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Post-pandemic, India is seeing an uptick in the number of D2C businesses being led by women. What’s even more encouraging is that new niches are being explored, from babycare and footwear to vegan foods.
It takes considerable time, finances and effort to chase the entrepreneurial dream, irrespective of your gender identity. While I can’t speak for every woman out there (and yet, here I am-doing that exactly), it’s true that women have a harder time being taken seriously when they start something of their own. And the number of professional setbacks along the way is enough to tear down anyone’s confidence, which is why it’s a cause for celebration when women-led D2C brands make the public sit up and take notice.
Without further ado, we’d like to introduce you to the d2c brands led by these inspiring women!
Women-Led Indian D2C Brands
- Monrow Shoes
Monrow shoes was founded by Veena Ashiya Chindlur in 2016. Veena holds a Masters degree in fashion management from NIFT and previously worked with Versace and Tommy Hilfiger before launching a footwear brand for women that melds fashion and comfort.
Monrow shoes are designed for broader feet, which was based on the answers provided in a survey of Indian women. Most women that Veena spoke to complained of pain and swelling from wearing the wrong fit and size. The shoes have more surface area and four foam layers to provide cushioning. Besides being lightweight, the materials the shoes are made of are vegan, which lets wearers walk guilt-free! What’s even more innovative about this D2C brand, is that shoppers can accessorize the footwear with attachments to try out different styles depending on the occasion
The company’s data-led design approach has accelerated their growth. After securing $1 million in funding in early 2021 from 9 unicorns, Monrow shoes raised another million from LC Nueva Investment Partners, existing investors such as LetsVenture and first-time investor the Playbook Fund.
2. The Sleep Company
The Sleep Company was founded by Harshil Salot and his wife, Priyanka Goyal Salot in 2019. Priyanka is an IIM-C MBA graduate with experience across the investment banking and healthcare sectors. Salot’s postpartum experience with sleep deprivation made her rethink mattress comfort. The duo sourced materials from Japan and partnered with former DRDO scientist Dr. A K Tripathi to come up with the smartGRID mattress. They decided to sell online to cut out the middle men and reach more consumers directly.
The product’s uniqueness has attracted investors, enabling the company to raise Rs 13.4 crore in a series-A funding round that saw the participation of Fireside Ventures, LogX Ventures and Varun Alagh from the newly-minted unicorn, Mamaearth. Since the pandemic, the company’s coffers have grown considerably, and you’ll see their products listed on major eCommerce platforms such as Amazon and Flipkart besides their website.
Besides enabling the company to become digitally-native, this entrepreneur is a self-confessed explorer, globetrotter, fitness fanatic and foodie who hasn’t let motherhood hold her back!
SuperBottoms is a native babycare brand of Navashya Consumer Products Ltd. The company was launched in 2015 by Pallavi Utagi, an alumnus of the Jamnalal Institute of Management Studies. The team comprises mothers who drive the company’s operations.
SuperBottoms creates baby and mothercare products that include cloth nappies, nursing and travel-friendly essentials and swaddles and blankets. The materials are eco-friendly and suited to the softness of a baby’s skin, making them comfortable, breathable and hypoallergenic.
This brand received $2.1 million in funding in 2021 during a Series-A round from Titan Capital, DSG Consumer Partners and Saama capital. An additional Rs 3.5 crore venture-debt funding was provided by Alteria Capital. Pallavi has stated plans to use this funding to expand the product portfolio to include children’s underwear and sheet dryers.
4. Sugar Cosmetics
Sugar Cosmetics is an online cosmetics beauty brand that was founded by Vineeta Singh and her husband, Kaushik Mukherjee in 2015. Vineeta Singh is an IIM-A alumnus who recently featured on the Shark Tank India series. She also happens to be a passionate triathlete, marathoner and mother to a 7 year old.
The brand sells lipsticks, eyeliners and makeup palettes, and acquired ENN beauty in January 2022. So far, the company has raised $35.5 million over three funding rounds.
Kivu is a relatively young and unusual D2C brand in that it sells sun-baked vegan and gluten-free cookies. It was founded in 2019 by Dr. Minal Kabra and Vaibhav Dugar. Dr Kabra is a dentist by training and a solar-chef by passion (hence the idea for sun-baked treats!). The idea for healthier treats came when Dr Kabra observed that dietary habits coupled with the lack of awareness on oral hygiene made the children living in rural areas more susceptible to dental problems.
Being a person who believes in sustainable living, Dr Kabra wanted to combat this and generate employment for women in Jalna. As a startup, the brand supports two families who serve as the primary bakers.
Kivu chefs use specially designed solar ovens to reduce the carbon footprint. The treats are available in a mix of flavors and are sweetened with Jaggery for guilt-free snacking. Kivu cookies are available in 72 stores across 17 cities.
6. Prisytn Care
Pristyn Care is a Gurgaon-based health tech startup founded by Dr. Garima Sawhney, Dr. Vaibhav Kapoor and Harsimarbir Singh. Pristyn care has 80+ clinics and partners with 400 hospitals.
Dr. Sawhney is a gynecologist and obstetrician with 14 years of field experience. Under her leadership, Pristyn Care raised $96 million in funding in April 2021, elevating it to the unicorn status at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The healthcare group recently launched the ‘CARES’ program which focuses on patient safety. CARES, which is an acronym for comfort, accessibility, reliability, excellence, and safety, intends to improve healthcare delivery by providing access to surgical technology, post-op care and last-mile connectivity.
