The New Avant-Garde In The Textile Industry- Kiabza.com

Online Fashion Store for branded pre-owned clothing.

 “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change” - Stephen Hawkings.

It is rightly said that people with ideas revolutionize the world. Here is one such story of a visionary idea and the person behind it. Nohar Nath with his brainchild Kiabza.com is in pursuit of changing the textile industry.

YC - To start with, tell us the very beginning of your journey - family and background.

Nohar - Our family has its roots in Lahore. It was my grandfather who, during the riots of 1947, came to India and settled in Mumbai in the late 1950s. He purchased a textile factory there later. I think the textile business runs in our blood, my great grandfather was also in the same industry. I was born in Mumbai, I did my schooling at Cathedral School Mumbai. I wanted to get into IIMs, though I was lucky enough to get into Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies (JBIMS) for my master’s. 

During one of my internships with banks, I was offered PPO and I started as a banker. After working as a banker for a few years I decided to get into the family business, the KISHCO group of textiles. My family too respected my decision regardless of the odds.

YC - How did your journey start as a businessman?

Nohar - In the 80s, the KISHCO group shifted from textile manufacture to trading, owing to labour-union issues. This was the time I joined it. There was a boom in the number of exporters and technology was in the making. By now, the world was also becoming aware of the industrial textile surplus, both consumer and producer surplus. Upcycling and recycling was the future, and it became the forefront of my journey from 2015 to 2018. Today, KISHCO group (4 generation old family business) is one of the leading companies in the world in textile recycling and upcycling.

From 2017 I started researching on creating a sustainable brand out of pre-owned fashion. 

YC - How was Kiabza.com conceived of? 

Nohar - I was very closely watching the online shift in the textile market. I hired a research agency for my initial research work and they came up with some really interesting observations:

  1. Younger generation did not mind using pre-owned clothing. They understood the concept of sustainability and 'thrift' shopping. They believed thrift shopping was a step closer to doing what's best for the planet.

  2. 60 to 70% of what's in the wardrobes weren't used by men and women respectively.

  3. We never give away clothes, mainly for two reasons, money spent on buying these clothes and emotional attachment. We expect to wear it later, but as fashion and sizes change, we don't. 

I saw a great opportunity here and we launched Kiabza.com in 2018. 

Kiabza.com gives the product a new life, we allow it to be utilized efficiently. We give our buyers a feel-good factor about wearing branded products. There is so much aspirational value in looking good.

In 2019, I started reaching out to my friends and family and invested in marketing. The plan in 2020 was to pick up funding, we initiated the process by having a meeting with the VCs community. But unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we had to slow down. My friends from the VCs community suggested parking the funding idea for 6 months, till the VCs get some clarity about the markets.

Once the market started picking up we saw a significant jump in our numbers as well. Some of the VCs reached out back to us. We were able to sustain ourselves even during the toughest of times, so we thought of running it for another year before raising funds.

We have a bunch of investors who are very keen on us. There are a lot of interesting and exciting things happening. We are changing a few aspects, and adding some.

YC  - What does the team of Kiabza.com look like?

Nohar - A couple of my colleagues from the KISHCO group helped me start Kiabza.com.  Shailesh Ajwani, who was with me in school is now the CFO of Kiabza.com. I am blessed to have an energetic and responsible team. We have our Marketing team and an Operations and CRM team in house. We also have an IT expert to manage minor bugs and minor enhancements but have outsourced major website building and integrations. 

YC  - What is the market of Kiabza.com?

Nohar -We are present all over India, our logistics partners cover up to 99.9% of India's pin codes. There are two sides to our business:

  1. Seller side - For people who have more clothing than they need in their wardrobes. At Kiabza.com we give them an opportunity to declutter their wardrobe and make money while doing so. We get products mostly from metros and tier1 cities. 

  2. Buyer side - People who are looking for branded products at value prices. At Kiabza.com these people get the opportunity to access brands that are not present in their cities. So, here we get orders mostly from tier2 and tier3 cities. So it's a fair divide. We do get buyers from metros and tier1 cities. But I would say about 70% of our buyers come from tier2 and tier3 cities.

At Kiabza.com we broadly have three categories:

  1. Premium brands 

  2. Luxury brands 

  3. High Street Fashion brands

Our research has proven that there is more demand for high street fashion brands in India. The premium and luxury brand markets have a very long way to go. We see a lot of demand for brands like Zara & H&M. Premium brands like Calvin Klein, DK & Armani are also quite popular but High Street Fashion brands are always more in demand. At Kiabza.com, we have 4000+ approved brands, around 100 are Indian brands but most of them are international brands.

YC - How did you get the younger generation to start using Kiabza.com? What was the marketing strategy? 

Nohar - Apart from advertising on Instagram, Facebook, and Google, pre-pandemic we used to set up small pop-up stores during various fests and events in a lot of colleges. We got a very encouraging response from the students on the quality, hygiene, authenticity, and brands we offered. I was never a believer of the C2C business model for our business because I feel the three fundamental aspects of a business is compromised i.e :

  1. Quality

  2. Hygiene 

  3. Authenticity

At Kibaza we work on a curation model, we are building a community of trust. The young generation who is buying from us knows that our quality, hygiene, and authenticity are uncompromised. All our products are scrupulously examined by experts and then priced using AI.

YC - What principles are your business decisions based on?

Nohar - All our decisions are based on three fundamentals:

1. Creating the industry - We feel that being the first movers, we have a huge role to play.

2. Building the community - It is very important to create the right brand value for Kiabza.com and also for the associated brands. We want to be a household name for fashion, eventually.

3. Growing website traffic and conversion  - We always work hard to get more and more website traffic. We never worry about the orders. We know the experience, the value and quality we offer, will eventually bear fruit. Right now we are focusing on building a trustworthy brand which we will scale over the years to come.

YC - With respect to the International Market and collaborations, what do you have in mind about Kiabza.com?

Nohar - The US Thrift market is a $40 billion industry growing at a very fast pace. In the UK this number is around 70 million people, around 30% of their community. In India, it's an emerging business with an online community of around 20 million people, comprising only 1.5%. We have to closely watch how the growth of the community works in India. 

Going international is definitely on our cards but right now we are more focused on Indian markets. 

YC - What are the new business verticals Kiabza.com is working on?

Nohar - Pre-owned fashion is the core of our business. We also work on two other things simultaneously:

1. Refashion product - Upcycling of the product -  80% of the product which we get, gets approved by our experts for further selling. Initially, the remaining 20% of the products were given to our 3 charity partners. But recently we have started upcycling these 20% products. Our designing experts with their unique creativity make these products resellable and further enhance their value. We call this process 'refashion' at Kiabza.com

We are very excited about this initiative, and a lot of good work is happening in it. And of course, the product, which doesn't meet our quality centers, continues to go to our NGO partners. We have also been working with budding designers lately.

2. RAAS model retail as a solution - Brands have new products that are left unsold for a season or two. This is where the issue is, from the balance sheet point of view and of course sustainability. These brands are under tremendous pressure not to discard these products and add on to the waste. Kiabza.com is an option for their ‘T Minus one’ or ‘T Minus two’ season products. We work with them to create a sustainable solution.

YC - What has been your business mantra?

Nohar - I believe education plays a very important role in shaping our personality and giving us the courage to face challenges. Also, travelling teaches a lot of things. We get to know varied cultures, people, broaden our horizons and improve our social skills. I have travelled to 60 odd countries and always look for opportunities to travel more.

I am a strong believer in -

The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

There is no substitute for hard work and timing. What could be very successful in a certain era may not be successful in another. For me, success is 90% hard work and 10% the rest!