Drama Mask Delusions

Sparklers within reach


Enough was enough, felt Mon­ika Sood, who had her own apparel export firm, which she had started in 1996. “As a customer, I was feeling the pain of not being able to find trendy fashion jewellery and accessories in the Indian mar­ket,” she says. “Well-known brands like Accessorize and Aldo, which were of high fashion and good qual­ity, were expensive. And street ven­dors only had products that were low fashion, bad quality and cheap.” The postgraduate in fashion design from International Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi, had come to rea­lise that there was a clear space for trendy, affordable fashion jewellery and accessories, to be made available in high footfall areas.

So, she and her husband Ashish, who is an MBA from Switzerland’s International Institute of Manage­ment Development, decided to take the plunge and start an enterprise of their own. “We wanted to tap the potential of the fashion accessories category, which is the top specialty retail opportunity available in the country, with a market size of over $2 billion and an annual growth of 30 per cent,” says Ashish Sood. “And, ‘Youshine’ was the result”.

Modern retail was just hitting
20 per cent throughout the country during 2014-18.

And driving the ?15,000 crore market is the fashion-conscious Indian woman, with a large dispos­able income. What was earlier run by small manufacturers is now being dominated by organised players – who target the young women and fashion professionals in the 18-35 year age bracket. India has seen a major emergence of multiple brands since 2012, with specialty shops pres­ent in big cities, as well as Tier II and Tier III cities. And, they have been fuelled by DTH, Internet and smart, phones, which have helped spread the word and ensure growth.

“It’s an interesting business to be in,” Monika admits. “Through Youshine, we offer the highest quality of contemporary and affordable fashion jewellery and accessories to the Indian pub­lic. They are trendy and fashion­able, ranging from ear-rings (for men too) and ear-cuffs, to chok­ers, necklaces, cocktail rings, brace­lets, anklets and a wide assortment of fashion aids, such as hair accesso­ries, handbags, clutches, scarves, leg­gings, sunglasses and caps.”

Hard decision

Realising the huge potential of the venture they were embarking on, Monika started the business with ?5 lakh from her own resources. In the same year, her husband and she invested an additional ?25 lakh from their personal savings to supplement the efforts. But they knew they had a winner here and did not hesitate to sell some real estate they owned and invest ?50 lakh more to fund fur­ther growth. “It was a hard decision, especially because we had a family to look after as well,” says Monika.

“We decided to take the plunge since we had faith in the Youshine story and in ourselves. So, in late 2011, my husband sent out an e-mail to his MBA classmates, hoping to ‘crowd fund’ the business. He received a favourable response, and, by Febru­ary 2012, two of his classmates had decided to come in with $310,000 as angel investors in Youshine. Since then, we have self-invested and also

have received further investments from our angels to the tune of over $1 million. We’re now planning to* raise institutional funding in the next six months or so.”

Youshine has kept on going, as the duo knew they had a good market in the young cosmopolitan Indian women, between the age group of 18-32 years which, according to RNCOS, is the youngest population in the world – 400 million-strong and, more importantly, tech-savvy and in tune with international designs. So, their marketing was hybrid too, an omni-channel, ranging from digital marketing, print advertising and loy­alty programmes, which offer instant cash gratification for purchases made by their customers, whether offline or online.

But the main focus was social media, because, “We realised that the target audience was Internet-friendly, relying on digital content 20 hours a day.” says Ashish. “And so, our design team is continuously following the fashion trends and adapting them to cater- to our clients. We have a robust design-to-procurement-to- market launch process in place, which ensures five new products launched on a daily basis across jewellery and accessories. As a result, our customers find something new every time they walk into a Youshine store or shop online from our portal.”

The couple had started offline since, at that time, online was not so big in India. However, they warmed up to online as well, when e-com­merce started to gain popularity. They still believe there is value in both offline and online and they are committed to both retail formats.

Currently, Youshine offline has 15 brick-and-mortar stalls in the best malls of India, such as Select City- walk, The Great India Place, Phoe­nix Marketcity, Elante Mall, Spark Mall and vr Mall, as also stores, in Delhi-NCR, Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Chandigarh, etc, which con­tribute 65 per cent of their revenue, while its online activities contrib­ute the balance 35 per cent. However, this figure is changing rapidly and they expect a 50-50 contribution by 2016. But Youshine’s biggest bet is the
e-commerce market, where it partners with Myntra, Jabong, Koovs, Lim- eroad, Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal and others.

Appropriate marketing

“Unlike traditional jewellery, which follows a certain pattern, here, you get to experiment, which is what the young generation likes,” says Wendell Rodericks, a fashion designer. Such activities have pushed Youshine’s turnover from ?2 crore in 2012-13 to ?3.5 crore in 2013-14. The Soods expect it to touch ?6.5 crore in 2014-15. Both are gung-ho about their progress and hope that, “we will become the No: 1 Indian brand in fashion jewellery and accessories by 2018. We will be 100 point of sales by then across India and the biggest online partner with India’s top 10 e-commerce market­places with revenue of U00 crore.”

“This success is due to Youshine being a purely mall concept,” contin­ues Ashish. “So far, our target audi­ence has been those who frequent malls for movies, food, shopping and to enjoy the temperature-con­trolled environment. We are care­ful about which malls we are present in, where our stores are located, as also our design and execution. Mall rentals being high, we go for small stores and optimise the space to gen­erate the highest per sq ft revenues – so much so that our stores break even within 12 months of beginning the operation.”

