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Learning the ecommerce fashion ropes at Jabong, former employee takes the entrepreneurial plunge

Sindhu Kashyap
9th Jan 2019
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Bootstrapped Indian Dobby is a Delhi-based Indo-western wear online brand and focusses on semi-formal and casual wear. 

For Prashanti Alagappa, entrepreneurship was a deliberate move. “I don’t take risks. I have always been known to be conservative. I also don't have a strong entrepreneurial bug,” she says. Yet, in 2015, she took the big plunge and started Indian Dobby, an online Indo-ethnic brand.

The Delhi-based company sells western wear - dresses, tunics, tops, skirts and pants - on ecommerce sites such as Amazon, AJIO, Jabong and Jaypore, to name a few.

A part of Jabong's core team and with experience at the Future Group, Prashanti says she had some free time in 2014 and decided to help her sister-in-law start up. “I told my sister-in-law that I would help her out in some business. I wanted her to start up in the clothing space,” says Prashanti. A NIFT Delhi and IIM Bangalore alumni with 14 years' experience in the retail space, Prashanti already knew the ropes. Her sister-in-law today runs her own business.

Indian Dobby
Prashanti, founder of Indian Dobby

Taking the plunge with Indian Dobby

But the experience had her hooked. “I knew the kind of products women are looking for. So I took leave from Jabong for a week or so, and with the help of my friend, started making some products. I was happy and could see myself doing this for the rest of my life.” That is where, she says, her personal entrepreneurial journey started.

Her cautious nature, however, did not let her take the plunge immediately. For the first six months, Prashanti made products herself and didn’t hire a single person. She started with sarees as the market size was large, but she knew it would need a lot of investment and a huge stock to begin with. 

Prashanti started off with an investment of Rs 10 lakh and spent all that money on research and other expenses. “Six or nine months later, I ran out of all my funds. And then I took up this consultancy with AJIO for the ethnic division,” says Prashanti. It was supposed to be only for the first three months and then it was extended to six months. But soon, Prashanti realised AJIO was not looking to launch its ethnic line for another year.

“I finally decided to launch my first saree collection online. I then took around six months to a year to work on the ready-to-wear line. I launched the first ready-to-wear collection in 2016,” says Prashanti. 

The sarees by Indian Dobby were priced between Rs 3,800 and Rs 5,800. They were occasion-wear and the focus was on customers who shopped online. 

Working frugal

Prashanti soon moved on to skirts, tops and other western wear and did all the sampling in-house. She soon had workers for stitching, dying and embroidery. Focusing on knitwear, with the help of her husband’s friend, she found a small manufacturing space in Delhi and started with one tailor.

“I was trying to do good quality products that you would get in the boutiques for Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000. I was trying to sell those for Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,400,” says Prashanti.

The numbers and growth

Indian Dobby initially started with a stock keeping unit of 120 pieces. It had a tie-up with Jabong and every day would get three to four orders. It did not have a website of its own then. Since Prashanti had experience and contacts in the space, getting designers, packing masters and sourcing fabrics wasn’t a challenge. The challenge, however, was getting the cycle of releases right

She outsourced finance and accounting and decided to stick with a core team of designers. In six months, she started to understand the new products cycle and the Indian Dobby website was launched in November 2017

“The basket size when I launched ready-to-wear garments was Rs 1,200. This season, I launched sets and selling this separately. Sets take the price point up. But if I remove sets, my separate CSP (cost selling point) would be Rs 1,400-Rs 1,500. The lowest is priced between Rs 1,200 - Rs 1,800. There are few options in Rs 999 - usually only top-selling ones or tunics,” says Prashanti. Dresses start at Rs 1,600 - Rs 2,200.

Order numbers across all the websites are currently 100 pieces on a good day, and 25 on an average day

The market opportunity for private labels is fast growing. There is Gurugram-based PostFold and players like Myntra and Jaypore too have their own private labels. Niche ecommerce also seems to be thriving. While the larger marketplaces are focused on GMV, the smaller players are focused on sustainable growth.

By 2020, India is expected to become the world’s youngest country with 64 percent of its population in the working age group, and online fashion retail is set to touch $35 billion.

For Indian Dobby, the current average basket size across all platforms is Rs 4,200 - Rs 4,500. “We are now looking at more websites and online tie-ups. We will be launching newer ranges in the western wear category,” says Prashanti.

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