In 2016, Disha Singh launched Zouk, a Mumbai-based vegan brand of bags, purses and accessories.
A graduate of IIM Ahmedabad, Disha has positioned Zouk as a vegan, cruelty-free, and PETA-approved brand that blends functionality with Indian motifs, prints, and fabrics. The brand has categories for bags, wallets and accessories, including laptop bags, women’s office bags, backpacks, handbags, wallets and glasses cases. The products can be purchased on Zouk’s website. Zouk is also part of Amazon’s Launchpad brands.
Last week, Zouk announced its expansion into cruelty-free footwear along with a rebrand.
In conversation with Your historyDisha spoke about the brand’s foray into the footwear segment and outlined their plans for the future.
HerStory (HS): What prompted Zouk’s expansion into footwear?
Disha Singh (DS): Right from the start, we wanted to operate in several categories in the lifestyle segment. We saw a gap in the bag market, so we were the first to fill it with our Proudly Indian and Cruelty-free Zouk products.
Earlier this year, we evaluated additional categories that we could enter under Zouk. We were dealing with customers and the first choice was shoes; So we decided to expand it.
HS: Tell us more about the shoe range.
DS: We entered the footwear segment with a collection of bellies, sandals, chappals and sliders. These are aimed at women in the 25-40 age group, our existing customer base for bags. You want to wear something classic and elegant.
Our products are made by people for people, and we focus on well-designed versus eye-catching and designer products. That was Zouk’s secret when it came to bags, and we’ve extended the same to shoes.
Aside from using the Zouk secret ingredient as a differentiator, we’ve spent a lot of time making our shoes super comfortable. We want them to be the women’s number one choice for everyday use in the office and outside, at parties and on vacation.
We will be expanding our collection over the coming months as we receive more customer feedback.
HS: What are the selling points of the shoe range?
DS: Our shoes are offered at reasonable prices, similar to our bags. Currently all of our products cost less than 2,500 rupees. We started with around 40 SKUs and plan to add more in the coming months.
We make Indian classic shoes that are cruelty free and super comfortable.
HS: Tell us about the rebranding process. What’s it all about?
DS: We went through a rebranding process as we felt our customers deserved a much better brand experience. So far we’ve been working with something created at the beginning of our journey.
Once the why was clear, we spent a lot of time understanding what we wanted for the new branding. We recognized that our products already mean something to our customers and we wanted the brand to reflect that.
We spoke to our designers and craftsmen to understand how they come up with a new design. We organized targeted group discussions with our customers, who shared their opinions on the products. Interestingly, both parties had most in common. They loved our India inspiration and cruelty-free focus. They also felt that Zouk brought subtle elegance to her personality. With this briefing we designed the new branding.
HS: How did you master the challenges of the pandemic?
DS: As a non-essential brand, we had to suspend operations during the first lockdown. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It allowed the Zouk family to examine themselves, connect with clients and chart a long-term path. It also brought the whole team closer together.
The biggest challenge was to continue to support our artisans as an early stage bootstrap company. We have not lost a single employee at this point. The growth has also been phenomenal.
HS: Can you provide figures on Zouk’s growth story?
DS: We operate in an area that meets the demand when people go to the office or on vacation. While this has all been muted over the past two years, we’ve seen the business grow 16x. We passed 200,000 satisfied customers in this phase. The shift to online shopping has given a big boost to a D2C brand like ours.
HS: You started a pre-Series A round in July 2021. How did that help you?
DS: Beyond capital, every investor on our journey so far has had a massive impact. They made us dream bigger, shared their experiences and guided us on our growth path. They were massive cheerleaders for the brand.
HS: Sustainability is a buzzword now, but what made Zouk so popular?
DS: When we started, vegan products were a foreign word. In one of our early Instagram posts, I remembered someone joking when we said vegan bags. We have done a lot to educate them to make more responsible choices.
Nowadays more and more customers want to make a more responsible choice. But it has yet to become mainstream. We believe that this will become a top criterion in the years to come. The ultimate test would be whether consumers are willing to absorb the higher cost of such products by paying a little more.
HS: Tell us about your initiative for further training and support for craftsmen?
DS: Our handcrafted products are carefully crafted by skilled artisans. That number has now surpassed 300 people who have been trained in using vegan leather and fabrics, which is new to them. After that, they weave their magic to create products of superior quality, workmanship and form.
HS: Does Zouk have plans to go global?
DS: We have always wanted to build a global consumer brand from India, with products that have an essence of India. This year we plan to expand our products to USA, Canada and Europe via online route. Thanks to word of mouth from our existing customers in India, we have already completed a number of bespoke orders. We will build on this base to build a large international company from India.