Starting with Delhi-NCR, the duo
has expanded to Bangalore, Mumbai and Pune. In 2014, they opened their first Tier II store in Chandigarh, fol­lowed by Surat, where the response was excellent and helped attain the break-even quicker, because of lower rentals. And, while they are nurtur­ing their Tier I footprint, they are also aggressively pursuing Tier II cit­ies across the country and looking at Tier III as well.

“Their marketing is appropriate, because a mall is considered a leisure zone,” endorses H.R. Srivatsa, profes­sor, marketing, T.A. Pai Management Institute. “In locations such as these, you are sure to get the customer.”

The company’s plans are to focus on saturating the Indian market by 2018. Thereafter, it will go in for an over­seas expansion, starting with South East Asia and moving on to Africa and South America, while also expanding the product range. “It’s always good to let locals drive the business in their respective regions; but, we will con­sider partnerships when we go over­seas,” says Monica. “Everything we sell today has the Youshine label. We may extend this to other categories, as we go along. We are targeting a 100 points of sale pan-India by 2018 and 1,000 points of sale in India, Asia, Africa and South America by 2021. We will stick to our core of fashion jewellery and accessories, but will go deeper into these categories, as there is enough for us to do here.”

♦ ROBIN ABREU [email protected]


The ‘hashtag’ revolution


Net neutrality, Apps licensing and the net debate catch the attention of India

Two fluttering wings created the tsunami – an innocuous looking consultation note from the TRAI and the launch of a seem­ingly well-intentioned service from an operator seeking to make a bundle of free Internet ser­vices available to a population segment that had thus far stayed away from joining the Internet bandwagon. And suddenly a furore has ema­nated on the Internet, starting with a few well- meaning netizens, spreading to the All India Bakchod aibi and getting lakhs of people in a frenzy as hashtag activism’ threatened to create a new revolution without a single angry footstep physically hitting the streets of the country.

The first public fallout of the ‘net neutrality’ indignation in the country was the announce­ment of Fiipkart that it would withdraw from Air- tel Zero which would have meant apps licence fees pain to the carrier by the company to enable subscribers of the service to have free access. What this revealed to the world, which had hither:  not taken that much notice, was that

Facebook too had been marketing Mark Zuck- erber; s pet project – Internet.org, fairly aggres­sively in India. Launched in February with the support of Reliance Communications, the proj­ect offers basic Internet services to the under­serve a who could not afford the cost of access earlier. Once the Apps Licensing issue surfaced and the net neutrality doubts surfaced, partners like Cleartrip and NDTV hastened to withdraw from the platform, while the Times group has been in wait and watch’ mode.

Interestingly Zuckerberg himself has jumped to the defence of the platform, suggesting that “net neutrality is not in conflict with working to get more people connected. These two princi­ples – universal connectivity and net neutrality – can and must co-exist”. The real point of course is contained later in the same note where Zucker­berg argues: “Mobile operators spend tens of bil­lions of dollars to support all of Internet traffic. If it was all free, they’d go out of business. But, by offering some basic services, it’s still affordable and it’s valuable and free for everyone to use.” This column does not support one view or the other, because every argument in favour of free apps and against walled gardens on the Internet can be countered by the need to have basic Inter­net services in education, skills, healthcare, jobs and governance free to every citizen of the planet. Large scale government initiatives like the Digital

Shaksharta Abhiyan (National Digital Literacy Mission) will certainly be served better, if the hun­dreds of millions of digitally literate citizens have access to a nation-wide broadband network.

Social inclusion and the bridging of the digi­tal divide are a must and comparisons between fully connected communities of the Western world and the aspirational netizens of the emerg­ing world are naturally odious. If only the pol­icy-makers can make it viable for the operators to open their portals to all, while ensuring that there is a level playing field for all apps developers and creators of content for the vast user commu­nity out there, all interest would be best served.

Are there precedents that can be followed as we move towards such an equitable and harmo­nious policy for India? In the US, the argument has raged on with the pro-neutrality faction arguing that Internet services are no different from phone services and the latter has never been allowed to slow down a connection if they did not approve or get a premium from certain categories of users. The anti-neutrality faction have argued that data doggers like Netflix and YouTube, with exabytes of software, music and videos and the creators of free phone call, have all built these services on networks that cost governments and operators billions to build and serve, so why should they not pay a premium?

Arguments for innovation and freedom of speech have been routinely heard on the web waves and even in courts such as the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals which ruled against the Federal Communications Commis­sion 2010 net neutrality rules. The recent moves of the FCC may well provide guideposts to the powers-that-be in our country, with its positive ideas against all forms of discrimination, includ­ing blocking, throttling or paid prioritization by any broadband provider. Special disclosure norms for data limits, fees, network manage­ment practices, promotional rates and surcharges by operators may make it more complicated for users but will ensure that a visible level playing field is available to all.

We are still watching the first act in India. The battle today may be restricted to cyber­space, the outcome of this protest will have far reaching ramifications on the nature of debate and criticism of policies and practices in the years to come. And, it should be welcomed! ♦

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