As told to Pratishtha Rana, Pooja Patel & Twinkle Dharmani
They are young, restless, ambitious and highly driven to make a mark in the Indian luxury industry. Akriti Agarwal, CEO, Thirsty Enterprises, Thirsty Beers & Thirsty Restaurants & Bars, Shubhika Jain, Founder of Ras Luxury Oils and Shreeda Chakraborty and Kritika Aggarwal, the Founder duo of Kaeros, a leather bag and accessories brand, take us through their entrepreneurial journey, giving our readers real-life lessons on launching and growing premium brands.
Shreeda Chakraborty and Kritika Aggarwal, 24
Founders of leather bag and accessories brand Kaeros
The inspiration to create a brand doesn’t necessarily come from the most conspicuous things in life. We draw it from the smallest things and the everyday ordinaries around us. Before launching our leather bag and accessory brand Kaeros in February 2018, Kritika and I pursued fashion at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi. In the process, while I took a detour to France to study Fashion Management at ENSAIT, Kritika moved to New York to study design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. When we came back to India, we realised that there were either small brands selling traditional bags or big brands selling luxury bags. There wasn’t a lot in between. So, we decided to put high fashion, quality and utility together and stirred up our own chic accessory brand. After one year into the business, we collaborated with fashion designers Pankaj and Nidhi at the India Couture Week and Lotus Makeup Fashion Week in 2019. There was more coming in the same year; it was thrilling and a proud moment to be a part of Radhika Apte’s ensemble at the 2019 International Emmy Awards.
India’s fashion industry is already thriving in the global Indian and fusion wear segments. Hence, our vision too is to make a name for Kaeros in the international accessory space. Back home, we are extremely overwhelmed by the positive response and the recognition we have received from around the country.
Pushing boundaries: The understanding of what our customers desire comes very easy to both of us. Being a part of the young designers’ lot, we realise the value of churning out never-seen-before products with an experimental edge. Hence, we choose to be an outlier in the way we redefine unique shapes, bold colours and eccentric surface ornamentation while keeping in mind the basic element of functionality of our handbags and accessories.
Celebrating two years in February 2020, Kaeros’ latest venture is two new lines—Kaeros Man and Kaeros Home. The label’s ongoing, successful campaign ‘One for you, Joy for two’ helps us give back to the society. Under the initiative, we donate two new school bags to children in need, for every Kaeros bag sold.
Challenges: Achievements without barriers don’t exist. As a new brand, to get people to accept Kaeros was challenging. In this age, people are extremely brand-conscious, and a majority wants to invest in international luxury brands. Early on in our venture, we knew that we’ll have to work towards carving our own niche as a home-grown leather accessory bag label. Also, buyers at various exhibits perceive us as young students and think that we are promoting Kaeros as a hobby. But we don’t let it affect us. Sustaining a business is challenging as well. Amidst the constantly evolving fashion industry, it is crucial to adapt to changes. We try, we fall, we learn and then we try again.
Shubhika Jain, 25
Founder of Ras Luxury Oils Pvt Ltd
Living in a fast-paced world where every day is a new story, being able to reconnect with your roots and maintain a zen mindset becomes the ultimate luxury. It was in 2017 when Ras Luxury Oils, a brand that provides holistic wellness with natural and ethically sourced ingredients was launched. Being a vegan and a nature and an animal lover, I grew up seeing my mother (Sangeeta Jain, Co-Founder) create her own beauty concoctions from handpicked flowers, herbs and other natural ingredients. This inspired me to follow a natural beauty regimen rather than relying on lotions and creams containing harmful and toxic ingredients. We were the first in India to launch a Farm-to-Face skincare brand with products like face oils, body oils, body polishes, pure essential oils and pure plant oils.
I was 21 when I joined our family business and witnessed significant growth in the revenue and profit margins, which helped me gain confidence. Using that as a launchpad, I came to a decision to create my own brand Ras Luxury Oils. An educational background in aromatherapy and backing of practical business experience, I, along with a team of scientists and experts, developed products for holistic wellness in our R&D (Research & Development) lab.
