The cuffs and collar man, Bombay Shirt Company tells how they set up a fashion brand one stitch at a time, and wants to be
a democratic brand
Narvekar who had, over the course of an evening or two with friends, decided that he wanted to stitch together e-commerce, fashion and novelty into one company
The Bombay Shirt Company (BSC), set up in 2012 as an online custom-made men’s shirt brand, today has 12 stores in eight cities, including Dubai and New York.
Their latest, at Kemp’s Corner in Mumbai, is also accompanied by their rare entry into old-fashioned advertising.
A hoarding, coincidentally not far from the new store, does not show a model or a collection of shirts, but
only a close-up drawing of a button.
With an initial funding of ₹7 lakh put together with a silent partner, Toronto-based Simon Jacob, Narvekar got the website going in 2012, cobbled together some tailors and the business was on. They raised some more funds, about ₹50 lakh, from family and friends, and took the business to a level where investors could get interested.
An additional funding of ₹2 crore that came in 2014. “I realized that brick-and-mortar is the way to go because that store (Kala Ghoda) has done exceptionally well in the four years we have had it. It exposed people to the brand and taught us to make better shirts through real life experience,” he says.
Additional investments (₹5-6 crore) in 2016 and this April will help take BSC to 20 stores—of which 12 would be theirs and the rest franchises. Their current staff strength is of about 100 people, including a lean corporate team, employees in stores and in distribution.
Their business today is about 35:65, online versus offline—the number gets skewed as they open more stores—which Narvekar would like to bring to 50:50.
His product might be a “rich to luxury” brand but the process of choosing a shirt from the BSC website can be like playing a video game, as I move about different collar or cuff designs on prints and colours, watching the whole thing come together.
As the New York store completed one year in end-November, a question continues to stir him up sometimes: What happens next in his cash-positive business.
Their processes are now in place, a lot of it done through vendors and partners. The company has a strong returns policy, which is needed for an online business where trial and error is bound to cause collateral damage.
“If the algorithm didn’t work, we would fix the shirt, though it’s 94% accurate.
If you want to touch and feel, you should go to the store. Purely from a marketing and acquisition cost perspective, online acquisitions costs are high. It helps having stores to bring down costs—it’s a lot more sustainable than a thousand Facebook ads,” he says.
“We haven’t paid enough attention to customers I feel, but we are setting up a team that will focus on them. We want to be a democratic brand and treat everyone the same, whether you spend ₹2,000 or ₹10,000 or ₹10 lakh.”
So what are we actually doing here?
- Marketing and creating demand
- Training and quality control
- Building a tech platform—not just the website
Next up is Super Pant, which is the trouser version of the BSC, but a different brand sold through the same channels.
“We are not tailors—we don’t take your fabric and stitch it. It’s the whole experience of the website, selecting from our fabrics, our stitching, delivery, etc. That’s a brand experience, not a service.”
Suresh Shah, Pathfinders Enterprise
Adapted from Interview by Anand Janardhan