7. The Good Glam Group
The Good Glam Group was launched by Priyanka Gill and Darpan Sanghvi in 2017 following the acquisition of PopXo, Gill’s media platform by MyGlamm. Priyanka is an MBA candidate enrolled at the LBS and Columbia Business School for the '23 cohort, and founded POPxo in 2014 before creating a content-to-commerce strategy through the Good Glam Group.
The company has bagged lucrative firms including BabyChakra, The Moms Co and ScoopWhoop . It has invested a further Rs 100 crore in Sirona Hygiene and is in talks to acquire the Raymond Group. The cash-and-stock deal which gives the Raymond group a stake in the company will be one of the largest acquisitions in the beauty and apparel industry. The triple G became a unicorn after raising $150 million in a funding round led by Prosus.
Tiggle is an Agra-based D2C startup that sells organic hot chocolate. The company was founded by Anuva Kakkar. At 23 years, Anuva is a Gen Z solopreneur whose passion for hot chocolate saw her sell over 2 lakh cups through 2021. Tiggle hot chocolate is made from premium cocoa that is sourced from organic farms in Tamilnadu. It is shipped to a manufacturing unit in Kakkar’s native Agra.
The idea came to Anuva when she found her options for hot chocolate both expensive and limited. She field-tested it by selling cups outside the DLF-Phase 3 metro station, rising at 4 and 5 am in the mornings to sell at kiosks before the pandemic curbed offline sales. In 2021, she sampled cocoa from different farms before deciding to partner with a 40-acre farm in Pollachi. Anuva’s bootstrapped venture has a customer base of 14,000 and sells on Amazon and Flipkart.
Mymuse is a sexual wellness brand that was founded in 2020 by Anushka Gupta and her spouse Sahil. Based out of Mumbai, Anushka is a psychology major from Tufts University and worked for WeWork and Samsonite before taking the entrepreneurial plunge.
This power couple founded Mymuse to encourage more shoppers to explore sexual wellness and intimacy aids. Feedback and user behavior data has been uplifting, with 50% of shoppers identifying as male. The brand sells via their website and social media platforms, relying on creative wordplay for their ad campaigns. Their product line includes candles, personal body massagers, eye masks and wellness kits.
10. Spring Diaries
Spring Diaries (formerly Red Velvet) is a clothing brand that was launched for Gen Z shoppers. Megha Poddar and Shradha Ponnappa are the brains behind the brand. Armed with degrees from the Vogue Institute of Fashion Technology, both women dove into lifestyle and clothing and currently sell home wear, kids’ dresses and Kurta sets and jumpsuits.
The girls started the brand by investing Rs 50 lakh and have graduated from a 250 square foot space to a 2,400 square foot space that houses both the brand and Ponnappa’s personal boutique.
GullyActive is an athletic apparel D2C brand founded during the pandemic by Arjavi Shah Marwaha. Arjavi graduated from Parson’s school of design with an associate’s degree and worked as a designer for the Tata-owned WestSide.
Prior to GullyActive, Marwaha had a brief directorial stint at Zeko Online retail which introduced her to famed international cricketer KL Rahul. The partnership fetched the brand media coverage from MINT, MensXP and the Economic Times, following which it was chosen to be the official merchandiser for the KKR and Rajasthan Royals cricket teams. The pandemic inspired Arjavi to relaunch her venture in 2020 under the name GullyActive . Today, GullyActive’s product line features technical athletic and athleisure wear that is both wallet and weather-friendly!
OZiva is a plant-based wellness and nutrition brand that was started by Aarti Gill 6 years back. Gill is an IIT-B electronics engineer who co-founded FitCircle in 2014 and OZiva two years later.
The brand sells beauty, skincare, hair and weight loss products. It recorded a 3x+ jump in operational revenue from 2020-2021, following a series-B funding round in March 2021 which released a capital of $12 million. The cash infusion has equipped the company to explore kid’s nutrition as a business segment, launching superfoods under OZiva kids.
The future for Women Leaders in the Indian D2C Market
As the Indian D2C market welcomes more women leaders, the gender divide is closing. Success stories of women like Falguni Nayar, Masaba Gupta and several others have mobilized other women to cater to niche needs. Social commerce too has created a shift in perception which in turn has impacted what’s in demand.
More and more women leaders are recognizing the need to start a business not just to stay profitable but to do something meaningful. This explains why many products that were previously stigmatized due to societal norms are coming up now, such as menstrual hygiene, sexual wellness, organic nutrition and environmental consciousness.
With digital platforms offering entrepreneurs the forum to connect directly with customers, smaller women-led D2C brands are able to turn the tide in their favor. Government-led initiatives and investor-led funding has steered towards gender-neutrality. Take the launch of the Women Entrepreneurship Platform by the Niti Aayog, for example. The initiative keeps registration formalities simple to enable women from any part of the nation to avail services such as mentorship, training, marketing support and incubation. Such measures can support women-led D2C businesses by helping them to get their foot in through the door, network professionally, study the market and run operations.
In conclusion, the combination of financial backing, social support and digitality has helped more women to launch labels and explore niches that are meet essential (and often unspoken) requirements.