As a young businesswoman today, I observe and try to find solutions to our current lifestyles. Ras Luxury fuses the traditional, well-kept secrets of Ayurveda with aromatherapy. We recently launched the Luscious Treatment Hair Oil, Oh So Luxe Liquid Lip Balm and Ultra Rich Calendula Body Butter. Many more are in the pipeline. We envision our products to be in every conscious, natural skincare lover’s vanity.
Pushing boundaries:We have witnessed a fast-paced growth since 2017, and currently, our products are available online and at 15 premium outlets across India. We are trying to continually build awareness and expand our distribution. We have received a tremendous response from users and the industry alike.
Within a few years of our launch, we not just got repeat customers who now swear by our products, but we also have luxury hotel properties of The Taj and Marriott hospitality groups regularly using and loving our products. We have also been recognised by various award platforms and won accolades like 2019 Cosmopolitan Beauty Award for Best Brightening Product, 2018 GeoSpa Global Spa Awards for Best product in Anti-Ageing Line and Best Health & Wellness Brand by Indian Health & Wellness Summit 2018.
I must say that starting out young helped me tremendously. Be it supportive colleagues, who have seen me since my childhood days, or the fact that I’m a female entrepreneur, all of these have only made it easier for me to focus on my work and the positive side of running this business.
Challenges: One of the biggest challenges we faced while starting out was to create a niche for ourselves in an ever-growing and highly competitive industry. Building a trustworthy team has also been a task. My business journey, however, has made me realise the importance of trusting my team and myself. To achieve the desired goals, one must always be prepared to take the plunge.”
Women make better leaders. We are more intuitive, sensitive and have a better perspective. So, we lead with a great mix of business logic and emotions. I feel we’ve come a long way since Thirsty Beers was launched in 2017. From our initial presence in just Delhi and Mumbai, today, after two-and-a-half years, our brand is at 20 cities across India.
Women have contributed significantly to the luxury industry, and I especially look upon Kalyani Chawla, Aditi Dugar and Deepa Harris for their work. Being a young businesswoman in this male-dominated alcohol industry, I find it surreal to have operated and survived in this challenging market. Originally based in Delhi, but with most of my work life in Mumbai, my career graph has ascended from being an Economics and Maths graduate with an MBA to plunging into the hospitality sector without any formal training.
Pushing boundaries: Having our own microbrewery under Thirsty Beers was the aim. I have always wondered why India didn’t have a great range of beer at a good price point before we opened. I introduced Happy by Thirsty under our brand, which was soon followed with the launch of Thirsty Simona. We then wanted to establish a microbrewery and that’s how we started Thirsty Beers in 2018, by opening our first-ever consumer-facing hospitality venture Thirsty City 127 in Mumbai. It is a stand-alone bar with an in-house brewery, cocktail bar and a kitchen. We gradually built a strong connection with our consumers. In the beginning, the clientele was very niche, and not everyone understood our beers and craft liquors. As guests started trying our varieties and saw the process themselves, they wanted more. Now, not only are they open to experimenting but are always keen on knowing what’s next on Thirsty Beers’ table.
Next for us were events and pop-ups in Hong Kong and Singapore. We were absolutely elated with the response there. Back home, functioning at a remarkable pace in a tough business space like Mumbai and receiving accolades for Best Bar for Cocktails by Times Food & Nightlife Awards; Best New Bar, MidDay; Finest Bar in Mumbai at the Regional Finals of Bar Wars has been motivating. Recently, we took a foraging trip across North East India and gathered 35 indigenous ingredients to craft a one-of-its-kind menu for our anniversary.
Through our sustainable approach, we are the only bar in the country to have biodynamic wines on the menu; wherein we offer wine by half a glass, full glass and bottle. To sum it up, we have transitioned from just a brewery and restaurant to an R&D focused, zero-waste organisational structure.
Challenges:The alcohol industry is one of the most regulated and controlled industries in India. I have realised that the trick to exist in this business is to uphold the law. Operating the venture is another challenge, which at large is about hiring skilled workers who are motivated to work and to persist. I give my staff members flexible working hours, and as long as work is done, the number of hours clocked in at work is irrelevant for me. I believe that no one works for me or for the company but they work with me.