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Sharon Lobo

IWB Blogger

Zouk Founder, Disha Singh Tells Us How She ‘Bagged’ Veganism And Simplicity As Her Core Business Strategy

  • IWB Post
  •  October 29, 2017

Vegan Lifestyle. Vegan Spouse. Vegan Business.

Disha Singh is an MBA graduate from IIM Ahmedabad with an Engineering degree from GEC, she is now an entrepreneur dealing exclusively in bags. While I was exploring her website, the one thing that struck me about the products was its simplicity. One of the things Disha is proud of is the functional aspect of her bags. Simplicity topped with utility with a twist of Indo-western look seems to be the perfect recipe for a bag.

Zouk was born out of a college outing. In 2015, as part of a course, Disha visited a village in Kutch where she saw some gorgeous products made by local women. However, she was surprised to see that most people loved the products but never purchased it. The question each one asked was what they would use these products for? That got her thinking, and she decided to launch her own functional, pretty bags.

The name Zouk is fascinating, is there any significance to it?

Zouk is a dance form which is an amalgamation of two different styles. I wanted to create a mixture of culture with modern designs. We were just randomly searching for words, and we only had an idea that it should show a fusion. Zouk represents the weave of energy and light. So as soon as we read this description, we were very sure that it is what we want to name our brand.

What made you come up with 100% vegan products?

I wanted to make something that was handcrafted yet contemporary. Many handicraft shops in tourist places etc. are for art and decoration and not much for utility. So, I wanted to give handicrafts a makeover and make something which could be used by our generation and wasn’t already available. After coming up with the handicraft concept, since I was against leather and animal slaughter in general, it came very naturally to me that I wanted to create products that were vegan and did not use any part of an animal. It was a personal choice, and my partner also agreed with it. Also, Vegan leather is much more affordable then animal leather, so that price point is suitable for our Indian clients. So, these are the two main driving factors behind our vegan products.

Inside27

What convinced that the market was ready for fashion-forward hand-crafted products?

A very evident example is that there is a market for a lot of foreign brands in India. For example, Zara stores can be found even in the interior cities of India, they also have an online portal with products specially made for the Indian customers. The Indian customer base is driving the MNCs to come to India and create specific products for them. That is one factor that very clearly shows that Indians are now becoming fashion conscious. Secondly, I’ve noticed that the current workforce has more opportunities to dress up and carry different bags, coats, and accessories. They are looking for more options like casual, work wear, luxury wear, etc.

What difference did you find in the bag market in India compared to countries like UK, US, etc?

Indian clients are very price sensitive. They like to experiment but with value for money. Which is good at one level but I make handcrafted products which are relatively expensive. Customers abroad go for quality rather than the price. And they actually care about handmade and vegan products. So the Indian market is very complex; you have to get the price, quality, region in a right mix for the entrepreneurial success.

How do you think the current shift to a more sustainable lifestyle and products in urban population will impact your market?

Bags are not very frequently purchased anyway. For example, a person might buy a laptop bag then the next time, she might go for a clutch. So, on an average, each Indian woman has 7-8 bags, and each bag lasts for 2-3 years. So, even though they go for sustainable choices, it will impact the apparel industry quicker.

Inside28

What are you planning next?

We have made a decent number of product lines and reached the online as well as offline markets. We are in a very stable place now; the next year will be all about expansion into more online and offline stores. Our biggest focus will be increasing our customer base, and secondly, we will be making more utility based products. Like our travel pouch is different than what is available in the market, we will be trying to launch different products through the year under various categories which will have more utility.

Are you planning to create products for men?

Our laptop bags or the bag packs are for men, maybe, they have a feminine feel to it because of the fabric and the color schemes we use. But we will be launching a men-specific range around January.

Do you think the strategy focused on a single product will justify itself in the long run?

We are very specific in what we sell. Unlike apparel, bags are a planned purchase and rarely an impulsive decision. I feel we are in a very good spot because people know what they want, they will look for specific styles on all websites before making a choice. Being a manufacturer and having our own website also helps a lot. We sell our products on curator websites, as well. So, this gives us more reach than just being a one-stop place.

Inside29

Tell us about crucial entrepreneurial learnings on the way?

I still don’t have a well-measured recipe yet, but for the last 18 months, I’ve learned that you can’t purely look at the qualifications of a person or the degree and decide if they deserve the job. You need to see if the person will fit the skill set for the job and enjoy the job, etc. That is something that you need to gauge when you interview a person.

Moving on from your brand to you, what urged you to adopt the vegan lifestyle?

I have always been a vegan. I belong to a Rajput family, so we don’t have any specific constraints regarding food choices. But since childhood, I was never inclined to eating meat. As I grew up and started learning about the environment, I realized that I don’t want to have non-vegetarian food. It was a conscious compassionate choice I made over the years. Non-vegetarian industries are huge polluters. I wanted to personally contribute to the environment. When you ask about the health factors related to being vegan, it has its own pros and cons, like you don’t get enough protein. My husband, who is also vegan, recently got sick due to the lack of protein in his diet. So, these are the cons that we have to deal with.

You are a huge fan of Steve Jobs, what are some of his business values that you have adopted as an entrepreneur?

Simplicity. That is the most important thing I have taken from him. What he has given to Apple as a brand is simplicity and utility. A lot of discussion goes behind making our products. We discard a lot of unwanted elements in the process. We don’t make our bags bulky or complicated. Like if you notice backpacks have a small slot to keep earphones but most of us don’t use it, and some of us don’t even know what it is. We try to avoid things the customer doesn’t understand, we try to make things chic and organized.

Inside25

Have you also let simplicity seep in your day?

My day is not very simple, change is the only thing that is constant, and that is the life of every entrepreneur. Every day is different for me, but I make sure my mornings and evenings are very sorted. I go for yoga at 6-7, and that is my time, I read in the morning too, and that is the only constant I have.

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