How a NIFT Alumna Started a Leather Products Unit with Rs 10,000 and scaled it to a Rs 25 lakh Business
Born in the rustic lanes of old Delhi into a Marwari family, Aanchal Mittal’s progressive minded parents refused to allow the traditional society they were living in to dictate the terms on how their daughters would be brought up.
They always encouraged Aanchal and her sister Swati to be independent. “We were told ‘you can only get married once you start earning’,” says Aanchal, 27, an alumna of NIFT, Delhi. She did not disappoint her parents, but instead of taking up a job, went a step further and founded Brandless, a handcrafted leather goods brand.
What started in 2015 with just Rs 10,000 that she earned from a freelance assignment has now grown into a Rs 25 lakh turnover “profitable company”. Bootstrapped and with no intention of getting funded by venture capitalists, this young and happily single girl has made her mark in the predominantly male bastion.
Brandless offers leather products such as bookmarks, hand bags, wallets, passport pouches, key-chains and suitcases that come in trendy colours like teal blue, tan, forest green and black-brown. Products are available right from Rs 200 (leather keychain) to Rs 18,000 for leather suitcases. Handbags are available from around Rs 5,000 onwards.
Aanchal studied in an orthodox convent school in Delhi. “Sports was my only breather…I played table tennis till state level,” she shares. “Later, I joined a media and advertising course in Hansraj College, but discontinued it after a year as I didn’t like it.”
In 2010, she joined NIFT, Delhi, to do a course in leather design. “It is one of the prestigious colleges in India when it comes to fashion. The place was a breath of fresh air,” says Aanchal. “I got great exposure to the industry, and started interning with and assisting well-known designers during my course.
“I got paid Rs 1,500 for the first time for assisting a designer during Fashion Week, 2010. While I worked for free a lot of times, the experience I gained helped me immensely in the future.”
She had her first brush with the leather industry during a three-week training at a tannery in Jalandhar. “This is where my core understanding of leather comes from,” she says. “I learnt the entire procedure of making leather and to differentiate between usable and non-usable leather.”
As part of her final year project, she worked under top-notch designer Samant Chauhan and fashioned leather bags and jackets under his guidance. That experience proved to be a perfect training ground for her and she honed her skills in leather designing. Her final-year project was awarded as the best in the class.
“By end of final year, I felt burnt out after juggling between a fulltime course and various projects. So I decided against opting for a 9 to 5 job. I rejected work with a big designer and focused on my freelance assignments,” says Aanchal.
For one such assignment, she received a payment of Rs 10,000. Aanchal decided to invest that amount in her own leather business. She already had knowledge about the industry and knew the vendors and places to sources the raw materials from.
“I did the R&D for nine months, without telling anyone in my family. The suppliers were ready to give me raw material after receiving token advance,” she narrates her bold and independent journey into entrepreneurship.
“An old contact at an export house, Masterjee (tailor), who sewed leather products became my first employee. His house became my makeshift office where we made the first samples.”
Aanchal named her company N Square Accessories after the first letters of her parents – Nisha and Naveen. “The brand name Brandless came as a satirical joke on people who are conscious about brands without appreciating the value and aesthetics of the products,” says Aanchal, whose products meet the twin demands of style and utility.
In the first year they did business of around Rs. 50,000. Sales kept increasing year after year and their current turnover is Rs 25 lakh. “We are a profitable company,” says Aanchal. Their products are sold in select outlets in different parts of the country.
"I have finalised on one-city one-seller concept. We don’t want to tie up with e-commerce portals, as low price is priority with them. I work on low margins, and cannot compromise on quality at all,” she explains her business model and the reason why she is not keen on promoting online sales.
But Aanchal has tied up with corporates, who place orders for gifts such as key chains or bags during festive seasons and other occasions. Around ten people work with her at a rented studio and factory where the entire production takes place.
She is confident that her business has a great future. “In the era of rexine and fake Chinese products, authentic leather has a niche market and people with class and taste still opt for it. Leather is expensive, but durable and sustainable,” she reasons. “When procured the right way it is environment friendly, as we are recycling the skin and it ends up as biodegradable waste whenever it is discarded.”
Aanchal’s day begins at 7 a.m. when she leaves for her classical dance training, which gives her immense pleasure and is a stress buster for her. She is also a guest faculty at Pearl Academy of Fashion, Delhi.
“There is no shortcut to success; persistence and hard work is the only way to go,” signs off Aanchal, who incidentally had learned coding to create the company’s website since she was short of cash. She obviously believes in practicing what she preaches.