Building a babywear brand out of Madurai

N Ramakrishnan Chennai | Updated on June 29, 2020

AKB Nawas Babu, Managing Director, SA Knitwears

Try putting a dress on a new-born baby. It is an almost impossible task, what with the baby kicking its arms and legs and screaming all the while. If the dress is not comfortable the baby is going to scream its lungs out. If the baby is comfortable with the dress, it will settle down quietly. And, you can be assured that the parents will buy only that particular make of dresses for the baby.

This is what AKB Nawas Babu, Managing Director, SA Knitwears Pvt Ltd, says as to why he chose to enter the baby wear segment. His Madurai-based company makes around 150 products for babies and infants up to two years of age. Apart from apparel, the company makes towels with hoods, washable diapers, bibs, nappies, fancy caps, mittens and aprons. It has nearly 2,500 SKUs (stock keeping units).

Participating in a webinar organised by Nativelead, a Madurai-based organisation that aims to nurture entrepreneurship in smaller cities and towns, Babu said the 0-24 months segment was an extremely challenging category. Every three months the requirements change, which means it is an assured market as the parents have to buy a new set of clothes and accessories.

Babu, a mechanical engineering graduate from College of Engineering, Guindy, and a postgraduate from the Indian Institute of Science, first joined his family’s coir business in Sholavandan, near Madurai, which his father — who had quit from the electricity board — had started. In 2000, he founded SA Knitwears, mainly as a contract manufacturer for others. It was in 2004 that he decided to start manufacturing on his own and entered the babywear segment, as “the market was both challenging and exciting”.

SA Knitwears launched products under the JO brand – named after how his mother Zohara Begum was called at home. The products are now available at over 500 retailers in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh and on e-commerce marketplaces.

Staying power

Getting someone to buy their product for the first time is the difficult part, but once they do, they will be regular customers thanks to the baby, says Babu. All their products are made using cotton. He was clear from the beginning that price would not be a differentiator; it is quality, he adds. “We got out of the price fixation and looked at what it would cost to make a high-quality product. Product development is the biggest challenge in this category,” says Babu.

According to Babu, the company, whose turnover is about ₹10 crore, is focussing on increasing the manufacturing capacity and implementing ERP. Right now, the focus is only the domestic market, but Babu says that a few years down the line, they will tap the export market, too. They have interns, including from NIFT, helping them with new product designs.

Published on June 29, 2020

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