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All things shirt: Can these online shirt retailers make a style statement?

Lifestyle and apparel-related e-commerce has been one of the most buzzing verticals within digital commerce in India over the past one year or so – be it entry of new players (Jabong, Freecultr or Zovi, among many others) or investors making a beeline to put money in them (in startups, as well as in companies like Myntra and Fashionandyou who have raised subsequent funding rounds). Now a new breed of e-com startups are going sector niche, scripting their business on just one kind of apparel: Shirts, to be precise.

Two such players in this space are The Stiff Collar and Bombay Shirt Company, both Mumbai-based. Although both companies started off for different reasons and differ in their product offerings, they have the same goal – to offer perfect shirts to customers.

According to Rushabh Sanghavi, co-founder of The Stiff Collar, being an online player has its advantages as they are not restricted by real-world constraints like storage space and real estate (read shop size) crunch.

However, Akshay Narvekar, co-founder of Bombay Shirt Company, does it in the most elaborate manner – right from buying the fabric to getting it tailored because quite a few people are doing that. “This made us realise that there is a market for customised shirts. But we decided to build a brand online because most of our customers (aged between 24-40) won’t have the time to go to a store to get their shirts tailored.”

So what do these companies offer? Here’s a quick look at the business, what they offer and the people behind them.

The Stiff Collar

Although six individuals founded the company, only three are actively involved in the venture. But others pitch in as and when required. The active players include Rushabh Sanghavi (looks after sales, marketing and product management), Kabir Hingorani (responsible for design and merchandising) and S Ganesh (handles finance, legal, supply chain and logistics).

The site became live last October and the founders claim that it gets around 40,000 hits in a month (and it is growing 15 per cent month on month) out of which around 4 per cent is converted into sales (around 1,600). But this number accounts for only 80 per cent of the business and the remaining 20 per cent includes revenues generated from the company’s tie-ups with other e-commerce sites (Indiaplaza.com, Jabong.com and Snapdeal.com, among others) where it is selling its shirts. This implies the firm is selling around 2,000 shirts a month in total with gross value of around Rs 20 lakh or less.

The Stiff Collar started operations with a meagre Rs 6 lakh (put in by the founders) and later received an undisclosed amount in angel funding from a group of individuals in March this year. The company will be looking to raise a new round of funding early next year.

The site offers both casual and formal shirts across a number of categories including full sleeves, plus size, French cuff, banker’s cut, half sleeves, Friday wear and paunch fit. The company also offers custom embroidery and customers can choose the characters they want to get embroidered (name, initials, etc.), as well as thread colours. The most expensive one costs Rs 1,100 (French cuffs) while the cheapest ones are priced at Rs 749 each (half sleeves).

According to the company, the fabric used is 100 per cent cotton and it is actively involved in the shirt-making process (it’s only for the basic stitching that the shirts are sent out). Currently, it has only one warehouse in Mumbai and the back-end logistics is handled in-house. But for product delivery, it has tied up with delivery agents and couriers. The current team size is 15 including the founders, an in-house design team and the operations team.

While Delhi-NCR, Mumbai and Chennai remain the top cities for The Stiff Collar in terms of business, 40 per cent of the orders are now coming from tier III cities as well. Full sleeves are most in demand while French cuffs and banker’s shirts are also doing well. But in spite of being an online business, no global expansion is on the cards. “We see enough opportunity in the Indian market and hence, there are no immediate plans of expanding abroad,” says Sanghavi.

Prior to The Stiff Collar, Sanghavi was part of the leadership team at ACK Media, a leading firm known for publications such as Amar Chitra Katha. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Engineering from Mumbai University. Hingorani is part of the footwear business group Liberty and has been associated with a couple of entrepreneurial ventures in the US including Next Apparel and Beacon Hill. He has also studied fashion design and merchandising at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), New York. Ganesh is an IIT Bombay alumnus and earlier worked with companies like L&T, IDBI and Exim Bank, before setting up a consultancy firm called Inter-Strat Consultants.

Bombay Shirt Company

In May 2012, Akshay Narvekar co-founded the company with a fellow-student from the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, where they completed their MBAs. But right now, he is the only one running the business on a full-time basis. Prior to this venture, he had worked with companies like BCBG Max Azria, a global luxury apparel brand, and Everstone Capital.

On the site, customers can choose from 26 different fabrics and the company is planning to add another 15 by mid-September. Plus, one can choose from checks, solids, strips and prints. Once the fabric is finalised, one can customise other things – length and other measurement, cuffs, collar, buttons, placket, pleat and even monograming (you can put your initials on the shirt). Pricing depends entirely on the fabric and ranges between Rs 1,700 and Rs 1,900 – making them more expensive than The Stiff Collar products.

Although Bombayshirts.com has gone live around two weeks ago, it claims to have 12,000 visitors till date (probably the initial buzz that surrounds a new site/business) but we don’t have details regarding initial sales traction.

“It’s more of a margin game for us. Since we offer so much customisation, our volumes are lower than that of our competitors (like The Stiff Collar), but we make up for it with slightly higher margins. That being said, we still believe we offer a great value proposition. ” said Narvekar.

The company has one office in Mumbai that also serves as a warehouse and production unit. Production is done in-house although it has external logistics partners for deliveries.

For Bombay Shirt Company, top cities (businesswise) include Mumbai, Delhi-NCR and Bangalore. As of now, it only offers shirts for men (just like The Stiff Collar), but plans to add women’s shirts in the next six months. It will also sell accessories (cuff links, ties, suspenders) by the end of this year. Although the company is India-focused, it is also selling shirts abroad.

“Initially, we had no plans to sell overseas. But customers contacted us and insisted on shipping them our products. We charge a flat fee of $15 for international orders, most of which are from the UK,” said Narvekar.

While The Stiff Collar plans to remain an online store, Bombay Shirt Company is planning to come up with the company’s kiosks (where people can give their measurements and order shirts) at large stores, primarily because customers are apprehensive of taking their own measurements.

(Edited by Sanghamitra Mandal)

1 Comment

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Roshan September 6, 2012 10:35

Well the option of choosing something we like from the several hundreds available without having to trawl through the entire shirt section of a mall or outlet must be something that appeals to most men. And they have enough variety to keep things stylish as well.