Re-emergence of corsets fostered Suman Bharti to create Rs 26 crore 'Corset Wholesale'
While working in the UK, Suman Bharti spotted an opportunity to design and manufacture corsets in India. Today, he heads Corset Wholesale, a Rs 26 crore enterprise
Hailing from a business family in a small town does not bode well for entrepreneurial aspirations. I learnt this the hard way after graduating from the Pearl Academy of Fashion in Delhi, in 2001. I was keen to join the fashion industry or start my own design store, as so many of my classmates were planning to do, but my father would have none of it. So I returned to Ranchi, my hometown, to help my father with his construction business.
Though I worked with him for the next two years, I never lost sight of my goal-to start my own brand some day. So, towards the end of 2003, I decided to leave Ranchi and applied for a job with a highway management company in London. I joined it in June 2004. It was nowhere close to my dream job, but it was better than stifling whatever creativity I had.
This decision turned out to be a momentous one for me. Not only did I manage to save a decent amount, but also stumbled upon a business idea: corsets. During my stint in London, I witnessed a lot of new trends in the fashion industry and noticed the re-emergence of corsets. However, they were prohibitively expensive, even by European standards. This got me wondering whether it was possible to make them cheaper in India.
After a year in London, I returned to India, established a studio in Delhi, and set my business plan in motion. In September 2005, I invested Rs 24,000 and rented a place at Najafgarh in Delhi, hired a couple of tailors, and Corset Wholesale was born. People thought I had taken the wrong decision, and they were right. After all, I was married and unemployed. I had quit a well-paying job overseas and shunned my father's established business only to chase a dream. However, I did not let any of these opinions deter me and concentrated on the task at hand.
Setting up shop was not as difficult as getting clients, which proved to be the real challenge. A product like corset never had a market in India-and still doesn't. So, it made no sense to align it to Indian needs. My target audience comprised, among others, distributors in the US and the UK, to whom I could sell designs at rates much lower than those charged by the local designers in these markets.
It was also a time when e-commerce was cropping up as a lucrative option for entrepreneurs in India, and I decided to join the bandwagon. By early 2007, my business model was up and running. I would design corsets, put these up on eBay, and then wait for orders. It proved to be a very slow process, but I was happy because the money, as and when it came, was enough to meet my operational costs and make ends meet.
Moreover, I managed to break even early on since the seed capital was very low. In the same year, I started contacting distributors at Alibaba. It was a new portal that had worked well for the B2B businesses, and also gave a shot in the arm to my venture. There were payment issues at times due to the cumbersome process of PayPal, but at that time I had no other option.
For the next two years, I stuck to this model and focused on building a reputation as well as a steady clientele for my brand. Through it all, I ensured that I did not take out more money from the business than was strictly necessary.
My input costs remained more or less the same, but I diligently saved the profits for the future to reinvest in the business. I knew I would have to scale up before long, but I did not want to rush into things. In a business where the entire base is abroad, it is important to take small steps, each preceded by careful planning.