LONDON, United Kingdom – Earlier this year, BoF announced the launch of Elevator Pitch, a recurring feature that will showcase one exceptional fashion-technology start-up per month and provide valuable feedback from a panel of fashion, technology and investment experts, as well as the BoF community. Today, we are pleased to present our first Elevator Pitch from Gina Mathew, founder of Couture Rani.
What is your business idea and what problem is it solving?
Couture Rani is an online boutique selling made-to-order luxury bridal and evening wear from India’s top fashion designers. Every year, South Asian women from around the world travel to India and spend thousands of dollars shopping for wedding apparel and jewelry. Despite the barriers of time, convenience and knowledge of where to go and what to buy, they spend in excess of $1,800 to travel to the fashion centers of Mumbai and New Delhi. Shopping in India is not the preferred choice but the only choice because a better alternative does not currently exist. The process is laborious, time consuming and inefficient. Couture Rani provides a solution to this market need by allowing shoppers to order a custom made, individually tailored piece they truly love. The bespoke approach is the standard in Indian fashion retailing. Since most have to travel to India to take advantage of this service, Couture Rani would provide customers this convenience in the privacy of their own homes. While the core business will remain custom made apparel, Couture Rani will add contemporary ready-to-wear apparel to help expand Couture Rani’s customer base from an exclusively South Asian clientele to a more global audience.
What market does it address and how big is this market?
Bridal apparel is the most lucrative segment of the Indian designer wear market, making up 50-70 percent of a designer’s revenue. The Indian wedding industry is a $20 billion a year market, growing at 25 percent annually. Non-resident Indians contribute approximately 40 percent of a designer’s annual turnover. Additionally the rapid growth of the ready-to-wear Indian designer market provides Couture Rani with the opportunity to create a centralised global platform for Indian fashion online through our established relationships and partnerships with designers.
Who is your competition and how are you different/better?
While there are numerous sites that sell Indian apparel online, e-commerce site Exclusively.in would be most comparable to Couture Rani. The site sells fashion, jewelry, and home decor from India at a discount of 70 percent. While Exclusivley.in has positioned itself as a ‘discount site’ with a multitude of offerings, Couture Rani will focus specifically on luxury designer apparel and accessories and aims to become the global online retailer for Indian designer wear. We have spent the past two years building relationships with the best designers in India and want to open the doors to their studios and ateliers and showcase those special, unique pieces to which customers would otherwise never have access.
What is the revenue model?
Couture Rani’s unique business model allows the business to generate cash flow during the production phase for both custom-made and pre-order garments. Customers pay for bespoke orders in full at the time of purchase, while ready-to-wear items require a 50 percent deposit at order placement and 50 percent when the item is shipped. Couture Rani and the designers split the profits 20-80 for bespoke orders and 40-60 for ready-to-wear.
Who are the team that will make your idea a reality?
Although Couture Rani was launched as a solo venture, the business was incubated by the Strategic Technology and Design Management class at the Pratt Institute in New York and was advised by Monte Gibbs, a digital media strategist and web technologist who heads the program. Individuals whose backgrounds include work on fashion startups like ShopFlick, Refinery29, J.Hilburn and Trunk Club, to name a few, have also provided guidance and advice. Consultants were also hired to work on various aspects of the business and I will be actively identifying the core team soon.
How much funding are you seeking and why?
Capital investment needed to scale the business and move it to the next stage is $500,000 for the following: accelerate development of website and features; development of interactive technology; building the core team; key hires in technology, digital media strategy and sales.
Sonali De Rycker, Partner, Accel Partners, London
“I like that the company is addressing a white space and a hyper-targeted market that lends itself to higher than average spend. Customer acquisition should be fairly frictionless and word-of-mouth will probably work. My biggest concern is that this category may just not be ready for e-commerce yet. Couture Rani will need great customer service and branding, and perhaps devise an online/offline model to overcome this issue, including charging for leads and value-added services instead.”
Kirsten Green, Founder, Forerunner Ventures, New York
“Gina, this is a well-thought-out business idea. You have identified a shopping challenge that stands to be addressed by your vision and an attractive business model: pre-order fashion. Compelling factors support the idea: large target market, proprietary product and sourcing relationships, and a clear value proposition (access, convenience). I see a lot of potential to build a rich brand by showcasing the artisans that produce these products and sharing stories about their history and craftsmanship. With a large, but niche offering, to a geographically diverse audience, I imagine you may incur relatively higher customer acquisition costs. Further, admittedly my knowledge of the specific target customer segment is limited, but I do wonder if customers at scale will be willing to pay 50 percent upfront and wait for ready-to-wear items, similar to the premise for couture orders.”
Ben Lerer, Founder, Thrillist and Steve Schlafman, Principal, Lerer Ventures, New York
“Gina, it shows that you’ve spent a considerable amount of time thinking about the market, the customer and the solution. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know the Indian luxury market, but the success of companies like Exclusively.in show there’s an appetite for Indian fashion. You’ve done a nice job designing the brand. More specifically, the website is clean and clearly articulates the value of your product and service. Given that you’re going after the high end of the market, I’d like to know how many people seek out high end Indian fashion each year. From reading your Elevator Pitch, I wasn’t entirely convinced this is a huge market and a significant pain point. I’d also like to know more about your target customer and how you plan to reach them. Specifically, where do they live, how do they behave, how old are they, where do they hang out online? Finally, I’m impressed with what you’ve built, but I would have liked to get to know Gina Mathew better. While it’s great that experts have helped you along the way, I was hoping to get a better sense of your experience prior to starting Couture Rani. Why are you the right entrepreneur to back in this market?”
Rachel Shechtman, Founder, Cube Ventures, New York
“While I really like the idea of this business, I must confess I am unfamiliar with this particular market. However, your value proposition combined with a well-designed, clean user experience is a great start! I wonder if adding luxury accessories would add both incremental sales revenue and an opportunity for repeat purchases beyond couture and ready-to-wear for special occasions. The long delivery timeline and 50 percent deposit concern me. Additionally, asking couture customers to gather and submit their own measurements does not feel like a particularly couture-level experience. I wonder if there are high-touch user experience elements you could introduce to facilitate this process – either digitally or perhaps via small offline showrooms.”
Imran Amed, Founder and Editor, The Business of Fashion, London
“I like the aesthetic and approach that you are using to address what is a clear opportunity in the Indian bridal market, which is valued in the billions of dollars. However, these trips to India are not just about the transactional purchasing of bridal clothes, they are also part of the ritual and tradition around the preparation for the wedding. I wonder how many mothers and daughters would forgo the bonding experience of wedding shopping for a more transactional process on a website. I wonder what other experiential elements — online and off — you can create to make the Couture Rani experience more rich with emotion, advice and tradition. Perhaps, Couture Rani might complement, and not compete, with the traditional wedding trip by integrating your service with physical trips to add efficiency, but not detract from the experience.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Now, it’s time for the BoF community to offer their thoughts on Couture Rani. What do you think about the business and its potential? And what advice would you give its founder, Gina Mathew?
If you have a promising business idea in the fashion-technology space or are already working on a start-up and looking to raise your profile or attract funding, send us your Elevator Pitch. We are accepting Elevator Pitches on an on-going basis, by email only, and will review the first 500 words you submit. For detailed instructions on how to submit your pitch, click here.
Elevator Pitch is a recurring feature on BoF, co-curated and developed with Rachel Shechtman of Cube Ventures.