Source: First Biz – By Sulekha Nair| Edited By – All Things Michael
Baggit is one of India’s most well-known women’s handbag brands; its products are available in more than 60 cities and it has just started selling in the UK.
It was started purely as a means to earn pocket money. The then 18-year-old college student turned part-time entrepreneur, Nina Lekhi put her experience of working with designers and a store to do something different in the category of handbags. She wanted it to be trendy and cost-effective and named it ‘Baggit’ — after the popular Michael Jackson number, Beat It.
“My friend and I were in a changing room after we’d gone for a swim. At that time Michael Jackson’s song Beat It was very popular.
“So we were singing it aloud and then because we were also talking about the bags, we started singing, ‘Bag it, bag it’ and that’s where the name came from.”
Seeing the young Lekhi shopping for the raw materials and then getting tailors to sew her designs, her father quipped, “Are you going to make grocery bags?” Even Lekhi could not envisage that her venture would one day be an over Rs 100 crore business.
What made you venture into the bags business?
From a very young age I was passionate about painting which inspired me to take up a diploma foundation art course at Sophia Polytechnic. But after my failure at the art course, I decided to do two part time courses. I also took up a job in a retail store where I gained customer insights on the shop floor. After that I picked up the tools of the trade and started the Baggit journey in 1985. In the initial years it was just a source of getting pocket money and helping out at home with small expenses. By 1989, Baggit became a serious business with an annual income of Rs 30 lakh. Being a right brain person I was very much inclined towards graphics. So when I decided to make bags I was sure that I want to make fun stuff for college kids.
Who gave you the capital to start the business?
My mother gave me Rs 7,000 to start the business. I invested that money to buy canvas and make payment to tailors for stitching the bags. The money which I got by selling bags at exhibitions and to multi-brand stores were reinvested in making new bags and the cash started flowing as these were direct sales. I did not have to repay the initial investment as it was given by my mother.
What were the challenges that you faced before launching Baggit?
I had failed at the Art course at Sophia’s. Yet I was determined to be taken seriously when it came to designing bags. I needed to prove to myself that my designs could sell. I worked like a dog and a ‘will-not-quit attitude’ along with energy, exuberance saw me through those difficult years. When I look back now, I wonder how I did it.
What encouraged you to carry on and start the business full scale?
I guess getting hard cash, people liking my bags, seeing girls carrying it and having an outlet for my creativity encouraged me. The most kickass feeling I got was to to see my bag used as an accessory. This holds true even today.
You were in your 20s when you launched Baggit. Was age a barrier while dealing with known names, meeting up with retailers, etc?
No, not at all. My bags made everything easy for me. I remember at the initial stage big brands wanted to stock it up. It has always remained that way. I think if your work is good, people will find you. Age was never a barrier for me. In-fact, in my initial days I had a desire to achieve something big in life.
When did you set up your first store?
In 1989, Baggit made its first appearance at INXS, a bag store in Mumbai. After its successful start, it spread across trade channels in Mumbai and Delhi. And in 2000, Baggit made its entry in large format retail stores. And then there was no looking back. Currently, we are present in 101 cities across India, with 36 exclusive Baggit outlets along with 300 multi-brand retail stores. Recently, Baggit made its foray into the UK and Kenya market.
What is your strategy to meet with competition?
The lifestyle industry has always been a very competitive market and especially with the entry of more and more international brands, it has become even more so. What makes us different from our competitors is that we are a completely eco-friendly brand which is well appreciated by today’s fashion and environment-conscious consumers.
What advice would you give an entrepreneur?
I have only one advise to give them: Do what you love to do. If you love doing something, then the passion will automatically come within you. You won’t feel like you are ‘working’.
What are the pitfalls, according to you, an entrepreneur should avoid?
As we age, the mind becomes more and more fixed about ideas, processes and systems. Do not get too complacent; always be with young people so that you are in that learning curve, and be ready to experiment. Don’t play safe, start taking risks. It will help you explore new dimensions. Once in a while it’s advisable to do crazy things — go cycling to Goa, for instance. It will also help you grow stronger spiritually. I would say, travel more and explore more.
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