Entrepreneurs: Kanimozhi Kannan & Kannan Singaravelu
Business Name: Indigo Dreams
Welcome to Entrepreneurs of India #startupstories episode 85
The definition of fashion changes everyday. Every fashion enthusiast wants to stay in vogue. When a majority runs after the dynamic trends that spring up daily, Indigo Dreams is paving a different path with an emphasis on sustainable fashion. With a minimalistic approach towards design, it draws inspiration from both traditional and contemporary styles.
The designs of Indigo Dreams are tailor-made for millenials who like to experiment with dressing while still embracing the traits of culture and tradition in a modern way. Indigo Dreams was born out of the need for a shift from the ubiquitous dress code. Their collection of snug ikat garments are unique in itself and pay homage to the spirit of the new age women
The dresses they design are inspired by the Indian sensibilities of the colour indigo, indigenous textiles, diverse cultures of India, craftsmanship and traditional art forms. Kanimozhi and Kannan, the founders of Indigo Dreams share the story.
1) How did you get your idea for this business?
We come from a weaver’s family, popularly known as the “Kaikolar”. This ancient occupational name come from the Tamil words kai (hand) and kol (a shuttle used in looms). I have grown up seeing my grandpa spinning those weaves. The next generations were all moved towards other professions. Even as a young girl then, I was fascinated towards fashion and love to experiment with different styles and costumes.
Even after my fashion course, this was more of a hobby where I was experimenting few styles and concepts for myself. It was my husband who pushed me out of my comfort zone to try out a new venture.
The world of fashion has evolved over many centuries and creating a unique identity is a challenge. Hence, fast fashion was never a choice for me. I am the first customer of Indigo Dreams and always think whether I would be comfortable wearing these dresses. For me the cloth should breath. Hence, pure cotton was my choice.
Knowingly or unknowingly the first few collections that we did was in Ikat and we faced challenges in getting the right fabric of our choice as there were only few weavers who do double ikat – a technique in which both warp and the weft are resist-dyed prior to weaving.
It was then we knew that this traditional form will soon become extinct as the next generation of weavers have moved into different professions following a drastic change in demand pattern. This rang an alarm bell. Ikat weaves are India’s treasure and we decided to pledge ourselves to preserve this handloom legacy by “Reimagining Ikat” with a fusion of modern silhouettes.
2) Why is “now” a good time for this idea to exist?
The nature of commerce is continuing to evolve as more people are choosing to purchase goods online and many consumers are looking for unique dress as an alternative to mass produced products. Millennials are the most experimental consumers and are digital natives. A fusion of cotton meets with western styling in these ikat garments would carry forward the traits of tradition that ups the fashion quotient for these new age women.
Within retail e-commerce, there is a huge scope of growth for non-electronics like fashion that accounts for only 29% of market share. In a typical three stage expansion path, Indian e-commerce is currently in the second wave and is likely to grow to US$ 200 billion by 2026 aided by the internet and mobile penetration. Retail sector is experiencing exponential growth with development taking place not just in major cities and metros, but also in Tier-II and Tier-III cities.
We were exploring this idea since 2016. But, being a family run business, we were not comfortable with complex tax and compliance laws that were then prevailing. We actually waited till 2017 for the Goods and Service Tax regime to be implemented to venture into the business.
3) What was the reaction from your family when you first decided to become an entrepreneur?
I wanted to pursue fashion designing for my graduation. But, my father was not happy with it as fashion designing in those days was equated to tailoring profession.
It was only after my marriage and with a four-year-old son, I continue to pursue my passion and did my fashion diploma in 2013. The maturity and the understanding of my son Roshan at that age was amazing and made me finish the course at ease. Thanks to my in-laws who supported me fully and my husband who pushed me to create an identify for myself. Without my family, this wouldn’t be possible at all.
4) What was your biggest mistake in business and what did you learn from it?
