StartupTalky presents Recap'22. This is a series of interviews in which we conduct in-depth discussions with founders & industry leaders to understand their growth in 2022 and their predictions for the future.
Sustainable women's fashion refers to clothing, shoes, and accessories that are made in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. This can include using sustainable materials such as organic cotton or recycled polyester, implementing fair labor practices, and reducing waste and emissions during production.
Some sustainable fashion brands focus on using natural and biodegradable materials, while others focus on using recycled materials and minimizing water and energy use in production. Shopping for sustainable fashion can help consumers reduce their environmental impact while also supporting ethical manufacturing practices. Additionally, many sustainable fashion brands focus on longevity, quality over quantity, and timeless design, rather than fast fashion.
The global ethical fashion market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.7% from $6,349.9 million in 2020 to $10,109.9 million in 2025.
For this Interview, we invited Jeevika Tyagi, Founder & CEO of aastey, and we talked about the growth, challenges, insights, and future opportunities in the Apparel and Fashion industry.
StartupTalky: Jeevika, what products does your company sell? What was the motivation/vision with which you started?
Jeevika: The idea of aastey was born amid the pandemic. We realized the morose atmosphere around us had begun to affect our mental and physical health. Women were already living under a mountain of responsibilities, and the pandemic had just increased tenfold. As the days turned into months, we started seeing changes in the way we live our lives and started giving importance to things that we had started to take for granted.
Through our research, we immediately saw a glaring need gap in the fashion industry, especially on how brands, even today, create mutually exclusive categories like petite and size to divide, isolate and exclude women across all age groups. Surrounded by brands that had limited availability in sizing and were continuously producing clothes that were harmful to the environment, we wanted to create something polar opposite, something that offers a counter-culture to fast fashion culture.
Keeping these things in mind, we decided to build a brand on the foundation of two core values: sustainability and size inclusivity. We want to embrace everyone without judgment and want to give comfort priority over everything else. Thus, we created the term ‘live aastey’ which means to be fully present in every single moment.
StartupTalky: What other products/features have been added in the past year? What is/are the USP/s of your products?
Jeevika: aastey has a very robust design process oriented towards thorough research and development. Innovation is the backbone of everything we create at aastey. Therefore, we believe in hours of research and customer surveys to create our collections and merge them with our ethos.
In the last two months, aastey has launched a range of new products. We launched a varied range of products in our club collection, including two soy wax vegan scented candles - the frosted dawn candle and the lilac garden candle, the eclipse stainless steel bottle, and the earthshine cork yoga mat. In apparel, we launched the slow-down organic cotton tees in two colors and added a new color to our existing jellybean and boomerang tank tops. We also launched a socks collection with two different styles - calf length and ankle socks. The collection is designed to highlight the pollution in our oceans with high-definition ocean-themed prints. We will soon be launching a cotton canvas tote bag along with an additional style in the socks collection.
In 2023, we are planning to launch a varied range of product categories with sweatshirts, joggers, dry-fit t-shirts, wide-leg pants, dresses, and much more. We will also be adding to our existing leggings and t-shirt collections.
StartupTalky: How has the apparel and fashion industry changed in recent years, and how has your company adapted to these changes?
Jeevika: Globally, the activewear industry emerged as a breakaway from conventional sportswear and apparel targeted mainly toward women. The industry was quick to rise with its focus on making clothes that combine workout and street attire. By 2012, the global performance activewear market exceeded US $244 billion. While the activewear market had been steadily growing in India since the last decade, it got a big push during the lockdown and the recovery that followed.
People wanted to wear something stylish but also more comfortable because of the intermeshing of their work and home lives. According to research analysis, the activewear market outperformed fast fashion, ethnic wear, and formal footwear since the onset of the pandemic. Now, it is estimated to reach Rs. 997.8 billion by 2024.
StartupTalky: How do you stay up-to-date on the latest trends and developments in the apparel and fashion industry?
Jeevika: When we decided to enter the activewear space, we knew we would find a lot of competition. We spent a year researching and developing the best sustainable blends. We believe that our continuous effort to make our brand sustainable, from manufacturing to packaging, sets us apart. By using timeless and classic designs and good quality fibers that are natural and ethically sourced, we have not only given longer life to the clothes but also minimized the carbon footprint we leave on the planet.
