created products in the lab that look similar to leather. With such fabrics, PETA approved vegan products are made by ‘Ethik’. They started their journey in 2012 with an aim to acquire the leadership in the men’s fashion category. The brand also got featured in SharkTank India, recently. 

‘Idea’ for a change 

Bharat Ranka shared with us the idea behind starting a non-leather brand “Thinking about innovating sustainable materials back in 2010, when my Co-founder Pankaj Khabiya decided to start with Ethik. At that time, there was no ecosystem as such for non leather alternatives neither was there any knowledge center that could be followed. The core of it all was a relentless passion to bring a sustainable ecosystem at par with leather. And with the innovation, it’s always an upgrade and even with the materials that we wanted to source, we were always very clear that this had to be something at par or better than leather in terms of look, feel and performance.” 

Challenges & Difficulties

Ethik started their journey in 2012, when the consumer was not so aware and educated about the use of vegan leather. When asked about the challenges faced by the brand at the start, Ranka mentions “It was quite challenging, because operating out of India for the first two and half years, working with various manufacturers, various suppliers made us realize that the knowledge of sustainable materials was invisible in India.”

He further added to this, “We thought at the start that once we will find the right material half the battle will be won. But I think we realized over the years the biggest challenge was to educate the consumer, and inform them that something like this exists as innovations are tough to comprehend for the masses. So, around 2013-14, we started bringing out our products under the brand name ethic and started a store in Bangalore, at Church Street. At that time, vegan, non-leather, cruelty-free were not mainstream jargons or words that a lot of people were aware of and it was a herculean task. And around in 2017-18, when our store was on the verge of winding down, we realized that we have a good access to the digital ecosystem and came with an idea that if we could take our business online, then we could disseminate the information in a much larger way and in a more clear way.That’s when we also started working on our first ever e-commerce portal that was launched in December 2019.” 

Going for the ‘Omnichannel’ approach 

D2C brands are now opting for omnichannel strategy in their business model as it helps them to serve the customers all across channels, through multiple touchpoints. In India, we can’t ignore the importance of touch and feel concept as it creates a sense of trust among the consumers. Keeping this in mind, Ranka informed us, “So I think we’ve been unplanned, but fairly lucky that way. Because in 2013, when we started off with a store in one of the premium high streets and in  2019 onwards, we decided to go digital even with a few listings on marketplaces. So, I think we’ve had the best and worst of both worlds that way. I think what reinforces for us is that omni channel is the way to go. And we had feedback coming from across spectrums that  is adding so much credibility to the brand. Omnichannel is not an option, but rather it is the only way that we can operate in the future.”

He concluded, “With Ethik, we’re trying to listen to the consumers and observe the larger D2C ecosystem as a whole. And we are focussing on being as agile as possible.”