Elevator Pitch | Couture Rani

Couture Rani screenshot | Source: www.couturerani.com

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.

THE PITCH

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.

THE PANEL

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.

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11 comments

  1. South African Indian “Brides to Be” flock to India in order to purchase not only their wedding dress,but also for the occasions in the run up to the main event.The trip to india in very traditional and is also a way of demonstrating that a family is “Affluent” enough to make the trip abroad for the wedding purchases.Totally agree with Imran that Couture Rani should do its level best to compliment this experience,as the trip to India is unlikely to be replaced by the click of a mouse.

  2. Great initiative @B0F – though advice from experts not familiar with the regional market might be misleading to comment on. For example, Exclusively.in has had much ‘success’ in raising funding – but is not yet a ‘proven successful’ company. Apart from appearing to still pivot their business model: 1) the e-commerce apparel mkt in India/with Indian related sites is still too nascent to indicate any success stories and 2) public traffic data on Exclusively.in still indicates usage needs to sustain and grow post cash injections/marketing initiatives – which is still a grey area.

    I also think there is a flaw in Gina only listing Exclusively.in/other web retailers as competitors. My advice would be to never neglect the competitor who owns the market share: Women who come to India on trousseau buying trips.

  3. I absolutely love this idea! I’m pretty sure I’m part of this target market. It’s a service I may eventually use myself being Indian. In my opinion this company fills a niche that’s missing- a modern/contemporary website where traditional and non-tradtional women can purchase a variety of South Asian clothing without having to travel or go into a shop where you feel you have to deal with haggling and sometimes a language barrier (or those could just be my experiences).

    However, when it comes to purchasing bridal garments the transaction is all about the senses! Feeling and experiencing the fabrics and seeing the shimmering textiles are part of making the decision, especially for custom made pieces. I do think there needs to be a way to emulate this whether it involves trunk shows, fabric samples, having a personal rep travel to aid bridal parties- it is something that must be addressed.

    Best of luck!

  4. I have heard from many Indians that shopping for wedding wear is a nightmare as its difficult to find the right items unless you go to India. These are people who live in Toronto and NY. Imagine the Indians that live outside these cities..That being said, I feel like there is an opportunity here. Not everyone has time nor the luxury to go to India to shop for a wedding.

    Many people said ecommerce for RTW (western wear) would never take off because people enjoy the experience of being in a store with people to serve you and you can touch and feel the fabrics etc. Billions of dollars later that was theory was put to rest.

    The intimate mother and daughter experience is one not to ignore and i`m sure there will be customers who will not forgo it. But perhaps intimate experience can be created online (video interaction with a tailor as an example).

    I would also spend time seeing if re-focusing the business to a more aspirational customer would prove a better and bigger market over a luxury customer (or combining both).

    jj

    jj from Stratford, CT, United States
  5. As I continue to work on my own fashion start-up, the idea of pre-order fashion is intriguing. In response to Rachel Shechtman’s comment about a couture-level experience, perhaps adding “how-to measure” video clips would help ease customer concerns.

  6. This is such an innovative way for BoF to get more interacted with the readers. Personally, I have not seen a lot of it (I see opportunities for Op-Ed and Letters to the Editors etc) and would like to see more! But what a great project. Looking forward to see/hear more ideas to come in the future.

    Nevertheless, I believe this business has a lot of potential; there is definitely a big market as Miss Mathew has stated in her research. The Indian economy keeps growing solidly and retail is a contributing factor to its success. Nevertheless, not everyone can afford to enjoy the delicacy of pricey wedding preparation, nor have the time to carefully sift through many retailers. This would definitely be the go-to alternative and it targets the fast growing population in India; the middle income earners. The trend is – the middle class are the ones who ‘s spending.

  7. Interesting concept, and interesting comments – I think I can speak authoritatively on the subject as we have been doing this for 20 years.

    We started off doing Indian partywear in Texas a long time ago, long before the term e-commerce was coined. Since then, we have had 6 generations of e-commerce sites, have customers in 35 States and dress at least one wedding party (bride and groom, relatives) a week. The mentality of people going to India to shop still persists in some, but as someone who goes to India 5 times a year and has a pulse on the Indian bridal market, you are kidding yourself if you think you can save money – yes, maybe better variety, and maybe access to high-end designers, if you are willing to fork over $10K for a wedding dress.

    The secret to our success has been holding a current inventory, which people can see, buy or customize (as mentioned in the comments), as well as amazing customer service (example, driving to Austin from Dallas to deliver a blouse which came in late for that evening’s function).

    I would be happy to answer any questions – raj at SilkThreads dot com.

  8. What a great idea. Have you thought about mixed race couples? My fiance is Indian but I obviously wouldn’t go to India to buy an outfit with my Mum, however I would like to honour his heritage with a some Indian elements at our wedding. Accessories like headpieces, neclaces and bangles would be a great addition to your site and I’m sure a lot of people would be interested in a more affordable ready to wear selection of India-inspired gowns as well.

    Anna Affleck from Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand
  9. Thank you distinguished panel and the BoF community for your feedback; they are all welcome and sincerely appreciated.

    I agree with Imran’s suggestion about having Couture Rani compliment the experience of how South Asians currently shop for wedding apparel. I envision the bridal portion of the website evolving into a full service bridal concierge, providing brides with highly personalized products and services, whether they shop through the Couture Rani site or in India. This extension of services inserts Couture Rani in the process at any point, and for specific needs, widening Couture Rani’s customer reach.

    Although not outlined in the pitch, I have spent considerable time planning the mentioned offline experience for the next iteration of the site, which addresses the challenges of replicating the tactile experience and providing accurate fit.

    Based on some of the feedback, the core value Couture Rani provides needs to be illustrated more clearly. It’s not just about time and convenience but valuing tradition, heritage, and handcrafted luxury. It’s about sharing the talent, passion and craftsmanship behind the design and understanding the likes, wants and desires of the woman who will wear it.

  10. When I first saw the website, I instantly loved it. Being Indian, I go to India only once in 2 years, and that too for a maximum of 2 weeks. Quite often it is planned and timed around a friend/relatives wedding.
    This site would be the perfect answer to get quality, well designer, excellent party wear! I do agree with the tactile experience of buying something heritage, and I am sure Gina at Couture Rani would have thought about this as well.
    There is an excellent line up of designers, and some of the merchandise looks amazing!
    Well done on the start up, and thanks BoF for sharing an excellent idea!

  11. Great idea,certainly worked on it. For your target customer base wedding shopping is not just a cultural event its a very social event. Wedding shopping – sourcing, short listing, selecting, deciding, trial, amendments etc are performed not with a few (1 or 2) close loved ones but with a larger fraternity of family and friend tagging along! Its the travelling, the story of discovery and ‘wow’ engagement behind that dress or accessory that makes wedding shopping in India or for Indians such a rich and rewarding experience. Also, travel to India is not just for shopping..it includes socialising, catching up with family and friends , the entertainment and of course the dining out!
    What should you be trying to solve? The ease of obtaining the required products or the ease of making the shopping journey better arranged and organised?

    Manu from Wantirna, Victoria, Australia