Feb 12, 2021 | 19:18

Episode 11: Jewels of Wisdom with Shuchi Pandya

Shuchi Pandya, an entrepreneur disrupting the Indian jewellery space, grew up learning the ins and outs of a jewellery business, went on to establish a successful business herself, and is all set to revolutionize the space with her brand, Pipa Bella. 

Can you tell me a little bit about the inception of the brand?

I come from a family of jewelers. I always thought that the traditional jewellery industry was phasing out, with the infusion of new luxury products and technology. Women are not necessarily looking at jewellery as a priority in their disposable income. I felt that they were looking more at jewellery as a versatile option that they could wear with a variety of different outfits. More importantly, they were looking for good quality and affordable jewellery. Those were the kinds of trends that I was observing. I also felt that e-commerce was becoming a very lucrative way to reach out to as many people as possible. With the kind of high Capex costs that are involved in setting up shops, trying to reach out to women in tier two cities, without having an online presence in today's age is expensive. So that's why e-commerce and becoming a DTC brand was very paramount in our distribution method. 

Has your brand philosophy evolved over time?

I would say that our brand philosophy has remained the same over the last eight years. The core essence of our brand is still that we are targeting women who are aspirational. The urban, working-class women. They earn their own money, so they're able to make their own purchase decisions. They’re social media savvy. Jewellery for us has always been about allowing a woman to express herself in the way that she wants. That was the core philosophy behind the name Pipa Bella. Pipa is a Spanish word for someone who's very bubbly, spontaneous, and adventurous. We all know someone who we can describe as a Pipa. Bella is an Italian word for someone who's very classy, dainty, and has a very simple, minimalistic type of aesthetic. These are personality types. We all know women who have that kind of personality or design aesthetic. So the idea was to allow Pipa Bella to be that synthesis between a wide range of personalities and design aesthetics, and of how you want to express yourself. To me, that is what jewellery is about. So that brand philosophy hasn't really changed. In fact, it's grown. It's become even more prominent in the last few years. We have evolved as a brand in terms of the kind of distribution channels we look at, the kind of message we give, and the kind of communication with customers. 

India has grown into believing that even a single statement piece can kind of do it all. With a growing rise of minimalism as a concept, how are you as a brand, and the fashion jewellery market responding to this belief?

There are some really great minimalist brands out there. We felt that rather than just looking at our designs, we should partner with some designers who do minimalist designs. So that's exactly what we went ahead and did. In December, we launched a designer edit with a designer based out of Chandigarh, and she does a lot of minimalist designs. Very simple, geometric lines and circles with very classic kinds of materials. Simple and elegant. We've seen such a tremendous response to that. There's some very niche, creative designers coming out of the ecosystem, who are able to cater to this minimalist approach. From a supply chain and manufacturing perspective, minimalistic designs are easier to make and easier to scale up with. 

Do you think designs are also something that you would call the USP of the brand?

Absolutely. Design is the core of what we do. It's what we are known for, and there are a lot of other brands out there who are able to do costume jewellery, or imitation jewellery, but the kind of design philosophy and the design signature that we have built for ourselves is very unique. We hope to be able to take that even across other categories that we look to expand into.

How does the brand manage to communicate the message that you will receive exactly what you order?

It all stems from our brand philosophy, which essentially states that we believe every woman should be able to express herself with well designed, affordable products. Good quality and good design are priorities for us. And it's not just about giving the product to a designer and asking them to manufacture it in the best way possible. It’s actually ingrained in every single employee. Even my office runner, who collects products from a manufacturer and delivers it to the warehouse has been trained to do quality checks. All my employees, including my customer service team, are trained in quality control. I think that is what led to positive feedback. It really comes down to how you permeate that philosophy into your everyday operations.

Are there any tips you can share for someone who's trying to set up a homegrown jewellery brand?

