Weekly Startup Profiles > Revolution Clothing

Revolution Clothing
What would you prefer, if you were a larger woman: to purchase a pair of pants labeled 3XL, or something marked -1? Revolution built their business around such customer sensitivity.

Quick Facts
Entrepreneur : Nisha Somaia
Age : 35
Company : Revolution Clothing
Based in : Delhi
Founded in : 2001
Industry : Retail

Business Summary


Retail outlet for western wear for women in large and regular sizes

The Idea

"The idea came to me quickly enough - my mother and I have always worn plus-sized clothing, which we could never find in India. But I was still not sure if large-sized women in India would be comfortable wearing western clothes," Nisha explains.

Nisha had always loved fashion. She and her husband, Pranay, had taken jobs in the industry, and then spent five years flirting with the idea of starting a garment business of their own. One idea they had was for kids clothing, but as they don't have kids, Pranay suggested they choose the idea that was closer to home: plus-size western wear for women.

To test the waters, Nisha and her mother held an exhibition in February, 2001. "We made Rs1 lakh in just two days." And it didn't end there. After the exhibition, customers found their way to the Somaias' home demanding to buy the leftovers.

Nisha and Pranay were delighted with the response, but not carried away. Experience in retail had taught them that the frenzied purchasing by the women at the exhibition may have been panic buying - driven by the fear the women had of not finding the clothes again.

With some caution, Nisha and Pranay opened their first Revolution store in Gurgaon, selling clothing that Nisha had herself designed. The store mirrored the success of the exhibition and Revolution had arrived.

The Opportunity

Indians spend over 20 billion dollar per year on western apparel. Some of the growth of this spending is clearly driven by the increasing number of working Indian women exposed to global fashion via media and internet. When one adds to that the fact that 30% of urban India is overweight, one ends up with a lot of potential buyers for plus-sized clothes.

Yet before Revolution launched seven years ago, this demand could only be satisfied by shopping for stylish large-sized clothes on foreign trips, something that few could afford.

With Revolution, however, Nisha decided to do more than simply provide large sized clothes to the Indian woman. She designed Revolution to provide high-quality trendy clothes in a setting that was sensitive to women's needs.

'You are not good enough' is the message the world sends overweight people, Nisha believes. So she decided to change that mentality in her clothing. "Instead of marking the sizes as XL, XXL or 5 XL, which are psychologically damaging, we decided to go with 1, 2, 3, 4 and even 0, -1 and -2," she explains.

Today, there are many plus sized stores, including in-house brands of Westside (Gia), Shoppers' Stop, Ebony, UCB, Just my Size, All by Pantaloons and Mustard that Revolution has to compete with. Some of them have pockets deep enough to bury smaller competitors. Nisha disagrees, saying, "They might be big brands with big pockets, but they have been in the market for five years now and I am still here."

Nisha believes her edge derives from her understanding of her customers, combined with designs inspired by fashion forecasts at renowned trade shows like Pr

The Money

"We invested about 60,000 in our exhibition and got Rs 3 lakhs after 9 days," says Nisha. Since both Nisha and Pranay had been working with fashion companies before starting revolution, they had nurtured excellent relationships within the industry; a lot of the business was done on credit.

Profits were ploughed back into the business. This year, Revolution is looking at a turnover of 12 crores.

The Team

Both Pranay and Nisha built experience in the industry before launching on their own. Pranay at such recognized companies as GAP and Benetton. Nisha learned the ropes at Li & Fung, sourcing materials from India for foreign buyers.

At Revolution, it's been a team effort since day one. Nisha designed, Pranay handled the facts and figures and business development. Four months after the first store was started, Pranay quit Benetton and joined Revolution full-time.

Jacqueline Meston, Nisha's colleague at with Li & Fung joined Revolution in 2001 and together, Nisha and Jaqueline head the design team of the company. From an original team of 6-7 people, Revolution has grown to a family of 160 employees.

The Company - today and tomorrow

Revolution today owns 12 stores, including one in Dubai. Viewed through the lens of the current retail boom in India, Revolution's growth may seem rather slow. "This is primarily because we decided not to go by the franchise route. We prefer this company-owned model because it's a lot more controlled? what the customers get is controlled," says Nisha.

When considering Revolutions growth, however, Nisha recognizes that they may have to adapt their strategy to reach the scale of a GAP. In India, she believes the expansion focus would have to include men's clothing. "Plus size women's western wear has a limited reach, as opposed to men's clothing. We have a potential of 60-70 stores in India for women and 150 stores for men's wear," says Nisha.

Internationally, they plan to expand in Dubai. Nisha offers this insight: "Dubai today is a serious cultural potboiler. Fifty percent of our billing in our Dubai store comes from the white clientele. Perhaps the aesthetic that we give Indian women is actually the aesthetic for international women."

This year, Revolution expects to reach a turnover of Rs12 crores. They are in talks with VCs for external funding to expand both in India and internationally. "But we haven't had a horoscope match yet," says Nisha.

What keeps you awake at night?

"That women are not going to like our clothes. You are playing God by predicting what women would like. It does unnerve me," Nisha says. "One's constantly taking a risk in fashion." But then, her confidence overrides her fears. "On the other hand, if a woman doesn't like anything in 160 styles. Maybe she just didn't want to buy anything," she laughs.

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