DESI CHIC

An Indian lifestyle brand is using Bollywood celebrities to curate your wardrobe

Quartz india
Quartz india

For a certain segment of urban Indian women, checking emails on a Sunday isn’t necessarily a chore. Amid the spam and the forwards is often a “Sunday Surprise” from the online fashion retailer TheLabelLife.com, potentially offering the chic dress or trendy flats that you’ve been coveting for weeks at just Rs1,000 ($15.5).

What started out in 2012 as three separate platforms, under the name The Label Corp, has steadily built up a loyal, if niche, following. These shoppers are drawn to its celebrity style editors—interior designer Sussanne Khan and Bollywood actresses Malaika Arora and Bipasha Basu—and its curated collection of understated but fashion-forward clothing, accessories, and home decor. On its minimalist website, the products don’t go on for pages and pages, and that’s a very intentional choice.

“The aim has always been to create a lifestyle brand where we handpick and style our products,” founder and CEO Preeta Sukhtankar, a former fashion editor herself, told Quartz. “…if you are looking for the perfect white shirt, at TheLabelLife.com you will find three distinct and signature options as opposed to 200,” she added.

This is what sets Mumbai-based TheLabelLife.com apart in India’s booming online fashion market, expected to be worth between $12 billion and $14 billion by 2020, according to a joint study by the Boston Consulting Group and Facebook. And it’s a strategy that is resonating with investors, too. Last week, the Kalaari Capital-backed company raised Rs20 crore from the Kalpavriksh Fund, part of the Centrum group, which will be used to expand the brand and eventually launch a brick & mortar store.

In a market where young, trend-conscious shoppers are fueling the rise of websites selling “cold-shoulder” tops and extensively ripped jeans, TheLabelLife.com is singularly focused on the needs of a very different kind of customer: stylish, financially independent women, much like 40-year-old Sukhtankar herself.

A brand for us

Before creating TheLabelLife.com, Sukhtankar worked a number of different jobs in the fashion and entertainment industries, spending several years at MTV and the magazine Elle, among others. But over the years, she noticed that women like her were stuck with a seriously limited range of clothing.

“The thing that I did not quite understand was when we were evolving as independent working women to more and more have Western tastes, the brands insisted on still talking to us with paisleys and kurtis,” she said, referring to the usual range of ethnic wear targeted at working women in India. And while brands such as Cotton World and Chemistry did sell Western clothing, they didn’t always have the stylish, high-quality basics she was looking for.

So, with Rs1 crore in funding from an angel investor, Sukhtankar decided to build the brand she wanted to see in the country, focusing on what she describes as “elevated essentials.” To kickstart brand awareness, she partnered with Sussanne Khan to launch The Home Label, before roping in Malaika Arora and Bipasha Basu for fashion and accessories sold via The Closet Label and The Trunk Label, respectively. Eventually, it made sense to combine the three platforms onto one website, and that’s how TheLabelLife.com was born two years ago.

Today, the company has 60 employees, most of them women, and each of the three celebrity style editors holds a minority stake in the business. On the website, models pose in elegant pieces in contemporary silhouettes that often come with a stylish twist—a flattering ruffle, perhaps, or a crochet detail. It says a lot that TheLabelLife.com’s signature product is a white shirt, which the brand updates every month with a new style.

Sukhtankar says her goal was to keep the products accessible, without resorting to heavy discounts like other e-commerce players. Accessories start at Rs500 and many items are priced at around Rs2,500, coming in fairly close to the cost of the options on offer at older workwear brands such as Van Heusen for women, among others. And despite a lack of discounts, revenue at TheLabelLife.com has grown three times over the past year, with most of the company’s customers located in big cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, and Bengaluru.

For Nonita Kalra, editor of fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar India and a one-time colleague of Sukhtankar, the success of TheLabelLife.com has a lot to do with the use of accessible celebrity style editors like Arora, who is also a mother, besides being a popular actress and model. Moreover, she says, the brand’s effective curation and storytelling appeal to the thousands of upwardly mobile, aspirational Indian women for whom fashion is a way of life, and goes far beyond just clothes. Offering carefully selected home decor, accessories, and clothing, TheLabelLife.com is almost a one-stop shop for working women looking for long-lasting, classic pieces.

“Earlier you had to go hunting; you’d have to go to four or five different websites. Here she just gives it to you in one place,” Kalra told Quartz.

And Indian shoppers are routinely returning for more. There was once a time when weekends meant a drop in traffic, but with the Sunday Surprise, loyal customers are now more eager than ever to see if their favourite product is featured for Rs1,000. Sukhtankar says her team usually picks out an item that a lot of people have been looking at, and, on most weeks, the company sells out of it by noon.

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