We have also created active feedback and communication channels with our tribe to make the best decisions in our product design process. It’s not only about what kind of trends or designs they want aesthetically but also how we can make our products functional and useful for our community.
Our research focuses on maximizing the performance and functionality of the
products while making the least impact on our planet. This includes research across domestic and international brand research. The research is done to check trends across markets and brands, price points, fabric, colors, prints, etc. After that, we do a WGSN (formerly Worth Global Style Network) for direction in fashion trends, fabric, colors, and prints.
Once our research is complete, we move on to creating mood boards, color boards, and theme boards that resonate with our brand’s voice. Once the designs are read, they are shortlisted for sampling, and then the selected samples are shortlisted for production.
We also put in a lot of time and research in creating the perfect stretch and feel for our aastey in-house organic and recycled fabric blends.
StartupTalky: What were the most significant challenges your company faced in the past year and how did you overcome them?
Jeevika: Starting a sustainable activewear brand comes with its own challenges but as a business, we have learned that our customers (our aastey tribe) are always right and customer service is the most important thing in making a business big.
Learning from this, we have created active feedback and communication channels with our tribe to make the best decisions in our product design process. It’s not only about what kind of trends or designs they want aesthetically but also how we can make our products functional and useful for our community.
StartupTalky: Repeat purchase is one of the most important parameters on which most e-commerce brands are betting. How do you keep your customer engaged to stop churn?
Jeevika: The focus is on comfort and size inclusivity. One thing we have understood is that our customers want to feel their best in everything they do. And in India, we have a huge market. We have to understand every body type can be catered to and that’s exactly what we are doing here.
Everything is about our tribe - a community of women with unique personalities and lifestyles. They have different perspectives on being active and are multifaceted in their values. They believe that there is joy in living in the moment and having a mindful life without putting unrealistic expectations on yourself.
We have a plethora of different sizes. The fabric is comfortable and body-friendly, this is what brings the customers back to us. You tell us what you want and we will make sure that you’ll love it!
StartupTalky: What opportunities do you see for future growth in your industry in India and the world? What kind of difference in market behavior have you seen within states in India?
Jeevika: The response from Tier 2 and Tier 3 has been similar to that of Tier 1. Our top cities include tier 2 cities, with Pune, Lucknow, Hyderabad, and Ahmedabad being neck to neck with the response from Delhi. Our extreme uplift leggings are the best seller product that is being sold equally in all parts of India. Mumbai is our largest market.
StartupTalky: What lessons did your team learn in the past year and how will these inform your future plans and strategies?
Jeevika: As per aastey’s next steps, we plan to be the category leaders in the sustainable athleisure space. We spent more than a year developing sustainable and internationally competitive products and we plan to compound on this experience and offer solutions to make women's lives better. Currently, we utilize recycled fabrics or organic fabrics in 100% of our clothing. Our pledge is to create a closed-loop cycle for all our products and we aim to be completely sustainable by 2023.
aastey seeks to make a difference by creating the most comfortable yet sustainable apparel, no matter the woman’s size, color, or shape. This is why we also plan to create a standardized size chart across India which is a massive task considering our country’s diversity.
Our next steps will always be towards expanding our community by crafting more solutions to support and uplift themselves, including exploring other lifestyle spaces. aastey's Research and Development will focus on continuously innovating with sustainable fabrics and creating original blends that are sustainable but also that create the best experience for their tribe.
StartupTalky: How do you plan to expand the Customers, SKUS, and team base in the future?
Jeevika: The best thing about 2022 was that we fully launched aastey, after planning, researching, and building it for more than a year. We have nurtured it to become an extension of our vision of creating an equal space for all women across the country. We and just like that now we are a community of more than 50k women all across the nation. Our team too is ever-growing. We are true to who we are serving - our customers and keeping their needs first.
StartupTalky: One tip that you would like to share with another d2c founder?
Jeevika: As an advice, I would just say that don’t stop yourself from looking for a bigger dream. I know it sounds like a cliche but women usually do sell themselves short, mostly because society doesn’t always appreciate us for wanting big. But trust me when I say this, everything falls into place when you believe in yourself. So I would say do not give up no matter what.
We thank Jeevika Tyagi for spending her valuable time and sharing her learnings with all of us.