Startup Street: How A Hunt For Workwear Turned Into A Bespoke Clothing Startup

This week on Startup Street, a bespoke fashion startup, Facebook’s India investment and Karnataka’s policy revamp.

Salt Attire’s clothing being stitched. (Source: Salt Attire)
Salt Attire’s clothing being stitched. (Source: Salt Attire)

This week on Startup Street, a former U.S.-based financial services executive’s search for workwear in India gives birth to a clothing brand for women. Facebook Inc. makes its second investment in an Indian startup. And Karnataka, one of the hotbeds for Indian startups, is amending its startup policy. Here’s what went on:

A ‘9AM-9PM’ Clothing Brand

When Dipti Tolani—then a financial services executive in the U.S.—had to attend an unplanned work-related meeting while vacationing in India, she ran into a problem: she couldn’t find anything appropriate to wear.

“I hopped from showroom to showroom, with dwindling hopes that I would find what I required. I just needed a good shirt with decent fabric and a pair of pants. I struggled and compromised over trade-offs between designs, price, fabric and fit.” Tolani told BloombergQuint. “A simple search for a shirt and pants turned into a hunt.”

That was 2016. Three years on, she is now running Salt Attire—a startup aimed at urban working women—that sells customised ‘9AM-9PM’ clothing. And Tolani only has her “hunt” to thank for it. “This was something I genuinely saw a gap in,” she said. “There are already many workwear labels out there for men since time immemorial. But not for women.”

Dipti Tolani, Founder, Salt Attire (Source: Salt Attire)
Dipti Tolani, Founder, Salt Attire (Source: Salt Attire)

Salt Attire’s main proposition is customised clothing. They have a team of merchandisers, designers and tailors. Tailored clothing is offered at no additional costs. Customers can also decide on individual aspects of the clothing like sleeve length or dress length. “Most of the brands in India offer sizing based on U.K. size charts which can have several fit issues for Indian bodies,” Tolani said.

Customers can either provide their own measurements, or if required, Salt Attire helps them take measurements over phone, video call or even in person.

Bespoke clothing is not new though. Before apparel brands, stores and e-commerce websites swarmed India, it was mostly the local tailor that stitched up garments. Now custom tailoring is making a comeback, slowly, but in a new avatar. Other startups like Tailorman, The Shirt Theory, StitchMyFit and TailoreMade are all offering similar services.

The opportunity is huge. Custom tailoring is a mere fraction of India's $150 billion apparel industry, according to Technopak Advisors. “Currently, the highest penetration of bespoke services is in men’s apparel,” Amit Gugnani, senior vice president at Technopak, wrote in a report. “Bespoke in women's apparel, still remains largely unorganised.”

Tailors stitching at one of Salt Attire’s unit. (Source: Salt Attire)
Tailors stitching at one of Salt Attire’s unit. (Source: Salt Attire)

That, according to Tolani, is the reason for a “phenomenal” response to Salt Attire. “We have customers who keep coming back to us for more.”

The startup, which has 35-40 employees, has not raised any funds yet and is still bootstrapped. Tolani said that they make a gross margin of over 60 percent on every sale. And since Salt Attire does not keep an inventory—all clothes are manufactured on demand—it helps them keep costs low. Tolani said that the startup is already operationally profitable.

It is also moving beyond just clothing. “We have already introduced jewellery,” Tolani said. “We plan to offer other verticals as well which will capture a larger section of urban consumers.”

Facebook Backs Indian Startup

Facebook has made an undisclosed investment in Bengaluru-based reselling platform Meesho.

“We’d like to announce that Facebook has made an investment in Meesho, which will help us further our efforts to enable independent entrepreneurs to build businesses and grow their customer base via social channels,” the startup said in a statement on its website.

While the financial terms were not disclosed, TechCrunch reported, citing a source familiar with the matter, that the amount was “very significant.”

Meesho, founded in 2015 by IIT-Delhi alumni Vidit Aatrey and Sanjeev Barnwal, is an online marketplace that connects resellers to suppliers through WhatsApp and other platforms. It handles all payment and logistics of the transaction and provides a commission to the sellers.

This is Facebook’s second investment in an Indian startup. It had acquired Little Eye Labs in 2014.

Karnataka To Amend Startup Policy

Karnataka has decided to amend its startup policy to bring it in line with the central government’s policy.

Claiming that Karnataka was the first state to bring in a startup policy, Rural Development Minister Krishna Byre Gowda said the central policy is much detailed than the state policy.

“According to our policy to consider as startup, it should not have exceeded four years, while the central policy says 10 years. Our policy says the turnover should not exceed Rs 50 crore, while central policy limits at Rs 100 crore,” he told reporters after a state cabinet meeting.

The state government is amending its policy accordingly by including the turnover limit and year limit that is there in the central policy, he said.