This woman entrepreneur is bringing luxury clothing from European fashion boutiques to Indian consumers

Quick commerce and instant gratification have become all the rage, and Antwerp, Belgium-based startup AiSPi has been sustainably building a fashion boutique discovery platform on a trunk show model. The company claims a whopping 95 percent of its customers are based in India.

Entrepreneur Aisha notes that a lot of European designer brands remain hidden from the global fashion scene. The ecommerce platform sources products from unique and lesser-known boutique stores and designers across Europe, list them on the fashion website, and make them available at trunk shows. 

AiSPi also serves as a “Michelin guide” for shopping to tell people what’s beyond the main shopping streets of Europe, cataloguing around 20 to 25 stores each in 18 cities as of now.

While Aisha started off believing anybody travelling to Europe could be the target audience, she is happy that a focus on the Indian market developed organically. 

“The biggest value that we are bringing is to my audience back home in India. I saw they were the most engaged, the most excited, and it was a really nice feeling. And since then, we’ve pivoted to keep our focus on the Indian market,” she tells HerStory.

The Indian consumer’s appetite for fashion has grown tremendously during the pandemic, with the online fashion industry registering 51 percent overall growth, according to the Fashion E-commerce Report published last year.

The beginning

After completing her bachelor’s in finance and management from The Wharton School, Aisha worked at Ernst & Young in New York and Belgium, where she now lives with her husband. 

In a quest to combine her two passions–fashion and travel, Aisha spent her weekends scouring unique finds from different boutique stores across 14 European cities for two months. 

“I would pair up with videographers and photographers and actually visit these boutique stores to talk to the people to understand their concept and learn more,” she says, recalling the initial days of building AiSPi in 2017.  

Aisha noted that designer brands in India are either divided between wearing brands like FabIndia and the likes of Sabyasachi or Abu Jani. While the latter brands’ starting price is from about Rs 1 -2 lakh, AiSPi’s average product pricing of about Rs 40,000 appears affordable for luxury brands. 

It claims to fill the pricing gap between FabIndia and Sabyasachi, with prices ranging between Rs 10,000 and Rs 80,000 – Rs 1 lakh. 

After one year of identifying and curating the products and processes, the website was launched in 2018. Aisha has been successfully juggling the venture till she quit her full-time job in November last year.

Bootstrapped so far, Aisha made the first big initial investment of about €15,000 after establishing a market demand and used it to build the website and branding. 

How it works?

The platform strictly operates on a trunk show model and sells only during multi-format experiential trunk shows organised in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Antwerp, as well as virtually during the pandemic. 

Aisha explains, “If you visit our website today, we will not be selling to you. We will take your information, note your request, and when we launch our next trunk show, we will make sure that you are invited or send a virtual invitation link if you can’t physically make it.”

In just about 40 to 45 selling days in the last three years, AiSPi has clocked an impressive turnover. While conducting regular business online like any other ecommerce platform is likely to generate more sales, Aisha says the current model allows AiSPi to add greater value to customers by curating for a specific clientele and “not feel pressured to sell for the heck of it”. 

Over the years, the trunk show model has helped build trust and create a sense of exclusivity. The startup now has a network of over 10,000 customers that are engaging with the brand, actively communicating and attending its events.

Moving forward, it aims to expand and go beyond Europe to identify boutique stores and eventually look at menswear as well.

While the startup does not have any direct competitors, marketplaces like Ajio Luxe has luxury products in similar price ranges and beyond.

The roadblocks

Donning the entrepreneurial hat meant Aisha dabbled with everything–from steam ironing the products to SEO and marketing, website maintenance, public relations, accounting, and every step along the way. 

In the initial days, most boutique stores wouldn’t support and value her platform despite unlocking new customers for them, she says.

“I am the one that has come with a photographer and a videographer. All I ask is if we can take some photos and videos of their products, giving free publicity, and they would say that I am disturbing their clients. And that pinches you because you’re talking about their brand so passionately on the platform,” she says, adding that the boutiques are listed for free to ensure independence of curating products.

While the ecommerce venture has generated a lot of excitement and demand for these boutiques, the biggest challenge facing AiSPi today is hiring talent and a good team to expand further.

Having switched from a corporate job consulting startups to running one herself, Aisha best sums up her journey by stating that just like motherhood, entrepreneurship doesn’t come with a guidebook, and one has to do whatever it takes with passion. 

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