Before 2008, Sheetal Kapoor was a housewife who would spend her time running a large home in Delhi, cooking and caring for her husband and two children, going to kitty parties, hosting dinners with relatives, and working out at the gym. But on April 24 that year, her “real life began”.
That was the day she stepped foot in her husband’s office. Nearly a decade later, the couple head one of India’s most popular kurta brands, Shree, a runaway ecommerce success, and Sheetal has no time for lunches and dinners.
An extroverted Punjabi lass, Sheetal was born and raised in Amritsar along with three siblings. Their father passed away when she was just eight, and her young mother was dependent on her own family to help raise her brood. Having completed her BSc in home science, Sheetal moved to Delhi after her wedding when she was 21. She had two babies over the next three years, and spent the next 20 playing the role of a prosperous businessman’s wife.
Then her children grew up, and her son went off abroad to study. Unsure of what to do with her time, Sheetal began accompanying her husband Sandeep to office, doing nothing initially except sharing lunch with him and chatting with the employees. His firm made unbranded garments for large retail chains, and there were often piles of samples thrown away at the end of an order.
One day, when Sandeep was travelling, an educated scrap dealer asked Sheetal why she didn’t sell the leftover samples online. Sheetal didn’t know how to go about it, so he helped her set up an Ebay account, took a photo of one of the kurtas, and uploaded it. “That’s all you have to do,” he told Sheetal.
That same night, the kurta sold for $20, and Sheetal knew they were on to something.
With help from Ebay executives who taught her staffers how to shoot garments and upload images, Sheetal started an account under the name of Shree one afternoon in 2009. The first night, she sold 25 kurtas. Soon, her company was selling 500 to 1000 pieces a month. In another year, she was retailing from several multibrand ecommerce stores, and by 2011, she had reached the biggies, Myntra and Jabong. By then, her label Shree was giving so much business to her husband’s factories that they stopped supplying unbranded garments to department stores altogether.
Today, Shree’s 16 factories and 180 employees churn out almost 3 lakh garments every month, retailing not just online but also through 30 brick-and-mortar outlets across India, UK and US, with plans to reach 1000 by 2020.
At the basis of Shree’s success is a simple formula: “We do not make anything that Sheetal Kapoor wouldn’t wear,” says Sheetal with a straight face seated in a conference room at their Todapur head office in central Delhi. Considering herself to be the prototype of an average, quality-conscious Indian woman, Sheetal gave orders to her 10-strong fashion team to design kurtas and lowers that were “trendy but not Westernised, versatile enough to wear both in India and abroad, modest yet modern.”
These included elements such as three-fourth sleeves, silhouettes that flatter Indian body curves, all sizes from XS – XXL, fusion prints, high-quality cotton yarn, pants and leggings instead of salwars, clean finishing, and machine-washable fabrics. The price range was kept reasonable (Rs 349 to Rs 2999), with high volumes being the key to profitability.
The formula was effective to say the least, with Indian women of all ages, from teenagers to grandmothers, from UAE to Russia and North America, finding them perfect for their day-to-day needs. One of the bestselling items this season was a floor-length anarkali-dress priced Rs 2999 with a complimentary scarf. Customers at their Delhi stores in fact insist on “more expensive” outfits, and Sheetal is considering venturing into high-end garments using real silk.
Generous and gregarious, Sheetal insists on negative feedback from customers so that she can keep bettering her products, and treats her staff like members of her family. “Main seedhi saadi normal bandi hoon (I’m a simple, straightforward, normal person),” she says with a big warm smile. And you instantly see how extraordinary she is.