Disha Singh, co-founder of Zouk on finding a gap in the handicrafts leather accessories market and taking the cruelty-free leather route to filling it
For IIM Ahmedabad student Disha Singh, a trip to Kutch during the course days turned out to be life changing. It’s during this trip that she noticed a glaring gap in the market for handcrafted leather accessories like bags and wallets, leading her to launch her own brand Zouk in 2016 in an attempt to fill the gap.
Today, the online-first lifestyle brand collaborates with more than 600 expert artisans and has 4,00,000 customers. In an exclusive interview with IndiaRetailing, the co-founder speaks about offline expansion with an aim to capture a significant share of the bags and accessories market of India that is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 12 percent to reach US$ 10.6 billion by 2024.
What is the story behind the launch of the brand?
The idea for Zouk was born during my MBA days at IIM Ahmedabad. While on a trip to Kutch during a course at IIMA, I noticed my peers were attracted to local handcrafts but refused to buy them due to a lack of functionality.
I had always felt passionate about doing something in the fashion and lifestyle space, and this allowed me to address the gap in the market and introduce a brand that designed bags with a combination of style and functionality, married with Indian ethos and the rich heritage of our handicrafts.
For our products, we didn’t want to use animal-based leather but we also didn’t want to compromise on the quality. Therefore, we looked for a cruelty-free alternative and picked vegan leather for all the products.
How has the journey been since the launch?
After starting Zouk, we realized the complexities involved beyond product Design. Production, marketing, sales, operations—it’s a vast gamut of things that a brand like us had to get right, to get even one customer to trust us. From there to now having over 4,00,000 happy customers, this journey has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride.
We have over 1,50,000 followers on social media and have also been honoured with several accolades including IMAGES Most Admired D2C Brand of the Year in the Footwear category.
Furthermore, we have grown 10 times since the last funding round in mid-2021. Also, there has been a growth of over 16 times as compared to pre-Covid levels.
How does Zouk stand out among competitors?
The two main standout features of Zouk are Indian designs and modern functionality. We felt there was a need for a brand to stand for its Indian originality, combining design with functionality. That is when Zouk came into the picture.
Tell us about the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge I faced while running Zouk, was convincing artisans to work with me as a woman founder. They were so conditioned to work with male leaders that it was strange for them.
However, when they saw the passion which I shared for the products we made together, they decided to join hands. This collaboration helped both sides grow, in terms of the quality and quantity of products made over the years.
Tell us about the new developments.
Recently, Zouk has added new products to its existing portfolio. The new product range includes round sling bags, statement office bags, statement satchel bags, classic sling bags, backpacks and a regal collection.
Tell us about your omni-channel initiatives.
We plan to expand our distribution channels by launching five exclusive brand outlets this year. On the distribution front, we are now available in over 50 offline retail touchpoints.
Do you plan to expand globally as well?
We always wanted to build a global consumer brand from India, with products that have an essence of India. This year, we plan to expand to global markets like the US, Canada, and Europe. We have already done some bespoke orders, thanks to the word-of-mouth awareness created by our existing Indian customers.
What investment route has the brand taken?
We recently closed a $3 million round from marquee investors like Stellar is Venture Partners, Sharrp Ventures, Titan Capital and JJ Family Office. We also had Shark Tank India judge Vineeta Singh along with Kaushik Mukherjee from Sugar Cosmetics, Manoj Meena from Atomberg and Dilip Khandelwal from Deutsche India participate in this round.
How do you use technology?
Technology is core to operating our business. As an online-first brand, we have embraced all forms of technology across marketing, sales, supply chain, customer experience and finance to ensure growth in a capital-efficient manner.
We are now updating our customer experience stack to ensure we deliver a far better experience to our customers. We felt that was an area for improvement and we are investing in that. This should ensure a better customer experience in the run-up to the festive season.