From Quitting her corporate life to founding a size-inclusive athleisure brand, here's a chat with Co-founder Jeevika Tyagi on building Aastey.
Founded by the talented Jeevika Tyagi and Kanupriya Mundhra, Aastey is more than an athleisure brand. It started as an Instagram page intending to appreciate the fact how good women are at multitasking and how they need to stop being harsh on themselves. With their philosophy of live Aastey that presses on taking things slowly, they ended up building a community of like-minded women. Later the duo started Aastey, India's first sustainable athleisure brand that is size-inclusive and offers a great range of the same and more.
Abhishansa Mathur was in conversation with Jeevika Tyagi about her entire journey of founding Aastey, future plans, and a lot more, and here's the conversation.
1. Tell us about your background.
I have been an entrepreneur for most of the past decade and as long as I can remember. I started my career as a banker on Wall Street but didn’t enjoy it. So I quit my job with the idea to come to India, which at that time was booming both in terms of startups and entrepreneurship. It is a developing economy, and hence the opportunities here are tremendous compared to developed nations like the USA. I started my career in corporate, and instead of going my way up to work in the same, I was more in a dilemma to get out of it. And when I did get out, I started my first company Stappu. It was, in fact, the first company in India that had the largest database of culinary artists in Mumbai, and that was my first stint in entrepreneurship.
After that, I was part of three different companies and led roles of CMO and CEO. These stints helped me gain the confidence, learning, and passion for returning to entrepreneurship again.
2. Please share the What, When, & How of starting your brand Aastey?
It was early COVID when I and my partner, Kanupriya, realized that there was an entire gap in the industry between men and women. We both realized that we women are bigger multi-taskers than men and have more responsibilities because we work as well. We are fully involved with work but also taking care of the home as well. So it's an added responsibility and there's a constant mental imbalance because they always try to do their best everywhere. They are taking care of the office as well as worrying about what will be cooked at home for dinner.
So we thought there was a lack of mindfulness that we women were facing in general, and that's what made us start this movement called 'Live Aastey', which means life is simple, take it easy, don't try to shine everywhere, and that it's okay. We then started an Instagram page and formed a community, and many women resonated with our thought.
Another thing that we felt during the time of COVID was that we weren’t moving at all and had gained a lot of weight. But when my partner and I met after the pandemic, we realized we were being very harsh on ourselves, and we both looked pretty fine. We thought about why these issues were popping into our minds and why we were thinking about what size we were and the ideal body conversation. For decades fashion brands have been telling us that we have to be a certain size and shape, whether it’s a magazine culture or now on Instagram, you have filters where you can get the best version of yourself and how everyone is guilty of using the same. It has been engraved culturally also that as a woman, you have to look more presentable and look your best.
And that's why we decided to start a company putting inclusivity at the forefront but also including sustainability, as this was also the time when a lot of brands were being questioned because of their ethics. Many fast fashion companies were polluting the environment, so we decided to build Aastey, a sustainable, size-inclusive brand. It is India's first and largest athleisure brand catering to women of all bodies and creating a collection perfect for different occasions, whether you are having brunch or going to the office. Our idea was that you should feel comfortable wearing this, and that's what we did.
3. How has the journey been so far?
It was a very tough journey but fulfilling. We were trying to do something that no one had done before i.e., trying to bring sustainability into workout wear. Your typical workout leggings carry a lot of polyesters which is not just bad for the environment but also for the body. So we were trying to innovate new fabric that would stretch like polyester and give the same comfort. So we experimented and, finally, were able to crack a supply chain that was almost impossible to build, especially in India, as there is no monopoly in sustainable fabric. We do have organic cotton, but when it comes to recycling polyester, it’s the other countries that you have to work with for the same. So we were successfully able to do that during the lockdown.
Our fabric is our most significant innovation, and we have created many fabrics like Aastey flex and Aastey cotton. Our workout sports bra and legging come in multiple sizes and has pockets. It is completely made out of recycled polyester and has the same quality that a global empire you'd aspire to wear and pay heaps, but it's completely sustainable.
4. What challenges did you face while running Aastey? When you started VS Now?
We faced challenges at every step of our journey, whether when we were trying to crack the supply chain because we thought it was impossible to build athleisure without polyester. The second challenge was funding. Raising funds as a woman is always challenging because you are not just pitching to a room full of men but also pitching a women-led business, for women, to a room full of men.
And let's be honest, many men can't relate to the issue of size inclusivity even though we always suggest they speak to their wives or girlfriend and understand what they are going through when it comes to body image issues. As women, we know it's a constant thing and very hard to deal with. And so it's a big thing to go to the market and tell men that this is a real issue, that we don't take it easy, and that we are telling the women to live Aastey.
Also Read: Here’s how the passion for skincare made this sister duo from Ahmedabad start Azafran, a sustainable organic FMCG brand!
But since it's live Aastey, we take one challenge at a time, and what has really worked for us is that we have accepted receiving a No as part of the day. If somebody has said no to us, that's alright, and we move on to listen to the next no from someone else and wait for that one genuine yes.
5. Let’s talk about the athleisure market in India? How is it growing?
Many people think athleisure is a trend, but it's a 200 billion dollar industry, and even if we tap on just 1% of it, we are sorted. It's more like an umbrella with activewear and loungewear as its sub-category. It is something you don't just wear while you are performing but also when you come back home and are not in a rush to take it out because you can lounge in it and have fun.
