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Interview with Mala Alwani

Mala Alwani
Mala Alwani

Fashion should be fun, frequent and affordable

Delhi-based fast fashion womenswear brand, Besiva, aims to bridge the gap between trendy, ready-to-wear and affordability. Launched in 2014 in India, it offers an array of silhouettes including garments in plus sizes. Chief executive, Mala Alwani, opens up about her struggle as a fashion entrepreneur and the opportunities to grow for young brands in India.

Why and how did you start Besiva?

In 2011, when e-commerce had started to grow in India, I noticed a gap in the market for trendy yet affordable westernwear. At the time, I had just graduated from the London Business School and was working as a consultant with EY in London. Spotting an opportunity for a brand that could fill this gap, I decided to move back to India. Not only was it difficult to find fashionable clothes while shopping online, I faced questions such as 'Would this colour suit me? Would I be able to pull this style off? How would this style look on me?'  Besiva was created to solve this problem by creating designs specifically for the Indian customer, keeping in mind the international fashion scene. Bridging the gap between luxury and fast fashion, we target fashion-conscious yet price-sensitive young Indian women who have a desire for quality and styles that not only fit right, but also suit their body type and complexion.

What was the initial seed capital you began with? Who are the founders and major investors now?

We launched with an initial capital of just $30,000 and have been profitable for the last two years. We are a self-funded company run solely by me with the support of a 15-strong team.

Why did you choose to venture into the womenswear market? What is the size of the global market in this category?

With the increased internet penetration in tier-2 cities and growing awareness of fashion trends among Indian women, there is a huge opportunity for young fashion brands like ours to grow. The online global fashion market is over $100 billion and growing at a fast rate. With help of social media channels such as Instagram, that is redefining the fashion industry, we are able to target a huge audience.

You come up with new styles every two months-that's six collections per year. How do keep up with trends and manage to introduce collections in such short lead times?

We believe fashion should be fun, frequent and affordable, and we are able to achieve this with in-house production and a great design team.  A strong supply chain helps us translate runway looks to affordable styles in a short time. I also travel and research extensively to learn about upcoming season trends. 

Will fast-fashion continue to exist? Or, do you see a progression towards slow fashion?

I think fast fashion and slow fashion will continue to co-exist. While it is great to own timeless pieces, people also love staying on trend and having key season styles in their wardrobes. Increased fashion awareness on social media and fierce competition have created a need to quickly grab on-trend items that are also pocket-friendly.

Do you have a manufacturing unit, or do you outsource?

We manufacture most of our goods in-house, but also have tie-ups with external factories.

Which is your best-selling price point in India and abroad?

Rs 999 and below is the best-selling category in India. We have just started selling abroad and expect to see a similar trend.

Which points of sales are working well for Besiva-exclusive online store or marketplaces? Any plans to get into physical stores?

Each marketplace is unique and attracts a different type of audience. Some are good for brand discovery, while others are better for sales. Our own e-commerce store is and will continue to be a key sales channel as it allows us to understand and interact with customers better. We work closely with Myntra to design exclusive lines for them which gives us not only great visibility but sales as well.

How different are collections for India from those for other countries?

As we are focused on the South Asian customer in India and abroad, the collections are similar. We choose colours, styles and silhouettes that work best for our customers.

What were the challenges that you faced as an apparel start-up?

Starting a fashion business as a sole founder in India is probably the most difficult thing I have done or will ever do. From manufacturing and labour management to hiring and dealing with accounts and legal requirements, it's been a rollercoaster journey. Initially, the biggest challenge was to meet the minimum production quantities and managing costs while also trying to be profitable. We faced a lot of technical challenges and finding the right development team was a difficult task. Over the last five years, I have learnt that brand-building is a long process. It may be possible to have a good month of sales with a certain collection or good marketing, but keeping up the momentum and staying relevant in the ever-growing fashion market takes a lot of commitment and dedication.

How have the last two fiscals been and what are your expectations for the next couple of years?

We have been profitable for the last two years, and have witnessed tremendous growth. We plan to further build the brand Besiva with a strong focus on the international market. 

Do you plan to expand your product offerings?

As of now, we are focused on the clothing category for women. However, we are keen to collaborate with top designers for other fashion categories. (HO)
Published on: 07/05/2018

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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