For decades, numerous apparel manufacturers, be it in Tirupur, Ludhiana, Kolkata, or Mumbai, were content to stay in the background and export clothing sold by top global brands as part of their collections.
As fashion consciousness across India grew, Mithun Bhardwaj, a Delhi-based apparel exporter, realised the need for made-in-India brands that would serve Indian consumers.
In 2016, Mithun launched Zashed Fashiontech, a brand architect that focuses on helping exporters develop, build, and grow their own companies and “stand out in today’s omnichannel environment”.
“Indian youth have an eye on fashion and trends. Most of them are not loyal to a specific brand, which allows new-age companies to step in,” says Mithun, Founder of Zashed.
The Udaan for fashion
Zashed Fashiontech aims to help exporters use their capacities to build brands of a global standard with a direct-to-consumer (D2C) model, an asset-light strategy.
“We thought of creating a pool of globalised Indian brands that could be a better associate than a garment exporter producing for all global brands in the backend for decades,” Mithun says.
Third-party online platforms are often used by retail brands to liquidate their stock. Many ecommerce platforms have shifted focus to their own private labels, and manufacturers are trapped between brands and private labels.
“It is difficult for a young brand to get a larger piece of the pie and grow substantially,” says Mithun, who conceptualised Zashed as the fashion industry’s Udaan, which is solving for the B2B industry by connecting brands to small retailers directly.
“Zashed will take manufacturers directly to consumers,” he says.
The birth of an idea
Mithun studied at the Jagan Institute of Management Studies in Delhi, and worked in the corporate world for almost 10 years. He spent the first half of his career in the sales, telecom, and edtech industries.
During one of his business trips in 2014 he met an apparel exporter, who spoke about the problem, but the idea was born when he was seated next to an exporter on a flight and ended up having a detailed discussion.
Garment export is an old industry in India, and has over the years generated employment, income, foreign exchange, and export diversification. However, India has been losing its share of the world garment trade over time – it fell from 6 percent in 2013 to 3.5 percent in 2019, and continues to fall.
But this can be seen as an opportunity.
Mithun began researching the topic in 2015, and created the operating procedures needed for a manufacturer to create a brand. He then decided to start up with his own money (he does not wish to divulge the size of his investment) in 2016.
Zashed aims to help exporters and manufacturers use their capacity and expertise to create a parallel business by building their own brand without losing their current business. It offers a complete ecommerce fashion strategy, including product-market fit, quality, collection, pricing, supply chain, and backend, to create value for customers.
“Everyone knows brands, but no one is interested in the name of the manufacturers behind them. A consumer would rather not know or be bothered about which factory has produced that Zara shirt s/he just picked up. This makes it imperative for export houses to move from backend integration to frontend integration, and ensure that their units have a face and voice,” Mithun says.
How Zashed works
The ecommerce brand architect is using business process re-engineering to “re-engineer existing infrastructure that has till now powered international brands”.
It is now using that infrastructure to create new-age brands through Fashion e-Commerce Business Architecture (FEBA) and Glocal Omnichannel Business Architecture (GOBA).
Under FEBA, the startup will create, set up, and promote a brand that a partner invests in. This will involve a one-time investment for the partners to get on board. This will be followed by the expansion and growth mode specialist GOBA to manage sales, operations, marketing, online and offline distribution, and revenue – this model works on a revenue sharing basis with associated brands.
“We are a team of designers, ecommerce specialists, data analysts, marketing and fashion stylists, ops and tech people striving towards fulfilling the purpose of launching brands quickly,” Mithun says. Zashed has a 30-member team.
The startup’s fist pay cheque came in 2016 when they reached out to a Delhi-based exporter and explained their business model. The exporter soon launched his own brand on Zashed with the startup’s help. The brand was conceived, designed, and distributed by Zashed.
“Our ecommerce platform aims to only list and sell its own associated brands exclusively, and give them an edge by handling everything. We are soon launching an app that will allow users to customise patterns and prints,” Mithun says.
Zashed’s brands include IMUR, which was launched for a manufacturer, is into home décor, furnishings, and accessories. It competes with popular brands like Plum by Bent Chair, Nappa Dori, and Da Milano. It has also launched other brands such as Dodo, La Loft, and Niza – all available via its ecommerce site.
The startup has introduced brands in all categories such as men’s wear, women’s wear, kid’s wear, intimate wear, accessories, footwear, and home décor. It creates prints, designs, fabrics, and materials along with partner associations, including fabric houses and mills.
He says the online marker appeals to most manufacturers, but cracking the ecommerce puzzle isn’t easy.
“Or else, every online player or manufacturing unit would have a success story. Brand intellect cannot be taken for granted. It was challenging to look for partners who believed in brand intellect, backend, and passion,” Mithun says.
The market and way ahead
According to ResearchandMarkets, the global fast fashion market is expected to decline from $35.8 billion in 2019 to $31.4 billion in 2020 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.32 percent. The decline is being attributed to the economic slowdown across countries owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures to contain it. The market is then expected to recover and reach $38.21 billion in 2023 at CAGR of 6.7 percent.
Mithun is aware of the slowdown, but is confident of a bounce-back.
“Amid coronavirus, brick-and-mortar retail has been badly hit. The business of fashion has been negatively impacted; brands and design houses have closed their stores and postponed runway shows. But fashion will never go out of style. New facets will emerge: comfort clothing, WFH clothing, and organic, climate-friendly styles,” he says.
To tide over COVID-19, the company is focusing on producing stylish masks with their clients, who have taken bulk orders for masks and PPE kits.
Zashed Fashiontech’s GMV is now about $10 million (Rs 70 crore) and it has seven brands in the market at present. The startup competes with Truck and Mortar and StyleDotMe, but the founder says its business is unique because of its ability to help manufacturers to create brands.
In the next 18 months, the startup will launch a state-of-the-art content creation lab/studio in association with manufacturers and apparel exporters.
“We aim to curate 50-plus brands in the next two years,” Mithun says.