I feel it is here to stay because it's not a trend but an entire industry, and I'm seeing people doing great stuff with athleisure. We believe it's excellent as long as you choose to live Aastey, and it is completely perfect if you have other brands in your wardrobe and just one Aastey legging or anything else. That's the vibe we want to take forward.
6. So, let's discuss the end-to-end of your production cycle. From designing products to raw materials to manufacturing & distribution.
We have four collections in a year and monthly drops launching something new. The entire process is done in-house, from designing to getting samples to producing a PPS (post-production sample). We have a good gap of 30-60 days. If we are working on new products, innovation, and production will take 60-90 days. But, yes, we have a re-stock ability to get sold out back to the market in 30 days.
Also, we were initially selling through our website, but now we are also selling on Myntra and Amazon. Very soon, we'll make sure Aastey is accessible to its consumers on other marketplaces as well, and in the next financial year, the goal is to make Aastey's store dream come true.
7. Where are your major consumers located?
We primarily got a lot of traction from tier-one cities, which are Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore, and then later from cities from Gujarat, Hyderabad, Gurgaon, and Noida. In the last couple of months, we've also performed well in the towns like Lucknow, and it's great because we always wanted to be a brand for Bharat and not India, and now we are doing that.
8. What, according to you, makes Aastey stand out amongst other brands?
Well, we are the first sustainable athleisure brand. We also have a lot of sub-categories, and you'll find leisure wear, activewear, yoga mats, bottles, caps, etc., that help you with the live Aastey notion. Then there are new collections like Lifestyle and Airport look. The idea of this new collection is elementary, and you can wear it to the airport or at home when you are lounging with friends or at lunch.
There's also a new category of activewear dresses, which only a few companies are doing. Also, our collection is pretty fun and designed in a way that everything goes together with each other. Another important thing is that we have got a lot of brand love from the tribe, and they love us and tag us. And this love keeps us motivated to launch new products. We never call a customer a customer at Aastey and instead call them our tribe. We learn a lot from our tribe regarding what to launch next and decision-making.
9. How are you using Social Media to promote your homegrown brand?
We are one of the largest D2C brands to get an early following from LinkedIn, and in fact, we were going to look to promote our job on it. So we got in touch with the LinkedIn team, and they told us we didn't need to spend much on the platform as we were already getting a lot of traction. We put a lot of culture-centric posts, while on Instagram, we try to do more fun reels. It is an excellent tool for us in building the community, and we connect with the tribe through the same. Youtube is new for us, and the idea is to keep putting content out there, so we have different playlists. But there is still time to talk about what direction we will pick as we are nascent to this platform.
Aastey has a large community of women on Instagram that care about sustainability, and we call them our Aastey tribe. The idea was to resonate with the women at the backend, so we put a lot of content to talk to the community about the problems we women face in our daily lives and create good content in the forms of videos that women can relate to.
We also have a podcast and have done many seasons with different topics. This season, we are speaking to entrepreneurs, while the last season was about childhood when we launched our Back to childhood collection. So we talked to many different people, including celebrities, about that one childhood memory they'll always remember.
10. Other marketing strategies?
We do events, and it's beneficial not just for sales but also for interaction. Unlike online purchasing, where humans are like bots and don't know the buyer, it helps us understand them better. And yes, we can capture different data points, but face-to-face interactions are always precious. You learn about what the actual customer wants, how they shop, and what they think when they do it.
Aastey has conducted many offline events like a yoga session or something else at the gym. At times our Aastey ambassadors come and speak to the tribe, and we have different events with different themes, like we recently had a dog yoga event. The beautiful thing is that we get to connect with the tribe in person. In fact, this December, we were the first homegrown brand to do the biggest run, where 600 women were running across Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore at the same time wearing Aastey.
11. What is your 5-year plan for Aastey?
We don't have any. We only have one day plan, and the idea is to take it easy and live Aastey. We plan to keep doing what we are doing, build a great brand, bring in some real brand love and make some good kick-ass athleisure wear.
12. One advice/suggestion you’d like to give aspiring entrepreneurs out there.
One piece of advice would be to keep putting your communication and message out there and interact with people. Every interaction leads to something. So find time in your schedule to pay forward, have interviews and conversations, and make it available for others. It's a great way to grow your entrepreneurial journey. If you can squeeze in that one extra conversation, do that.
13. One Anecdote you would like to share?
So it happened during fundraising when someone said candidly that both of you founders didn't go to IIT or IIM, so do you really have that skillset to run this brand? For me, it was funny, naive, and interesting. I'll always remember this because, hey we really didn't go to A-list colleges, but we do have the skillset and we are doing fine.
15. Your happiest or cherished moment/achievement you would like to share.
Interacting with someone from the tribe makes me the happiest, but I recently had another happy moment. It was an event where I had gone as a speaker and went outside to one of the stalls to speak to people and started telling them about my brand and products. And the moment I said, they told me they already knew Aastey and even owned our leggings. For me, that was a boost of confidence because here's a stranger who knows what I do, and they already have the product at their home. So I wish to have moments like these because they genuinely make me happy.
Now if you are planning to buy something from Aastey, Jeevika recommends trying their leggings as they have 4 pockets and can hold your essentials, and are available in 2 lengths for short and tall women. Her favourites from all her collection is Back to childhood.