Founded in 2014 by Nidhi Yadav, Aks Clothings is one of the familiar names when it comes to modern ethnic wear. The brand offers a range of men, women, and kidswear, along with accessories, and was started in a small warehouse!
From sparing her bedroom to keep the stocks, to working until 3.00 am, to becoming the first-ever Indian brand that has grown through omnichannel, Nidhi Yadav has come a long way with Aks Clothing, and it's truly inspirational. Abhishansa Mathur was in a candid conversation with Nidhi, founder of Aks Clothings, exploring her journey of starting her brand that offers unique fusion themes and infuses comfort for the new generation of women.
Where did it all begin for you? Please can you tell us something about yourself?
I was born into a middle-class family. Both my parents are lawyers in Indore. Seventeen years back, children were told to become either an engineer or do an MBA. When I watched Meryl Streep’s 2006 blockbuster film The Devil Wears Prada, I wanted to work in fashion. I was born and brought up in Indore, and I am a Computer Science graduate who worked at consulting firm Deloitte for a year and a half before realizing what I wanted to do. During my year-end presentation at the company, I was asked a simple question that changed the course of my life: “When was the last time you wanted to go to the office?”
My honest response was, “Never.” My mentors helped me realize what I wanted to do. I was encouraged to pursue fashion. Soon, I enrolled for a one-year course in Fashion Buying and Merchandising at the Polimoda Fashion School in Florence, Italy. Although I got a job at Italian fashion brand Emilio Pucci, soon I returned to India to be with my family.
My parents wanted me to get married and began scouting for boys within their community and on matrimony sites. But I didn’t like anyone they picked out. I found Satpal Yadav on LinkedIn. We started talking & we connected well. He was working with Jabong in Gurugram at that time. We got married in 2012, and our daughter was born in 2013.
I was keen on starting a fast fashion modern wear brand like Zara, but my husband, who worked at Jabong as operations manager, felt more scope in ethnic wear. I thoroughly studied the business model of many iconic fashion brands. Inspired by their success, I decided to replicate it in Aks, a brand of Yuvdhi Apparels, in May 2014 with small seed capital and a small warehouse. Aks has its headquarters in the Millennium City of India, Gurgaon, and has integrated printing, dyeing, stitching, and manufacturing units in the Pink City, Jaipur.
Can you walk us through your journey so far? Any early challenges before Aks Clothings?
I was always drawn towards clothing brands and their stories. So, while pursuing the fashion designing course in Italy, I studied the business model of many iconic fashion brands. Inspired by their success, I decided to replicate it in Aks. The sole idea was to liven up the ethnic fashion market with unique fusion themes and infuse comfort, the everyday need of a new generation of women.
There were some difficulties and challenges in the initial phase of the business, but my family supported me. A meager seed capital of only 3.5 lakhs, a small warehouse of less than a thousand units, and the responsibility of a 7-month-old baby were some of the toughest challenges for me when I wore the shoes of an entrepreneur. But I am blessed with family’s support and good management skills, and I could easily overcome these challenges.
In the early days of our business, we used the spare bedroom of our 2BHK home to keep the stocks. I remember we had 936 sets of clothes in our first inventory; we took photos of the products and put them up on e-commerce portals. We kept the investment low. By starting the business from home, we saved on rent, and also, it was easier to manage my daughter, who was just seven months old then. My husband and I travelled from Gurugram to Jaipur every weekend during the initial months of establishment. At that time, our baby was less than one year. Working till 3.00 am after making our baby ready for sleep was part of our daily work schedule.
Reaching an agreement with the manufacturers was another big challenge. We wanted to get 25 pieces of each design. But they wouldn’t take any orders for less than 200 pieces. The alternate option was rather expensive, of creating our own production setup. In addition to that, I used to go for every photo shoot and try on every sample before production. We did the cataloging, designing, and sourcing ourselves. Our warehouse was our home.
Tell us how you source your raw materials for your products?
The process of choosing a raw material supplier isn't complex, but it's not simple either. Honestly, it's a process that takes a great deal of time and effort. We source our raw materials from Jaipur, Maharashtra & small areas of Surat, Odisha, Banaras. My Husband himself travels from Gurugram to Jaipur to bring all the quality stuff on his own.
What are some challenges that you faced while running Aks Clothings?
Every business faces some difficulties and challenges initially, and we are no exception. Small seed capital and winning the suppliers' and resources confidence were some of the toughest challenges. In the Initial days, we kept ourselves lean in structure, and all resources turned into multi-tasking. And, over some time, this trait eventually turned into the DNA of our organization, and we still stick to it.
