Three College Friends Build a Rs 7.5 Crore Baby Products Brand from Just Rs 5,000
Vol 14 | Issue 50
Back in 2015, in Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu, three friends from college, Surya Prabha, Sakthipriya Dharshini, and Gayathiri, who were homemakers, started BeeLittle.
The start-up for baby clothes and accessories began in a single room in one of their houses with an investment of Rs 5,000. Today, BeeLittle has made its mark in the big market of baby garments.
|Surya Prabha, Sakthipriya Dharshini, and Gayathiri built BeeLittle brand starting with just Rs. 5,000 (Photos: Special Arrangement)
Registered as a partnership firm under the name of Vaira Baby Boutique, BeeLittle has stores in Tiruppur, Coimbatore, and Chennai, and has reached a turnover of Rs 7.5 crore.
Two of BeeLittle's founders were already mothers a few years before they started their boutique in Surya’s house in Tiruppur.
They had a sewing machine, so their initial investment was just Rs. 5,000 for buying fabric. In the beginning, Gayathiri was in charge of stitching, and the other two did the cutting.
Their business grew by word of mouth. Starting with only one sewing machine, they avoided advertising.
“We never used any promotional methods. One happy customer would bring five more. We have always been good at customising based on feedback, and that's still what we do best,” says Sakthipriya.
Initially, the founders of BeeLittle tested their baby products on their own children before gifting them to their cousins, friends, and neighbours.
|Gayathri graduated in Apparel & Fashion Tech from PSG College of Technology
BeeLittle claims that it uses only organic or natural cotton in their products. They use GOTS-certified fabrics (Global Organic Textile Standard) and focus on organic production
Starting with thottils (cradle cloths), BeeLittle now offers more than 100 products. These include everything a newborn needs, like organic cotton thottils, pure cotton wraps, jhablas, nappies, winter clothes, rompers, t-shirts, shirts, frocks, hospital kits, and bedding sheets.
They also offer toys and accessories from other brands, including swaddles, teethers, bibs, bed protectors, changing mats, and grooming kits.
Besides baby things, BeeLittle also has everything a new mom needs. This includes maternity pants, maternity pads, feeding pillows, and feeding aprons.
“Our start-up's focus is on eco-friendly products for babies. We use only natural materials, especially organic cotton, and don't include polyester or any synthetic materials in our products,” says Surya Prabha.
Their baby bedding is made of Kapok silk cotton, a natural kind of cotton. They prefer using white instead of dark colours to avoid harsh dyes and chemicals, making things softer for babies.
Surya Prabha, Sakthipriya, and Gayathiri, who hail from Tirupur, became friends during their time at PSG College of Technology in Coimbatore.
Among the founders, Gayathri is the one with academic background in the field of apparels. Her father ran a private school in Tiruppur and her mother was a homemaker.
She completed her 12th from St. Joseph’s Matriculation Higher Sec. School in Tiruppur in 2007 and then pursued B.Sc. in Apparel & Fashion Tech from PSG College of Technology in Coimbatore, finishing in 2010.
Meanwhile, Surya was pursuing B.Sc. in Computer Technology and Sakthipriya was studying IT. After their graduation in 2010, Gayathiri and Surya got married.
When the two women became moms, they looked for good organic cotton items for their babies, but couldn’t find any.
|Sakthipriya handles the finance and accounts aspects of the business
They then purchased nice cotton fabric and made different things for their babies, like cotton jhoola/thottil and muslin towels. They shared these products with their friends and family.
“The feedback was great; our friends and family began asking for more types of items. Initially, we were just getting baby products for our personal use and didn't have a business plan. Being new moms kept us very busy, so we proceeded very slowly,” says Gayathri.
In 2015, they launched their business from a spare room in Surya’s house and in the next year created a Facebook page to market their products.
As the page gained traction, they expanded their range to include items like jhablas, cotton beds, holding sheets, thottils, and wrappers. The three women managed everything, with customers visiting by appointment.
The trio managed the operations along with a young girl who was their first employee. Their monthly earnings hovered around Rs. 30,000 per month around this time.
By 2017, they outsourced the stitching to a tailor but continued to manage the cutting themselves. The same year the trio shifted from Surya’s small residential space to a bigger location in KPN Colony, Union Mill Road, in Tiruppur.
This new location was actually Surya’s grandmother's vacant house. It was a 700 sq. ft. space, with one room serving as a display area or front desk and the other used for storing fabric.
“We were still operating on an order-only basis, keeping one sample of each of our 10-15 products to showcase to our customers,” Gayathri shares. “We didn't take any salaries from the earnings until 2019; we just reinvested the profits back into the business.”
In 2018, the founders of BeeLittle, each contributing Rs. 50,000, opened their first commercial store in Peelamedu, Coimbatore, about 60 km from Tiruppur. This store, spanning 300 sq. ft., was managed by a friend of theirs.
The products were transported from Tiruppur either by courier or by the founders themselves during their weekly trips. The same year, they outsourced all the production to manufacturing units based in Tiruppur. Yet, even now, the three women are responsible for 90% of the designs.
|BeeLittle started from a small room in Surya's house in Tiruppur
In 2019, just a few months before the lockdown, a family friend recommended that the three founders of BeeLittle create a website.
Despite some initial reluctance, they decided to go forward with the idea. This move turned out to be a smart one, especially with the lockdown restrictions that came into effect later on.
“At first, we were getting only about 5-10 orders a month. However, when the lockdown hit and retail stores shut down, our online store saw a significant increase in orders,” Gayathiri recalls.
“I personally took charge of dispatching all the orders during the lockdown using India Post, as it was the only viable option available and was conveniently close to my home.”
This year, they have opened their third store in Chennai. Now, the majority of their business, around 70%, is driven by their online platform, with the rest, about 30%, coming from their brick-and-mortar stores.
They have a strong customer base, especially in southern cities such as Chennai, Bengaluru, Kerala, and Hyderabad, in addition to several cities in the North.
In its early days, BeeLittle focused on products for the 0-2 year age group. As the business grew, they expanded their target age group to include children up to 5 years old.
Now, the company has a team of 35 employees, with the founders dividing the responsibilities among themselves.
|A feeding pillow from BeeLittle
Sakthipriya explains, “Gayathiri takes care of production, I handle finance and accounts, while Surya is in charge of marketing and administration.”
While running the business, the three friends sometimes have disagreements and different opinions. However, they always resolve these matters amicably.
They also consciously take time to nurture their friendship, setting aside business discussions for a few hours to just catch up as friends, reminiscent of their college days. - ©TWL