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March - 2011 - issue > Cover Story
Exclusively.In Taking India’s best wares to the world one click at a time
Vimali Swamy
Thursday, March 3, 2011
In anticipation of wedding – just over a month away – 26-year-old Nyla is excited. But she is equally overwhelmed: being an Indian-American, she dreams of having a traditionally-styled wedding -- from the bridal arrangements to her wedding couture. But the biggest challenge for her and the millions of other South Asians living abroad is getting quality Indian clothing without going on a wedding pilgrimage back to India. This is the story of the desi bride in Huntsville, Ala., but it’s also basically the same story of every Indian bride.

The old way to shop
The old way to do wedding shopping was expensive. A group shopping trip to a big city like Toronto, New York, or the Bay Area with your family members and bridal entourage can add up quickly. More fortunate brides figure out a way to take a few weeks off with their family and travel to India. But whether domestic or international, an Indian wedding shopping trip will cost the average family anywhere between $1,500 and $10,000 just in travel, lodging and time away.

There had to be a better way, right?
But then Nyla came across a website that offered carefully curated collections of high-end Indian fashion, home decor and travel experiences — Exclusively.In.

From beautifully crafted traditional silk sarees and embroidered lehngas, to designer salwar kameezes and couture collections from leading fashion designers, Nyla had her pick in just a few clicks. . She could also buy traditional and designer jewelry pieces, outfits for the entire bridal entourage, and even a honeymoon vacation post-wedding to the Udaivilas in Udaipur. With delivery at her doorstep in less than seven days, Exclusively.In saved her wedding and her budget.

“There is a huge Indian diaspora in the U.S. that revels in staying close to its roots, and Indian clothing is core to that experience. But living thousands of miles away from India, it’s nearly impossible to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and developments in Indian fashion,” says Sunjay Guleria, CEO of Exclusively.In. “Though there are several stores selling Indian ethnic wear in the U.S., the vast majority of Indians abroad don’t have access to them – and purchases from these stores usually end up being a costly affair. Because of this reality, we found the perfect opportunity to start Exclusively.In.”

The site offers daily sales featuring unique items such as inspired jewelry; intricately embroidered contemporary clothing for men, women and children; bejeweled accessories like handbags and clutches; and ethnic selections - like sarees and luxury Indian bridal wear. Apart from these, travel deals at top Indian luxury hotels; exquisite home decor pieces; and limited edition art collections, photography and collectibles can also be found on Exclusively.In.

The Idea
Hailing from a small town in rural Ohio, Guleria understands the challenges that most Indians face when it comes to purchasing Indian products. Several websites previously existed that claimed to sell similar merchandise, but often misled consumers in terms of quality, delivery and customer service. For example, a silk saree displayed on another website may end up being a cheap silk cotton saree.

“We wanted to create a Zappos-like customer service experience that never before existed for Indian items. This is a big reason why we have a 65 percent repeat purchase rate,” adds Guleria.

Serial entrepeneurs
Guleria cut his teeth in the web biz over the past decade, revolutionizing everything from mobile music to online city guides. An MBA from UC Berkeley, Guleria began his career doing consumer marketing at Procter & Gamble before jumping headlong into the startup world. AOL acquired his most recent endeavor, Going.com, in June 2009. One of Exclusively.In’s co-founders, Sonny Caberwal, is a former corporate lawyer from Georgetown. Caberwal left his law career to become an entrepreneur, starting premium tea brand Tavalon. Like Guleria, he’s alos a serial entrepreneur. He worked with Guleria at Going.com, and has been involved in mobile startups as well. He learned the ropes of fashion as the world’s first Sikh model. Through Guleria and Caberwal’s collective experiences, they realized there was something big brewing between India’s rising creative economy and the Indian diaspora’s hunger for all the best in Indian culture.

The Market
A recent survey by Google shows there has been a 62 percent increase in Internet spends on retail, gems and jewelry, apparel, and travel and tourism sectors – indicating the increasing trust consumers have on using Internet for day-to-day purchases. Armed with knowledge about e-commerce user behavior, and over 50 years of collective experience in fashion and retail industry, Guleria and Caberwal, together with their two other co-founders, Anu Duggal and Nirbhika Moorjani, launched Exclusively.In in June 2010. Today, seven months since its launch, the company is flying high with $2.8 million in venture funding from Facebook and Groupon VC Accel Partners, and India’s well known fund, Helion Venture Partners. But they want more. Exclusively.In is taking Indian chic worldwide, with plans to expand to 15 new countries, including India itself. Talking about his investment, Ashish Gupta of Helion Venture Partners said, "A strong team has intelligently identified a market niche, sensed a global trend where growing demand had virtually no convenient supply solution, and applied it to a proven business model."

The majority of Exclusively.In’s offerings are handcrafted by Indian artisans and designers, and are shipped directly from India to buyers in the U.S.

“We’re all travelers and avid shoppers, having worked and lived in the U.S. and internationally. We are driven by the desire to bring the best of India to world, including textiles, crafts, hand-looms, embroideries and traditional Indian arts, combining it with western sensibilities,” said Caberwal.