I think a lot of people think a jewellery brand has to only fit a certain type of customer base or a certain type of design aesthetic. When you're thinking about a brand, I think the first question you have to ask yourself is “Who are you targeting?” I think that has to be a large enough number that you can scale it up. Otherwise, it will always remain a very small scale business or brand. I think it should be something that can appeal to as many people as possible. 

How did raising funds early on aid the growth of your business?

On one hand, I feel that startups can really scale up with funding because it brings a lot of structure and organization to the company. We were able to put a lot of systems in place because of funding. We were able to hire a really good team. You can actually grow and scale up very quickly. On the other hand, you have to be really prepared and ready to have somebody else on your board. A lot of times, the people who are investing in your company may not necessarily know what it is that you do, or how you run your business. They may not share the same vision. I was very fortunate that every investor I've had on my table has trusted me 100%. They have supported every decision I've made. But that's not always the case. So when you are looking at getting funding, it's very important to think about it as a marriage between two individuals. There should be a match in the kind of philosophy and approach because otherwise, it can end up being challenging.

How did the last year look for your brand?

So of course, jewellery was not an essential product. People were not necessarily looking at buying jewellery, especially in the first few months of the lockdown. The focus was on getting essential products. However, by about July, when we started seeing festivals start, we started seeing a big uptick in the brand again. We've actually grown significantly in the last seven to eight months. Interestingly, we have seen a change in consumer demand as well. We're seeing a lot of gifting coming into the forum because people are so far away from each other that gifting has become a way for them to show their affection and their appreciation for someone else. So we've actually seen an uptick in that category. We've always been a very women-centric brand. But because of gifting, we've actually seen a lot of men coming to our website as well! Even our targeting has shifted towards men because of that. About 25% of our customers are men now. We’re almost thinking of starting a men's range of jewellery. 

What is your take on the fashion jewellery industry in the country right now?

It's a fragmented industry. There are a lot of players. Organized retail is only about 2% of the entire industry. So there is still a lot of opportunities to make and create brands within the industry. But that being said, I think it's growing at an extremely fast rate. It's poised to grow almost at about a 25 to 30% CAGR over the next five years, which is a very robust growth for any category. It's going to be very interesting to see new types of designs and new types of distribution channels come to play.

Has the lockdown resulted in more online fashion jewellery businesses coming up?

I think that immersive technologies will play an important role. The pandemic has changed consumer behavior. For example, a company like mirrAR, where you offer augmented reality options for customers to be able to see what a product looks like. Back in the day, probably three to four years ago, I would have thought this technology is too young. It's too early for brands or consumers to adopt it. But I don't think there's a better time than now for something like that. Because of the pandemic, there have been structural changes in the way people shop. These kinds of technologies really help brands position themselves to the customers in a more relevant way. 

What’s a hard no for Pipa Bella as a brand?

I don't think we have a “no”. I don't believe in saying never because we've done so many different things that sometimes we surprise ourselves. I don't think anyone should create any boundaries when it comes to creativity. 

Is there a jewellery photography tip that always comes in handy? 

I think gold jewellery always shines and stands out more on a dark background.

What is one thing on your checklist that you should always think about before you pick an influencer to promote your jewellery brand?
Just like influencers, brands tell a story too. There is a certain type of style signature, and design signature that both a brand and an influencer share. It's important that they share that same design signature. For Pipa Bella, when we're looking for influencers, we look for women who have an edgy, drawing personality, and women who express themselves in very unique ways, because that is our core design philosophy.

What are the two global fashion jewellery brands that you look up to?
I love Tiffany's. I've always loved their marketing campaigns. I think they do a fabulous job. They've built this iconic brand that has lasted through so many generations. The other is a pretty well-known brand in the US. I really look up to them because of the kind of social messaging they do. It’s called Kendra Scott. They do a lot of philanthropy work.

What is your favorite collection that you've launched to date?
I think my favorite is probably the one that I keep wearing. It’s the shell collection we did a year and a half ago, which was basically a summer collection.

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Episode 11: Jewels of Wisdom with Shuchi Pandya