Emerging Entrepreneurs

Making a statement with southern weaves

N Ramakrishnan | Updated on August 20, 2019 Published on August 20, 2019

Sridhar Venkatesh, CEO, Opus Fashions Pvt Ltd   -  N Ramakrishnan

Sridhar Venkatesh was quite clear in his mind that he did not want to follow his father’s footsteps and be an agriculturist, though the family owned large tracts of land near Coimbatore. He had seen his father struggle with the vagaries of the weather and problems of cash flow. He shifted base to Puducherry and set up a unit to manufacture herbal and cosmetics products for an FMCG company. Unfortunately, that venture had to be closed down.

With his back to the wall, Sridhar was considering his options. He says he always had a flair for garments. “…being born in Coimbatore, most conversations are about textiles, cotton, yarn and all that,” he says. That is when, he decided, as he says, “why do I not weave a different weave now.” Thus was born Opus Fashions that makes women’s wear under the brand name Maybell. The idea was to build a women’s wear brand that was rooted in South Indian culture, catering to the tastes and preferences of South Indian women.

The 1990s was the time when television was beaming serials into homes. Tastes were changing. Women wanted to be dressed well at home too, he says. “We said we will not enter the mainline products because we don’t understand the fit of the Indian women. We didn’t want to take a risk again,” Sridhar says.

They turned to a category that was becoming extremely popular but had hardly seen any design changes – nightwear. Sridhar says he approached NIFT in Chennai and wanted to meet its top design student. He did not even have a business card. He had not even decided upon the name of his company. Still, his perseverance paid off and he was able to engage the top student. He decided to re-design the nightwear.

 

What was there to re-design in a nightwear? Nightwear then, he says, was in a cylindrical form. Thanks to the NIFT designer, they changed the shape of the nightwear – narrower at the top and with a flare at the bottom, making it easier for women to walk around and do household chores. The form was also changed to give women a slimmer look.

“We worked on South Indian fabrics. We introduced kalamkari, ikat, which were not known in that segment at all,” says Sridhar. An exhibition in Chennai cheered them up as the response was beyond their expectations. That is when the journey really started, points out Sridhar.

The next challenge

Having tasted success, the next challenge was to get the garment into stores. They did not have money for marketing campaigns and advertising. Another manufacturer of nightwear with deep pockets had advertised massively in newspapers, even mentioning the stores where their products would be available. Sridhar says they went to these stores and convinced the owners to stock Maybell nightwear also. The guerrilla marketing strategy paid off and Maybell was well and truly on its way to success. Simultaneously, Maybell special sales exhibitions would be held in different cities.

Having established the product and the brand, Sridhar says the nightwear found acceptance in large multi-brand retail outlets such as Lifestyle, Globus and Shoppers Stop. Sales picked up and the stores wanted more. Shoppers Stop even wanted them to make a different category of products, short kurtas, which was the next product line under the Maybell brand.

As sales to the multi-brand outlets grew, Opus also spread its wings to the other southern States. It entered Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh with nightwear, lounge wear and short kurtas. Maybell even had its own stores. Sridhar, meanwhile, was constantly on the look out for new ideas and talent. He continued to hire designers from NIFT Chennai, who were asked to scout around for the latest trends and come up with new products and design ideas. There was a minor blip in that one of the large multi-brand outlets wanted Sridhar to stop selling his brand and supply the same garments in a private label for them.

“I decided I will not go with them. It was a hard decision to get away from that and say we will start our own stores,” recalls Sridhar. He then decided to approach the smaller, regional retailers, each of which had a strong presence in a particular State, names like Seematti, Pothys and Kalyan Silks. “We felt the regional players were stronger and we started spreading with them,” says Sridhar.

Sales plateaued for 3-4 years after they left the large departmental store chains, but the growing engagement with the regional retailers ensured that the Maybell brand was back on the growth trajectory. The brand entered newer categories – skirts and tops. A retailer in Kerala on seeing the product catalogue straightaway offered to book all the production provided Maybell did not supply to anyone else. That product, says Sridhar, became an instant hit. It now has nightwear, lounge wear, kurtas, tunics, traditional skirt sets (pavadai) and last year launched maternity wear under a different brand name, Young Mother.

The products are available across different formats – multi-brand outlets, exclusive brand outlets, Shop-in-Shop in the five southern States.

Online presence

According to Sridhar, last year Maybell sold nine lakh garments and this year, it hopes to end up with 12 lakh garments. The company has started selling its products online too, through its own web site. The larger format multi-brand outlets are asking Sridhar to start selling through them, but for the moment he is quite happy with the presence he has now.

Opus has its own design studio with eight NIFT alumni. It has about 180 employees. The garments are stitched through contractors in Chennai and Tiruppur.

Maybell, he says, is a South Indian contemporary brand and he is quite happy focussing on the South for now, as it is a large enough market. The company has appointed a CEO to take care of the online business, which Sridhar expects to contribute to sales in a big way.

 

Published on August 20, 2019
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor