EShakti is a fashion clothing e-commerce company that offers women the option of customisable sizes, as also standard sizes. Buyers can get the kind of neckline, sleeve and length they require. At present, the company primarily serves the American market. It is one of the few international consumer brands to originate from India. “Looking her best is what the customer expects each time she shops for clothes anywhere. But styling preference is often not met and finding the right size is very difficult with ready-made clothes. It is a very strongly felt need that we meet. We do customisation on scale. Nobody else does it,” says BG Krishnan, founder CEO of eShakti, who hails from Chennai. The fashion design team sits in New York, with back-up designers in India. The chief design officer has 20 years of experience and has worked previously with Liz Claiborne—the American fashion designer and businesswoman, who founded the famous Liz Claiborne Inc, which later became Fifth & Pacific, and is now called Kate Spade & Company.
After the preproduction template is created, the dresses are made at six factories in Gurugram in Haryana. The technology part, the catalogue design, and the back-office work is done from Chennai. A large database is being built, with almost 200,000 neckline, sleeve design changes. The exercise is completely automated, with the system itself learning to make changes. eShakti started off selling lifestyle fashion clothing to women in the US. Krishnan realised that there is a lot of variation in size and shape, and not all American women are able to get the exact fit. In fact, more than 50% do not conform to the hourglass figure, which is the industry standard. Further, 65% of American women take plus sizes, but account for only 20% of the market, and 40% women are outside the height range of clothes available. The huge $116 billion apparel market, therefore, has significant untapped potential due to lack of availability of customised clothes.
Online retail accounts for about 20% of the apparel sold—hence, custom-made clothing is an opportunity worth over $15 billion. Krishnan says that customised clothing is not a niche market, as it impacts over 80% of women customers, regular or plus. What made this Chennai-based brand marketing professional-turned-entrepreneur sell high fashion to the US? “The internet changed the way we do business. It has allowed small people to reach out to small group of customers at a low cost. Today, customers start talking about us to each other on social media and spread the word around. Marketing budgets are coming down. Many things have become possible that weren’t so earlier.” In 2008, Krishnan decided to concentrate on custom clothing. He gave up the factory outsourced preproduction template. “There can be body sizes like 45-38-49. A size 8 is shaped differently for a woman who is 5 feet 8 inches in height, compared to a woman who is, say, 5 feet 2 inches.
The garment has to be made to fit this customer who is far from standard size. The site allows women to send their measurements and make alterations. The dress is virtually created on the computer, with necessary changes made in bits and pieces, and draped on virtual models. Using these models, the pattern is adjusted and gets printed out in the factories in Gurugram. The company has filed for patent for its pattern-making process for customisation. The demand has been picking up, and eShakti has grown 60% over the previous year. The company has opted for moderate pricing, avoiding premium and budget. Margins stand at 33%. Krishnan is confident of making profits by early next year. He explains why. “We launch 25 new products every day in line with the trend. We are faster in introducing newer products than a brand like Zara—the Spanish clothing and accessories retailer. We can bring new products to the market in three days, while others launch products at the start of the season, make them six months ahead, and bear the risk of not being able to stay in tune with emerging trends.”
The current average number of SKUs (stock keeping units) on the site is 1,000. It culls out 25 SKUs every day for low performance. It does not have an inventory of finished goods and has only fabrics inventory, which is also for 11 days. Delivery is done in 10-14 days. The site offers a no-questions-money-back guarantee. Products carry a label providing the names of those who made the garment. The internet era has helped eShakti market itself at comparably lower costs. “We advertise on digital media. Search engine market has come into its own, which has helped us a lot. Customers act as our ambassadors, even on Facebook ads. We have built a network of bloggers, affiliate platforms and social media. eShakti only promotes products that are doing well, never products that are not. Others are compelled to do the opposite due to their inventory-based system. This makes our messages more credible.”
eShakti has been written about widely in American media in magazines such as Glamour, O, The Oprah Magazine, Essence, Seventeen, Woman’s Day, Woman’s World, First for Women, among others. In fact, Glamour featured eShakti among a handful of brands including Gap, Ann Taylor, BCBG and Lands’ End in its section on style tips. The Wall Street Journal called eShakti as a ‘harbinger of mass customisation’ in an article called ‘Liberation from the Size Tag’. Krishnan does not face serious competition, yet. The company has shown a lot of growth over the last three years and expects to maintain the momentum in the coming years too. He is confident competition cannot catch up fast. “We are working on ideas that are all based on customer experience. Technology is driving customer expectations. Our unit production system software, self-measurement systems, just-in-time printing, scalability are exciting concepts. They are difficult to replicate. We have hired specialists in robotics. We keep investing in technology. A David can take on a Goliath with customers promoting us constantly and with technology on our side.”