'Lingerie is a little more than just underwear'
He's a man in a woman's world. Meet Saurabh Dadu, CEO of India's first exclusively online high-end lingerie store.
With the launch of its operations a month ago, strapsandstrings.com has become the first Indian website of its kind to offer luxury intimates to women exclusively online.
And no, it's not run by a woman! In an interview with Saurabh Dadu, CEO, we get to know just why a lingerie set priced over Rs 7,000 is not an extravagance anymore and what it's like
Tell us a little bit about your family background and education.
My family runs a 30-year-old fashion house. We are manufacturers of high-fashion women's clothing and supply to leading designer brands across the world.
I attended the University of Maryland and am an alumnus of London Business School, where I completed an advanced management programme. Once I completed my education, I became involved in the family business, which I later diversified into home furnishings. I then started retailing on the Internet in 2002-2003, marking my entry into e-commerce.
Ever since, I have been running outsourced e-commerce services for several top American and European online retailers. Some of our major clients figure in the Fortune 500 list.
Image: A sample of lingerie available at Strapsandstrings.com and (inset) Saurabh Dadu
Photographs: Courtesy Strapsandstrings.com
'Most Indian women who desired luxury lingerie had to shop for it abroad'
Were you always interested in women's fashion? What made you zero in on the lingerie industry, especially in India?
I come from a women's fashion clothing background and experienced working with some of the most successful fashion brands in the world. While there were abundant players in premium and luxury clothing in India, there was no major player in the premium and luxury category of women's intimate apparel. Most women who desired to own luxury lingerie had to shop for it abroad. This was the perfect opportunity to plug some of the world's leading lingerie brands into one of the fastest growing economies of the world.
'No one brand can meet all the needs of our customers'
How did you come up with a business plan?
While my business required me to travel abroad quite often, I was frequently asked by my girlfriends to bring them back some lingerie. This was, of course, because they could not buy such products in India.
Using my years of e-commerce experience, we found that it was the right first step to start retailing on the Internet. The idea of being a multi-brand outlet and not a mono-brand came from the fact that no one brand can meet all the needs and the demands of our customers.
'The larger obstacle was getting the infrastructure in place'
Did you face any unexpected obstacles while moving ahead with you venture? If so, can you tell us what they were and how you overcame them?
The larger obstacle was really getting the right infrastructure in place, with regards to getting the right products in at the right time, managing the inventory and ensuring the goods are delivered to the majority of customers within one business day.
'The lingerie we sell is the most expensive you will get in India'
What made you decide to move into online shopping instead of retailing at a store?
Customers who desire to own premium and luxury lingerie and who have the purchasing power are no longer restricted to Delhi and Mumbai alone. Going online gives customers access to our products across geographies.
Also, since we currently have more than 600 products, and will be adding hundreds more very soon, the size of retail space we would have required in future would not have been feasible. The cost of real estate space in India would have driven the prices of our products higher.
The lingerie we sell is the most expensive you will get in India; adding another 20-30 percent to the pricing, I am not sure how the customers would react. And men who want to buy lingerie as a gift for their partners usually feel shy buying it in a physical store -- we give them an opportunity to shop for lingerie from the privacy of their homes, giving us access to an even larger customer base.
'The largest fashion retailer on the Internet is a lingerie website'
Don't you think that when it comes to lingerie in particular, women are more likely to visit a store so they can try on the product to see how well it fits before a purchase?
That has been a traditional belief. However, if you look at the trends worldwide, the largest fashion retailer on the Internet is a lingerie website. With our flexible return and exchange policies (seven-day refund and 14-day exchange), we allow customers to try the products in the privacy of their homes without waiting in fitting room queues.
However, we believe that to be a successful retailer, one must have a multi-channel strategy. We will be making our physical presence felt in 2011 at select luxury boutiques in major Indian cities.
'The brands we retail are far superior to what is currently available in the country'
The price range of strapsandstrings.com is on the higher side -- most products are for more than Rs 2,000 and a majority cost more than Rs 4,000. Do you think the modern Indian woman will be inclined to spend so much on innerwear, especially since world-famous high-street lingerie brands are now easily available at local malls for cheaper?
The brands we retail are far superior to what is currently available in India, so it would be a rather unfair comparison. Our prices are comparable to what these brands sell at in their home markets in Europe and the US. Most of the international fashion brands who retail in India are priced higher than their home markets. We have taken special steps to ensure we do not sell higher than the prices abroad.
'Most luxury products are targeted at the high end of society'
You're obviously targeting high-end clientele -- why not the average Indian woman? It seems likely that strapsandstrings could get a lot more traction from smaller Indian towns where quality lingerie is not easily available, but won't the pricing serve to discourage them?
The Indian upper middle class has grown substantially over the years, and there is a big market for luxury lingerie in most Indian cities. Though most luxury products are targeted at the high end of society, we do carry some premium brands like Ed Hardy, Implicite by Simone Perele, Bonbon and Blush which are priced in the range of Rs 1,800- 3,000. We have seen from our experience that the upper end of the Indian middle class is able to afford these garments. Not operating in the sub-premium segment was a deliberate decision, as there are already options available for that segment in India.
'We normally get about 1,000 visitors a day'
What kind of response has strapsandstrings received so far? While it is a new website, has the response matched up to your expectations?
We normally get about 1,000 visitors a day on our website. The sales numbers are in tune with what we had expected. Given that we operate in a very niche market and have not started advertising and marketing our website yet, we find these numbers very encouraging. More than the numbers, the compliments we get from our customers on our products and services are overwhelming.
'Lingerie shoots are quite exciting, but there is a downside to it'
What does it feel like to be a man running a business that targets only female customers?
Other than the fact that lingerie shoots are quite exciting, there is a downside to it. Being a man, our customers are not very comfortable discussing their products and lingerie needs directly with me, which is a little put off. Initially it took me some time to learn about the fits of the bras and panties, but I think I am getting there. Also, to clarify, all our consumers are females, but a lot of our customers are men.
'We receive more than half of our sales from men'
We notice you've included a gentleman's guide to buying lingerie on your website...how clued in do you think the average Indian male is to buying inners for his partner?
We get more than half of our sales (in terms of number of orders) from men. I think that should answer the question.
What are your future plans? Where do you see strapsandstrings five years from now?
Moving into the new year we will have a physical presence in two-three cities. In the next five years, our portfolio of products will include a lot more than lingerie, swimwear and sleepwear. We also expect that the market will mature by then, for us to introduce super-luxury brands in lingerie and swimwear. In the next one or two years we will also start international deliveries.
'Most women get their bra size wrong'
Can you list a few things women should know about their lingerie and what mistakes they commonly make while purchasing it?
- Bra size -- most women get it wrong.
- They don't always choose the perfect bra to go with a particular outfit.
- Visible panty lines and bra seams.
- A bra is not always supposed to be hidden; women should really experiment and see what should be shown and what should be hidden.
- Lingerie is a little more than just underwear. Every girl needs to feel good about herself. Lingerie helps her do that.
- It's fun to try on new styles, colours and lingerie accessories. Sticking to plain ol' whites and blacks is passe.