Rashi Menda Of Fashion Start-Up Zapyle On How To Dress For Success
When 28-year-old Ernst & Young analyst Rashi Menda moved back to the country in 2011, she realised that access to the most covetable accessories and brands — say, an LV or Gucci monogrammed handbag — is a luxury reserved for only those situated within the limits of an Indian metro. For the rest residing outside the confines of these big cities, wooing luxury or a shopping expedition usually equals a round trip. Smelling an opportunity and spurred on by her years of experience in retail and e-commerce, an idea began to take seed in Menda’s mind. Having assisted numerous brands to establish a voice and customer recall in the past, this economics graduate sought to exploit her own entrepreneurial acumen by creating a shopping experience that’s curated, niche, seamless and personal — the ultimate blend of ingredients required to flourish in the over-cluttered online-apparel space. Thus, was Zapyle born. Playing to her strengths — marketing, competitive analysis and data crunching — she soon managed to raise a million dollars in seed funding. Pledging authenticity and easy returns, its bevy of brands today include the likes of Roberto Cavalli, Kenzo, Moschino, Furla, Marc Jacobs, DKNY and Armani Jeans. What’s more is that the women-oriented shopping portal comes with a blog that supplies viewers with all the latest information — be it news, celebrity styles or trends — as well as a pre-owned section, a lifestyle choice and concept that is increasingly gaining ground among millennials as a responsible, sustainable route to their dream wardrobe. We engage in a tête-à-tête with CEO and founder Rashi Menda to thrash out the best start-up advice and deliberate on what makes the online platform stand out in the crowd….
Tell us a little bit about the idea behind Zapyle.
A portmanteau of ‘zap’ and ‘style’, Zapyle was founded in 2015 as the answer to the universal problem of having nothing to wear, in spite of owning an overladen wardrobe. Since our inception, Zapyle has constantly endeavoured to change the way women shop by providing users with a super-personalised experience. Today, we have a community of over 1,20,000 fashion-conscious women from different walks of life and the numbers are still growing. Our customers are young, trendy and confident, and we wanted to be able to offer a range of products to get them through the day, whether they have to attend a meeting or a special occasion. This is why we decided to launch our own private label, ISU, a collection that is tailored for this purpose.
What is the e-commerce site’s USP?
Our dream is to create a better shopping experience for the customer, perhaps one never experienced before. Setting us apart is not only our attention to detail and the quality of our products but also how we personalise the entire shopping experience for customers. Zapyle uses machine learning and personal interaction to analyse the user’s behaviour. The buyers do not fill any questionnaires but their styles and looks get curated as and when they browse, as per the selection made on our platform. For instance, they may filter by occasion or price. How it works is that the next time they come to our platform we have an array of products waiting for them depending on their last search. With technology being in the background of all we do, we provide only those options that will appeal to the user. Additionally, we track lifetime SKUs purchased on our platform and every time a repeat purchase takes place, we recommend styles, which are based on what the customer has previously purchased. We recognise that today’s millennials are bombarded with a variety of options. They are informed and only want a curated collection. To give them a seamless experience we show them only what matches their list of criteria. Ultimately, we want to create a closet that fits them best, in terms of quality, style and personality.
What are the prospects of ‘pre-owned luxury’ in India?
We realised that customers only use 20 per cent of what is in their closets 80 per cent of the time and found a huge gap here. While we were at it, we understood that while there are enough takers for pre-owned luxury fashion, there aren’t enough givers. This is primarily the reason why we started as a pre-owned platform. Along the way, we realised that our buyers are aspirational and want high-quality products in terms of style and material. Most of all, they are looking for authentic products that are not available anywhere else. Our pre-owned section, as of now, consists of accessories, because this is what the customer is looking at buying in this category. In the pre-owned segment, luxury handbags are the most sought-after, we found — and as our customers are extremely aspirational, they want to own Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada bags. The customer is not interested in pre-owned clothing as much; instead, we find them complementing luxury accessories from the pre-owned section with the clothing in the ‘Brand New’ section (which focuses on the mid-segment and premium categories).
