Launched during the pandemic, how this entrepreneur built multi-crore menswear brands

Sreejith Sreekumar likes to swim against the current.

When his family wanted him to become a doctor, Sreejith, who grew up in Kollam, Kerala, took a fashion course at the National Institute of Fashion Technology “by accident”, and that’s how it was introduced in the industry.

In 2020, when pandemic-induced lockdowns shuttered some businesses and forced others to survive, he remained unfazed and kicked off in the fiercely competitive apparel industry.

He launched Giacca and Abito Sartorial Fashion Pvt Ltda Kochi-based startup whose brands—T the mark and nude brown– are now registering turnovers of several crores.

Build a brand

Although Sreejith chose fashion against his family’s wishes, he felt vindicated when he had the opportunity to work with leading clothing companies like Raymonds and Arvind lifestyle. Starting in 2008, he managed their main brands for about a decade.

The stays also gave him global exposure, allowing him to pursue higher education in Italy. Sreejith’s interest was not in design but rather in the fashion and construction industry, which led him to focus on the suits and blazers segment.

Having experience building and nurturing brands, Sreejith felt like doing something of his own. He understood the dynamics of the apparel industry and knew that carving out a place in the crowded space required patience.

“Building a brand is a very slow process and consumers tend to trust it if it’s present offline,” said the founder and CEO of Giacca and Abito Sartorial Fashion. Your story.

He decided to give the company an Italian name – Giacca and Abito Sartorial Fashion Pvt Ltd – which combines Italian words for suits, jackets and tailoring. The founder says that while the name may sound complex, it sticks with people.

Focus on segments

Sreejith decided to initially venture into the suits and blazers segment, which was one of his strengths. This segment is very seasonal in nature, however, he noticed that there was a change going on. While suits were still a seasonal purchase, blazers were purchased year-round.

“Blazers have become more versatile, easy to wear and easy to maintain,” he says.

At the same time, Sreejith looked into the market dynamics of the apparel industry and decided that he would venture into the offline segment before venturing online. The reason was very simple: there was a high rate of return in the online clothing industry, and as a young startup, he couldn’t afford it.

Giacca and Abito Sartorial Fashion Pvt Ltd team

Given her experience in the apparel industry and her engagement with numerous outlets over time, Sreejith approached Multi-Brand Outlets (MBOs) to place her products.

He explains that MBOs face a different kind of challenge when placing orders with big brands. According to him, they pay around 80-90% of the money upfront for the entire collection for the season, which also means they have to keep inventory. Also, the time to replenish the stock is around 25-30 days.

Sreejith offered its products to be placed with other brands and aggressively priced. Also, he asked MBOs to pay him money in advance because he was still running a startup.

“Our product was placed with the other big brands, but we were still a new brand,” says Sreejith.

Although Sreejith did not envision packaging his products as a seasonal collection, he focused on restocking in smaller 45-60 day cycles, which would happen within 24-48 hours.

However, the key was to maintain the quality of the product. Sreejith says, “Our startup team is very important to me and we will never compromise on quality.”

Giving an example, he says their blazers have specially designed pen pockets or a place to store the cloth one uses to clean glasses. He believes that these little things make a big difference.

The pandemic also proved beneficial for Sreejith as he outsourced the entire manufacturing process to the garment units in India which had been sitting idle.

“Clothing companies don’t typically nurture a startup, but we went with a cash and carry model where I gave them a work commitment every month,” he says.

Currently, the startup designs the apparel and merchandise in-house, while the rest of the processes are outsourced.

Brands

The first brand Sreejith instituted under Giacca and Abito Sartorial Fashion was T the Brand – for formal menswear covering suits, blazers, shirts and leather accessories. This was complemented by Bare Brown, which focuses on casual wear.

The prices of these products cut across the ranges. Suits are available in the range of Rs 8,000-9,000, blazers at Rs 4,000-6,000 and shirts priced at Rs 1,500-2,000.

Starting in Kerala, the entrepreneur worked with MBOs including Jayalakshmi and Kalyan Silks to house his products, and now the company is selling across India including Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha and Punjab. It is present in over 100 outlets in Kerala alone.

“We look for markets where there is a large presence of multi-brand outlets, and we are nimble,” says Sreejith.

Giacca and Abito Sartorial Fashion is now a stand-alone business, starting with revenue of Rs 80 lakh in the first year of operation, which grew to Rs 5 crore in FY22. 22 employees now aims to reach Rs 20 crore by FY23.

Bootstrapped, the Kochi-based apparel startup recently raised undisclosed funds in a angel financing round for a small minority stake. Sreejith also receives credits from suppliers, which increases the sustainability of his business.

Regarding the choice of Kochi as a base, Sreejith says he always wanted to do something in Kerala, and the added benefit was the lower cost of operations.

He says the biggest challenge facing the startup is cash flow, and any disruption in the segment can have a ripple effect on the startup’s operations.

Sreejith plans to enter the ethnic clothing segment and is also taking steps to move into the online space. It has established its presence in e-commerce marketplaces like Amazon and Flipkart, in addition to having its own online presence.

According to a report by McKinsey and Company, India’s apparel market will reach $59.3 billion in 2022, making it the sixth largest in the world. This startup also faces competition from established brands such as Louis Philipe, Van Heusen, and Arrow, to name a few.

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