We wouldn’t call it a mistake, but there were few great learnings. We were cost conscious from day one and ensured that we break even on per unit basis. This restricted our growth and expansion, as we only ploughed back what we earned from the business. Opening our wallet was necessary to fast track the growth, but we were mindful of the cost of this expansion.
Further, confirmation bias affected every choice that we made, almost every single day. The fabric we procure, the design styles and pattern we produce. It all happened in the background without we noticing. Confirmation bias is an unavoidable part of how one makes business decisions. Learning and understanding how confirmation bias works gives us an opportunity to compensate for its downsides and make more rational decisions.
5) What is your biggest obstacle in the next 12 months and how will you overcome it?
Real estate and availability of funds are the biggest obstacles. We have many interesting product ideas that we want to explore. However, the elevated Mumbai real estate prices make no commercial sense to expand given the limited resources.
For any designer, creative freedom is paramount and we don’t wish to dilute it for growth prospects. While at the same time, we try to find an optimal balance between the two. We will continue to focus on our asset-light business model and will leverage the digital space to overcome these challenges.
6) What habits contribute to your success?
The 3Ps: Punctuality, Perfection and Perseverance are non-negotiable for me. If we agree to deliver a product by 10 days, we ensure that it is delivered on the seventh day. We actually delivered many international orders in flat three days. This has brought us many new customers.
I am a perfectionist who look for microscopic detailing from fabric sourcing to pattern drafting to finished products. At each step we perform a quality check. There were many instances where we removed an entire range of styles from our collection as we are not comfortable with the quality of the finished product. And, when we receive appreciation for the quality of our work, we feel obliged.
Perseverance is one of my key traits as I never give up easily. This quality made a postgraduate student of science to a fashion designer and is key to any entrepreneurial success.
7) If you had the opportunity to start this business again what would you do differently?
In the hindsight, we know there were many things that we could have done it differently. But, given a chance, we would be gustier in our approach. Be it expansion, loosening our purse strings or formulating a pricing strategy, taking an aggressive stance benefit early stage starts up.
8) What is your favourite inspirational quote?
“Jeena Aaya Ya Jeetne Aaya” (whether your existence is to live or to conquer). This has been our driving force and we keep asking ourselves: Are we making an impact?
9) Where do you find inspiration?
We draw inspiration from the dark clouds, stormy typhoon and flamboyant flowers. Nature is our biggest source of inspiration for our collection. On business front, our biggest source of inspiration comes from customer feedback. When our product is received well, it motivates us to experiment with unique styles.
10) What is your favourite book?
There are many. I recently enjoyed reading Thank You for Being Late by Thomas Friedman. This book completely changed my outlook on world.
Living with the Himalayan Masters by Swami Rama and Mystic’s Musings by Sadhguru gives a tremendous insight on the unexplained dimensions of life. Every time I read these books, I get a new perspective of life. The way we approach business; the ethical marketing that we adopt – the wisdom from these books are our guiding source.
11) What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Follow your dreams. If you are passionate and believe in yourself, just go ahead and do it. Have child-like inquisitiveness and move out of your comfort zone as that is the only way you can grow.
Coming from a background of weavers, Kanimozhi was keen on following what her family used to do. When other members of her family chose different paths, she decided to embrace her passion for fashion, which ultimately led her to launch Indigo Dreams. When it comes to business, you always have to think from the perspective of a customer. Kanimozhi did the same when she thought of launching her business. So, fit in the shoes of your customer to assess the value of your product or business before going ahead. It helps give you a clear idea.
Sometimes you have to go beyond your comfort zone to make it big. Because that’s where you can find your dreams. Kanimozhi was doubtful of dipping her feet into entrepreneurship, but her passion made her leave the comfort zone for a business. So propel yourself out of your comfort zone to turn your dreams into fruition. A big thanks to Kanimozhi and Kannan for sharing their wonderful startup story.
You can follow Indigo Dreams on Instagram now!
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