Zapyle also encourages users to sell items from their closets…do tell us more about this feature.
We do allow users to sell their own items on our platform. Our ‘Curated’ option enables the seller to share their products with us; we carry out the necessary checks and shoot them professionally. We do not reveal the identity of the seller. We also have an app, where we have built a community of sellers. Using the ‘Marketplace’ option allows sellers to directly upload the product. It is equipped with tech-image recognition, which identifies and verifies the products’ authenticity. In addition to our ‘High Street’ and pre-owned sections, our ‘International’ section offers brands like Michael Kors, Tory Burch, Lagerfeld and Phive Rivers. Presently, we are focusing on a.m. to p.m. apparel and the mid-segment category and bridging the gap between high-street and premium fashion in the process.
What’s next for Zapyle?
A year ago, when we ventured into the mid-segment category, we launched 10 mid-segment brands and saw a 500 per cent growth in just two quarters, including 42 per cent in the last quarter alone. We recognised there is a potential within this segment since there aren’t any other players catering to this audience and offering them styles at affordable prices. There is a gap, which we wanted to fill, which is the rationale behind launching ISU. Since we believe in building a head-to-toe look, we are planning to add more categories to our portfolio. We are launching new categories under the ‘Brand New’ section by March — accessories, jewellery, and footwear. Using technology, we want to continue building and nurturing a community of like-minded fashion-conscious women and provide them with a closet that they will actually wear.
Most difficult obstacle crossed?
At Zapyle, we love to grow. When we realised that supply would be a problem within the pre-owned segment, we went back to our buyers (4,800 at the time) and asked them various questions pertaining to their lifestyle — their spend on apparel, brands they aspire to wear and the frequency of shopping. It all culminated in the launch of the ‘Brand New’ section spanning mid and premium segments (price points from 1,500 to 30,000 rupees) that included categories such as apparel, accessories, footwear, and handbags. Today, 80 per cent of the product inventory belongs to this section. Making that transition, however, was difficult. We were one of the first platforms to bring the concept of pre-owned luxury to India. But one of our company’s core values is — ‘Go big, if you make a mistake, fix it quickly and scale’. We are constantly testing new features and models at Zapyle.The mid-segment category gave us really high returns. The challenge lay in educating the new users about the transition — we reworked the UI (user interface) to ensure a seamless experience for every user. We had to change our marketing strategy too. For pre-owned luxury, we were targeting urban women who were informed and aspirational. After launching the ‘Brand New’ section, we realised that our buyers were not just coming from metros. Today 66 per cent of our traffic comes from tier-2 cities. We had to position our brand in such a way that users stopped seeing us as an uber-luxury platform; our approach changed to become more approachable, friendly and fresh. Within two quarters after launching this category and adding new collections, we grew quickly from a community of 50,000 to 1,50,000. One of our biggest challenges lay in acquiring customers in a cost-effective manner. We have a community of bloggers and influencers, who are constantly curating valuable fashion-related content for Zapyle. We distribute the content through wedding, travel and individual blogs and backlink the articles to content on Zapyle. Today we get 42 per cent of organic traffic; 30 per cent of which is the result of user-generated content.
Tips for an aspiring fashion-tech start-up entrepreneur?
Fashion is growing really fast and the pace of the industry demands that entrepreneurs think about scaling in this crowded market. I was fortunate enough to get the right set of the mentors at a very early stage of my career. They guided me on tech, growth and strategy. Seek a great mentor to take you down the right path. As an entrepreneur, it is also very important to manage your time. Fashion can get very competitive. Today social media has become the fashion channel for all millennials, so having influencers produce content that you can backlink to your pages and website always helps. Ensure that you build models to retain users and create seamless user experiences as well as an aftersales plan. If you haven’t started yet, this is the best time to start, as the best of the resources are available today. If you want to catch a fish, you have to stand in the stream.
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