There were many challenges during the first lockdown. However, we managed to engage our daily wage workers by giving them constant work. We made PPE Kits and masks during the first lockdown. It helped us to keep the production process going during the lockdown. Even after the lockdown during the unlocking phases, we called our staff in staggered shifts to maintain social distancing norms.
We had all our resources available for work in the second lockdown, which helped us retain. But the challenge was the fabrics & raw materials. So we came up with the idea of upcycling our leftover fabrics to make outfits for kids. This collection was always in our minds but not our priority back then. But the second lockdown gave us a push because we had to engage workers. So we started working on the kids' collection from June 1st & wrapped it in just one month. Expectedly it was & quite challenging, but we are glad we did it as it turned out to be a huge success.
What according to you makes Aks Clothings stand out amongst other brands?
Aks Clothings is the first-ever Indian brand that has grown through omnichannel. Today, every market is coming into digital platforms to grow their brand & we, at Aks, have started our brand via the digital platform. In today's fast-growing world, people are more into online shopping because it's easy and convenient. Aks has built fully on digital-based & we have achieved recognition in the digital market in a brief period because of our availability, styles & affordable pricing. We are growing & expanding our business day by day. We launch new styles & collections every 15-20 days which suits our customer's demands & needs.
Have you or do you plan to diversify Aks Clothings?
We have expanded our horizons by expanding our online presence to other online portals. We have launched two more segments in the range, Maternity /Nursing Wear and Kids Wear. Also, we have started selling in the Middle East.
Our Maternity Range is not just any maternity range; what is unique is that all garments are maternity cum nursing wear. We felt that mothers are reluctant to buy maternity wear for a short time, say for 4-5 months. Also, not many options are available regarding colours, fabrics, prints, and silhouettes. Moreover, it is usually not pocket-friendly. So to solve all these problems we thought of launching a maternity wear range. And like there is a famous saying, "You don't know someone's pain until you walk into their shoes". I realized the same thing when I was expecting my second child. I could not find clothes that I could wear to my office and feed my baby comfortably; that was when the idea of nursing work wear struck me.
In kids wear, we have two different collections, and one is the Mother-Daughter Range. My mother has always made me believe, and I think so too now, that "We have to be the human being we want our children to be." My daughter always imitates me in my fashion, makeup, how I carry myself in public, what I eat, what I read, my interests, etc. She is a true reflection of me. So is our mother-daughter collection about - if our children imitate us in everything, then why not clothing.
Another is Siblings Collection. Since we look at Aks as a one-stop-shop for all our ethnic needs, we felt there was a gap in kids wear for boys' ethnic wear. So the idea of launching a Siblings Collection became a reality. And how can we forget about 'Men' in our collection? We have stepped into men's ethnic fashion as well.
How are you using Social Media to promote your homegrown brand?
Social Media plays an essential role in the business journey and can be beneficial for homegrown brands like us. Having a social media strategy is critical to your marketing success, and using the right strategy and tactics will give you more brand visibility and increase sales. We try to post the products on our social media according to our centre audience and attract them. We also use social media platforms to communicate with our customers & to share information about our new collection. We use social media on a promotion basis.
What is your 5-year plan for Aks Clothings?
We will go deeper into popular e-com portals in the country. This time, we will be focusing on our D2C and the franchise model. Apart from this, we have recently collaborated with Neha Dhupia for our Maternity & nursing collection.
We are looking forward to our more celebrity collections. Earlier, Aks was into women's apparel brands, but we are becoming brands for every family member.
Can you share your business model with us?
Retail marketing was not my priority. Our primary marketing strategy was to become available on all the digital platforms. We know how powerful & fast digital media is growing. So instead of the offline market, we jumped into the digital market & that’s how we made a powerful presence in the market. We know what our customers want & we always try to satisfy their needs with quality, fashionable, and trendy clothes at affordable prices. Our target audience has broadened now with the introduction of new lines. Earlier, we used to cater to college-going girls, working ladies who want to look fashionable and in trend, but now we have mothers who have joined our bandwagon and their kids. So definitely we have a vast customer base to cater to.
One advice/suggestion you’d like to give aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
The biggest motivation is to keep challenging yourself to achieve your goals. No doubt running a business takes much time, but the only way to be satisfied in your life is to do work that you genuinely believe in. Please don't be scared of failure, as we never know the outcome of our efforts unless we do it. Believe that you can succeed, and you'll find ways through different obstacles. If you don't, you'll find excuses. Keep your vision clear at all times. No one succeeds immediately, and everyone was once a beginner.