“Social media was the genesis for our brand"
An Indian mother-daughter duo has created an ethnic fashion brand from home that is now worth £100,000.
Hetal Desai, aged 58, and her 29-year-old daughter Lekhinee started their business in 2016 following a shopping spree at a handloom exhibition.
The exhibition gave them 50 metres of Ajrakh-printed fabric, and an idea to start their own brand – The Indian Ethnic Co.
The duo’s neighbourhood tailor stitched their fabric into kurtas in various sizes and designs, before Lekhinee created a Facebook page for the brand from her home in Mumbai.
In the four years since its inception, the clothing brand is touching almost £100,000 in turnover.
Hetal and Lekhinee also contend with 3,000 orders a month.
Starting at home as a passion project, The Indian Ethnic Co. now has three offices and ships products worldwide.
According to Lekhinee, her mother did not like buying readymade outfits due to her love of handlooms.
She says that, as a child, Hetal bought material and stitched clothes herself.
“My mom has great design aesthetics and a natural eye for silhouettes and fabrics. So I nudged her to do something about her talent.
“We started with an initial investment of Rs 50,000 (£488).”
A day after the brand’s Facebook page went live, Hetal and Lekhinee received their first order from Goa.
From 2016 to 2018, The Indian Ethnic Co. sold their products through Facebook and Instagram only.
Lekhinee juggled managing orders, shipments and social media marketing alongside her MBA.
Then, after completing her MBA and receiving a job offer in Kolkata, she decided to launch a website for the brand. Lekhinee said:
“Social media was the genesis for our brand, and I am good with that medium.
“However, I was not too sure my mother would be as comfortable with it, so we decided to launch our own website to streamline the process.
“All this happened between the two-three months I had before joining my new job in Kolkata.
“Once the website was set up, my mother learned to operate a computer, understood the workings of the internet, and mastered the website’s backend workings too.”
Since launching the website in 2019, The Indian Ethnic Co. hit £10,000 in revenue in just one year.
As a result of the brand’s dramatic growth, Lekhinee quit her job in Kolkata and joined the family business full time.
The initial lockdown period reduced the number of orders for the company. However, the ethnic fashion brand tripled its growth during the pandemic due to the rise in online shopping.
“Many larger brands like FabIndia had halted its online operations, so we saw a growing demand.
“We did half the revenue in 2018-19 between April and May 2020, but geared up from June onwards.”
After continuing to operate from home, Hetal and Lekhinee opened three Mumbai offices in October 2020. Their neighbourhood tailor now works for the company full time, managing a team of designer tailors.
Hetal also networked with other artisans for fabrics. The Indian Ethnic Co. deals in handcrafted fabrics such as Ajrakh, Balotra and Sanganeri.
According to Lekhinee, they always wanted to make their brand as sustainable as possible.
“When we founded The Indian Ethnic Co., we just had one goal – to make Indian fashion responsible, sustainable and truly handcrafted.
“What we mean by ‘truly handcrafted’ is that the fabric is handwoven, the dye is handmade with organic and vegetable dyes, the print is hand block, and the final product is hand-tailored.”
The company now uses the fabric to create salwars, kurtas, saris, dupattas, tunics, jewellery and more.
When it comes to marketing, Hetal and Lekhinee showcase their products through real women, avoiding edited and posed photographs.
The brand also use Dance Marketing on social media, which Lekhinee says has been successful. She said:
“The dance video formats have gone viral on the internet, it propelled our online sales and social media currency dramatically.
“We also did not spend majorly on marketing or product photography.
“We managed shots from my iPhone X, and my sister or I modelled the outfits.”
According to Lekhinee, their unique marketing and relatability with clients are what set The Indian Ethnic Co. apart from other brands.
However, a challenge the pair faced was using the ‘cash-on-delivery’ payment method.
Lekhinee says that buyers would order for COD delivery but return the product at the time, causing “unnecessary two-way logistics expense for us”.
In the future, Hetal and Lekhinee plan to venture into kidswear, menswear and home décor.
Hetal also wants to create an encyclopedia about artisans and their craft, to educate readers on various Indian fabrics.