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Empowered Entrepreneurship: D2C Brands Started by Women in India

In recent years, the Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) business model has gained significant traction globally, enabling entrepreneurs to connect directly with consumers and build successful brands. India, too, has witnessed a surge in D2C startups, with women entrepreneurs leading the charge.

In this article, Images Business of Fashion brings you three D2C brands started by women in India along with their inputs on how they achieved success in their journey. These entrepreneurs have not only carved their paths but have also become inspirations for aspiring business owners across the country.

  1. JOKER AND WITCH – Watch and Jewellery:

Founded in 2017 by Maya Verma, Joker and Witch is a new-age watch and jewellery brand for millennials and Gen Z, offering minimal, unique and trend-setting global styles at affordable prices. The brand intends to bring watches and jewellery mainstream and is striving to fill this gap in the market by having watches as its core proposition, jewellery as a complimentary offering and by creating pre-styled watch and jewellery combinations that work well for gifting as well as providing ease of purchase.

Initially, the accessories brand started by curating watch and bracelet stacks in the Indian market, which is something it is still known for today and at present, its vision is to become a cult watch and accessories brand emerging out of India with a global presence in the next five years.

Joker and Witch started its journey in a two-bedroom apartment in 2015 and eight years later, it caters to over nine lakh customers. From a single D2C channel, now the brand is available on multiple e-commerce platforms, including Myntra, Nykaa, Amazon, TataCliq, etc. At present, the brand’s annual run rate is around 100 crore and it claims to have grown 4000 times in eight years and 100-150% YoY over the last four years.

Furthermore, it plans to foray into new product categories like handbags, sunglasses, belts, smartwatches etc in the coming months and to strengthen its marketplace presence; it intends to go omni-channel with an offline presence in the next 2 years.

Recently, Joker and Witch partnered with Globalbees Brands Pvt. Ltd., to enter the UAE and North American markets.

Here’s how in Maya Verma’s own words:

As the co-founder of Joker & Witch and Teejh, I’ve faced the same challenges that many women CEOs in India encounter. But on the flip side, our unique perspective and market insight are what sets us apart.

I believe the ability to stay ahead of product trends and creatively communicate them to our audience with an intrinsic understanding of consumer and commerce, is what helped me in my journey and being a woman founder and having a team of 55% women force, helps us understand the market, our customer’s lifestyle and their needs.

Initially, we set off by focusing our presence on digital marketplaces like Fashionara, Amazon, Snapdeal, Flipkart etc but many obstacles in our path made us quickly build our independent e-commerce platform and not rely on external platforms. During our initial years, we were focused on marketplace sales, but when we started our D2C channel in 2016 we saw that within six months 40% of the total sales were coming from our website.

A word of advice from Maya Verma for the upcoming business entrepreneurs:

“It’s all about rewriting the rules you’ve been asked not to meddle with. I always say that there is a huge power in that first step and there is no better time to make a difference in the world than right now.”

  1. O&O Beauty – Beauty:

Mansi Agrawal, Pallavi Sharaff and Sumedha Sharaff co-founded O&O Beauty with a mission to help women embrace their true beauty. O&O Beauty stands for one and only beauty. The D2C brand offers make-up products across various categories, including cheeks, eyes, face, and lips. Its commitment to clean ingredients, effortless make-up, everyday luxury, minimalism and cruelty-free has garnered popularity and trust among 150 Indian consumers, with the highest reach in tier-1 cities within a few weeks of its launch.

In the next two to three years, the recently launched beauty brand aims to expand its channels by getting listed on beauty retail platforms like Nykaa and Tira aggregators. Additionally, it plans to offer international shipping services to cater to demand from the Indian Diaspora in Singapore and Dubai.

Here’s how in Mansi, Pallavi and Sumedha’s own words:

Despite an evolving ecosystem, women entrepreneurs face obstacles such as gender bias, stereotyping, and limited access to flexible working policies. However, as a team of three women in the beauty industry, our journey has had typical ups and downs faced by any new brand, regardless of gender. Moreover, being a woman in this industry has granted us multiple advantages, leveraging our ability to connect deeply with our audience and create a strong community around our brand.