The Execution Strategy; Win on quality, uniqueness and customer service.
The company’s foremost priority is to provide an amazing product experience and Zappos-like customer service. A specialized merchandizing team led by Nirbhika Moorjani (one of the co-founders and former CEO of Kimaya, a high-end fashion retail house in India) hand-selects the merchandise. The bar set for the quality of merchandise is higher than any other website in this vertical. The team travels across India, scouring big cities and remote villages alike, searching for the best of Indian fashion, jewelry, accessories, home decor and traditional arts and crafts. Orders are placed, which get shipped to the company’s warehouse in New Delhi. All merchandise goes through an organized process where it is quality-checked, sized per U.S. standards, priced, photographed on models, described by its editorial team, and then uploaded to run within the daily sale queue. The customer-facing activity of marketing, PR and promotions happens from the office in New York, where they promote the sales.

“Our inventory is refreshed every day, and we introduce three to six brands or sales per day, each of which last for five to seven days, so at any given point of time you will find 12 to 15 brands available on the site,” explains Guleria.

This means that each inventory is unique and available only once, ensuring that a customer gets products that are exclusive, rare and not available anywhere else.

Since the customer base is currently in the U.S., once the orders are placed, the packaging is done in the warehouse in Delhi and shipped directly to the customers’ doorsteps. Great pain is taken in seeing that a product is packaged, shipped and delivery in a time period that exceeds people’s expectations.

The founders knew that as an e-commerce portal, the end customer does not get to touch and feel the product they are purchasing beforehand. Therefore, gaining customer’s trust was the biggest challenge the company had to overcome. To meet this challenge, Exclusively.In offered a variety of options to customers, including a free return policy.

“We have a liberal return policy — if you are not satisfied or it does not fit, Exclusively.In pays for the return shipping. Our goal is to get the best of India, right to your doorstep and to make sure our customers are 100 percent satisfied,” Guleria said.

Runway success
Today, the company is witnessing 30 percent month-over-month growth in its revenue, while doubling the customer base every month. Surprising enough, the company has observed that 40 percent of its customers are non-Indian, highlighting the popularity of Indian couture and other lifestyle products among westerners – and the huge market opportunity outside the Indian Diaspora in other countries.

With a staff of more than 50 in India and 10 in New York, the company is growing rapidly, and has close relationships with most of the well-known designers and brands within India. The company’s Facebook page today has over 100,000 fans. Exclusively.In is the most popular retailer of Indian fashion on Facebook, a major feat for a seven-month old startup.

Becoming a standard within India
Exclusively.In gains a significant edge because it brings couture fresh from the runway into the houses of the global Indian consumer. The company has quickly become the industry standard for Indian fashion, jewelry, and lifestyle products, and was named by the Financial Times as one of the top fashion websites in the world. Additionally, it has been designated as the official online retailer for India’s premiere fashion week, the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week. From Manish Arora, who receives rave reviews on the London and Paris catwalks each year, to the legacy designers like Satya Paul, Exclusively.In is the first site that serves as a platform to share these inspired styles with the world. Other internationally recognized designers such as Rohit Bal, Rajesh Pratap Singh and others are also featured on the site. In addition to showcasing India's most coveted designers, Exclusively.In scours the country for one-of-a-kind items and experiences — from collectors' art to singular pieces worn by Bollywood celebrities.

Apart from this, Exclusively.In also works with several small designers and artisans around India and helps them grow.

“Local artisans who previously relied solely on demand generated by patrons living only in close proximity now have new channels of distribution and exposure to global markets via our site,” Moorjani says. “Exclusively.in has not only tapped into the demand for well known Indian products in the West, but is also creating momentum and demand for other Indian artisans who previously didn’t have a demand in the international market.”

The company is currently looking at investing heavily to expand its customer base. Significant business comes from the tri-state area and the Bay Area. Also, a large amount of sales come from people who do not live near big cities.

“Our business is not just about providing Indians with Indian product, but providing the global market with Indian products. India is increasingly becoming a place that has caught the interest of a global audience from U.S. to Brazil and Europe. We currently see this as a multi-billion dollar market and expanding our base in other countries is very promising,” says Guleria.

But India is the most promising market of all to the startup. The company also plans to bring western designers with an Indian aesthetic to the domestic Indian consumer. It has begun sourcing from Indian-inspired brands in the U.S., such as Bibhu Mohapatra, Prabal Gurung, Waris Ahluwalia, and shipping from the United States.

From the treasure troves of ancient Indian art to the chic cosmopolitan designs which possess the Indian soul, Exclusively.In is recreating the opulence and fantasy of the Indian culture to those away from their homeland. Whether the latest collection is a mix of tunics, maxi dresses, and cropped jackets, or a saucy array of sarees and exquisite lenghas in immaculate finishes, each collection is a spirited and energetic experience for the bold and beautiful and the dashing and daring alike. Exclusively.In is indeed taking Indian infused fashion to the mainstream.

To know the latest in Indian fashion log on to :www.exclusively.in
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