The socks market is expected to reach $271.4 Mn by 2028 at a CAGR of 5.70% during 2023-2028
The Jaipur-based startup offers 110+ SKUs under five categories – socks, tote bags, eye masks, boxer shorts and handkerchieves
To date, Thela Gaadi has catered to 60K customers and claims nearly 40% of its customers are from Tier 2 cities and beyond
Kapil Garg always loved to don bright and colourful clothes that went well with his vibrant nature. But after entering the corporate world, he noticed how everyone dressed alike in white shirts and dark trousers. The monotonous office wear cramped his spontaneity, and he started searching for a way to stand out (sartorially). It was a pair of plain grey socks – those tiny scraps of near-invisible fabric that could make or break a stylish outfit – that finally set him off to buy something fun and funky. “I wondered if switching to more colourful options would let me express my unique style,” recalled Garg.
It would have been a much-needed change from donning the dress socks with a Nike swoosh or other famous brand tags and premium pricing. But Garg’s search for a homegrown alternative led to a disappointing discovery. Most of the available options were made of low-quality fabrics and did not last long.
Garg, an engineer by profession, always felt excited by the prospect of making new things. And this time, he teamed up with product designer Vidhee Singhania to launch Thela Gaadi (TG), a Jaipur-based direct-to-commerce (D2C) brand developing carefully curated fashion accessories with a difference.
Its journey started by producing cool socks for kids and adults in bright hues and bold patterns and prints (for instance, toon characters like Tom & Jerry, Scooby-Doo, the Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Laboratory), evoking childhood memories. This is not surprising due to the brand’s unique value proposition: Individuals may grow up, but one should always strive to keep the inner child alive!
It also developed TG originals and diversified into other categories, including tote bags, boxer shorts, handkerchieves and eye masks. The startup offers 110+ SKUs under five categories, and all its products are priced between INR 59 and INR 799.
Currently, Thela Gaadi sells its products via its website and on Amazon India. It also aims to grow its revenue to INR 5.5 Cr in FY24, more than 205% from INR 1.8 Cr clocked in the previous financial year.
Weaving Success With A Dash Of Colour & A Dose Of Nostalgia
Although the socks market in India is mostly unorganised, it is estimated to reach $271.4 Mn by 2028 at a CAGR of 5.70% during 2023-2028. It is also worth noting that MNCs and offshoots of exporters now dominate the organised and urbanised part of the market.
Garg knew it would be difficult for a desi brand to foray into this market. But he bet big on the product quality and value proposition – a dash of colour and a dose of nostalgia making a distinctive style statement. To stay tuned to users’ preferences and evolving requirements (health benefits, sports usage and more), the founders set up a feedback channel and closely monitored market trends.
Thela Gaadi products thrive on several factors. Their playful prints/patterns and sleek, solid colours are eye-catching and add a touch of personality to any outfit. These are durable, too, as designs and patterns are knitted in using colourful threads and last as long as the products.
High-quality, soft and breathable materials are also used for maximum comfort. TG socks are made of 100% combed cotton, treated to remove impurities and shorter fibres to make them soft. They all contain 78% cotton, 17% spandex and 5% elastic. The rest of the product lines are made of 100% of certified organic cotton.
Following the success of its socks, the D2C startup conducted extensive market research to identify demand patterns and explore the functional potential of everyday accessories. It launched cotton tote bags and eye masks (for sleeping) in 2021 and then released boxer shorts and handkerchieves.
According to Garg, Thela Gaadi promoted handkerchieves and tote bags as everyday essentials to add the ‘cool’ factor to one’s wardrobe. The first is handkerchieves marketed as a pocket square that can instantly elevate one’s formal attire by adding this unique style.
The gender-neutral handkerchieves are used for both style and utility, while those bigger in size are sold as multipurpose household items.
Again, tote bags, typically used by women, are marketed by the brand as gender-neutral accessories to attract young shoppers.
Thela Gaadi also experimented with various prints and designs to make products more attractive and popular. Garg said that the brand’s target audience already recognised and appreciated these efforts.
How iStart, BlinkIt Pushed Marketing & Sales
So far, the D2C brand has catered to 60K customers pan-India. Garg claimed that nearly 40% of its customers came from Tier 2 cities and beyond due to its effective marketing and omnichannel strategy.
For instance, Thela Gaadi received financial support from the Rajasthan government’s iStart initiative to create widespread brand awareness. “iStart’s marketing assistance programme helped us reach out to people through various promotional activities such as the Digifest in Jaipur and Jodhpur. We received a lot of media attention at those events,” said Garg.
At this stage, most of the revenue (77%) is generated via the brand’s website, although it sells on the ecommerce marketplace Amazon India. Thela Gaadi also sold its products offline at youth-centric events such as Comic Con India, held in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi, to leverage the ubiquitous omnichannel strategy that most businesses have adopted for sustainable growth.
Interestingly, the brand sought the services of Zomato-owned quick-commerce startup BlinkIt (formerly Grofers) during the festival season to deliver its gift boxes in December 2021. It received positive feedback from all Gen Z and millennial shoppers for this initiative.
“Quick commerce helped us boost our sales around the festival season as customers tend to order things at the last moment,” the TG founder observed.
The Journey Ahead For Thela Gaadi
Asked about the road ahead, Garg said an omnichannel approach, especially an offline expansion to attract a wider user base, would be necessary. In fact, the company will soon start selling its unisex fashion accessories from wooden carts or thela gaadis. The carts will be first out in metro cities and then travel further.
Such expansion will be crucial for the brand if it has to capture a sizable portion of the accessories market, as it is projected to reach $22.59 Bn by 2028.
But Thela Gaadi is not alone, eyeing a large share of this pie. A host of big and niche brands like Mint and Oak, Bombay Sock Co.( AKA Bombay Sock Company), Balenzia, Soxytoes and SocksBakery have emerged with unique offerings and attracted new omnichannel shoppers from Bharat, those hailing from non-metro, rural and remote areas.
The gradual economic recovery in post-Covid times and continuous product innovation across the globe have seen a demand rebound beyond the metros. India’s consumer spending is expected to reach $4 Tn by 2030, at a CAGR of 10%, while aspirations will quickly converge across urban and rural landscapes.
Given this scenario, a huge growth opportunity awaits new-age D2C brands like Thela Gaadi. But to achieve this, their product lines must grow in sync with consumer preferences who will discard unbranded local goods in favour of Paul Smith or its desi equivalent and go for tech-powered consumption modes.
Disclaimer: This article is part of Inc42 and Government of Rajasthan’s initiative to shine a spotlight on the state’s emerging startups.