A word of advice from the founders of O&O Beauty for upcoming business entrepreneurs:

“Embrace your passion and vision. Work diligently towards your goals every day, no matter how small the steps. Understand your unique value proposition and be adaptable to market changes.”

  1. SUGAR Cosmetics – Beauty:

Founded in 2015 as a D2C online beauty brand by Vineeta Singh, Mumbai-based SUGAR cosmetics has revolutionized the Indian makeup industry. Filling the gap for high-quality, cruelty-free cosmetics, Sugar offers a wide range of makeup products tailored to the diverse needs of Indian consumers. Over the past eight years, SUGAR Cosmetics has achieved significant milestones in terms of market presence in over 45,000 stores across 550 cities and recently inaugurated its 200th exclusive brand outlet in Bengaluru, within a year of its 100th store launch.

Its products are also available through its own website, app and partner portals – this wide network has further strengthened the brand’s customer base, reflecting the success of its dedicated work, strategic marketing, and continuous brand building.

In May 2022, SUGAR Cosmetics closed its $50 million Series D funding round led by the Asia fund of L Catterton. Furthermore, the beauty brand plans to increase its store count to over 100,000 in the next 12 months. It has also expanded to international markets such as the GCC, Russia, and Nepal. It is expanding the ventures based on four core pillars ­- product, distribution, content, and community.

The company crossed Rs 700 crore in annualized sales last fiscal and it took about four years for SUGAR cosmetics to hit the Rs 100 crore mark in its initial days.

Over the last two fiscal years, the beauty brand has grown by 90% in revenue while delivering nearly 15% improvement in bottom-line in FY23 and at present 60% of its business comes from markets outside Tier I cities from small towns like Siliguri, Karnal, and Bhatinda, amongst others.

While the share of international markets stands at about ten percent, the company is presently focusing on solidifying its presence in the domestic market as it closes the gap between itself and the market leader in this category by setting up its stores in the smallest of cities. Over the past two years, tier two and tier three markets have remained a core priority for the brand as it aims to reach out to new customers and advertise itself in areas that do not offer contemporary general or modern trade stores and e-commerce penetration is minimal.

Vineeta Singh’s strategic vision and emphasis on product innovation have catapulted Sugar Cosmetics to the forefront of the D2C beauty landscape, earning it a devoted following and critical acclaim.

Here’s how in Vineeta’s words:

For me, personally one of the biggest challenges was the difficulty in raising funds. We encountered skepticism from investors who hesitated to invest in a sole woman founder, citing instances where businesses led by women founders fell apart after starting a family. On the other hand, there is now an increased cognizance towards the potential of women as role models and entrepreneurs. Women leaders are taking their companies public and creating businesses with billion-dollar valuations.

This year we plan to continue above-market growth while breaking even by the end of the fiscal year. This will enable us to invest in strengthening our operations, product development, and customer experiences without having to rely on external capital. Expanding our market presence is another key objective. By investing in building brand awareness and strategic partnerships, we aim to reach a wider audience and establish SUGAR Cosmetics as a globally recognized beauty brand.

A word of advice from Vineeta Singh for the upcoming business entrepreneurs:

“My advice for budding women business entrepreneurs would be to prioritize financial planning and maintain financial independence. Women have proven themselves to be highly capable of handling multiple tasks simultaneously and I take immense pride in that fact. Therefore, it is crucial to make wise investments, handle money responsibly and educate yourself about various investment schemes.”

These three famous D2C brands founded by women in India have not only achieved remarkable success but have also become symbols of inspiration and empowerment. Through their vision, creativity, and unwavering commitment to quality and sustainability, Maya Verma (JOKER and WITCH), Mansi Agrawal, Pallavi Sharaff and Sumedha Sharaff (O&O Beauty), and Vineeta Singh (SUGAR cosmetics) have made incredible marks in their respective industries. Their accomplishments demonstrate that gender is no barrier to entrepreneurial success and women-led businesses.

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