Disha Singh has been able to carve a successful venture within a short span of time. Armed with an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, and experience of working with some leading organisations, Disha decided to don the entrepreneurial hat in 2016. She established her company ‘Sea Turtle Private Limited’ in the same year, and launched her first brand Zouk. With a mission to create cruelty-free vegan bags by combining India’s heritage with modern functionality, Zouk today has over 40,000 loyal customers.
To understand more about the company’s vision, its view on veganism, as well as its current focus, we got in touch with Disha. Here are the excerpts from the interview:
Zouk’s journey over the past four years has been commendable. Which all factors helped in this growth?
Zouk’s four-year journey has seen a few things change while some remaining constant from day one. Right from the beginning, we believed in building a 100% vegan, cruelty-free brand. That took some time to take off but now customers love us for being a responsible brand. This has happened because of the love we got from the early adopters in the market, who gave a young digital brand like ours a chance. They also spread the word amongst their friends and family, which tremendously helped us reach a customer base of 40,000.
Our decision to pivot from offline to online helped us scale up fast. The content we put out on our Instagram and now YouTube channel have helped build a voice for a 100% vegan and proudly Indian brand in a market dominated by western looking brands. In early 2021, we also raised a seed round of funding from Titan Capital and the founders of Beardo, and Mamaearth. Their advice and insights have been super helpful for us to grow fast in a very short time.
What made you think that the market was ripe for vegan bags in 2016 since veganism started gaining popularity in India only over the last couple of years?
Very honestly, we cared less about the market size at the beginning. We were more focused on building a responsible brand. We saw some horrific videos of how animal-based leather is made and we decided we don’t want to build that. That is how we started making vegan bags. We have been lucky that the Indian consumer started understanding this. We still believe that this is just a start and more consumers will start understanding the need to become more responsible. What’s the easiest way to do that than to pick a cruelty-free vegan bag!
Do you think there has been a change in the mindset of customers? Are they more aware now about animal rights and the environment?
Absolutely. Earlier, consumers cared about the looks, functionality and price of their bags. Over a period of time, we have seen our customers describe the bags saying it is cruelty-free and vegan, instead of just talking about the other factors.
Animal leather is still considered one of the most durable forms of leather. Do you think manufacturers using vegan leather require more effort to convince customers about their product quality?
There is a misnomer in the market that animal leather is the most durable form. That is not correct. We spent about seven months building the first set of products. We did a lot of research and testing of our early products. One of the things we realised was that vegan leather is also durable and long-lasting. Customers typically use a bag for 1-2 years. Both types of leather bags easily last for both these durations. Some of our customers from 2018 and 2019 still use our products, which they bought back then.
I think luxury brands have spent a lot of time and marketing dollars talking about fancy animal leather and its properties. That creates a misconception. But I am increasingly seeing those brands also adopt vegan leather. Collectively, as an industry, this will get fixed.
As a brand, you focus a lot on Indian craftsmanship. Do you think these artisans are getting their due share now as more brands have started realising the potential of India’s heritage? What more should be done?
This is something that we believe brands have missed out on. We found a gap here and hence all our products have an essence of India. That has been another big reason why our customers buy Zouk products. For example, our Women’s Office Bags became really popular because customers looked for an Indian bag to carry to office whenever they were wearing an Indian ethnic salwar kameez.
Having said this, we believe we have just gotten started. There are a lot of Indian handicrafts that we need to take to different parts of the world. That is when our Indian heritage will get its due recognition. We need to do what the Yoga community has done globally.
There are a lot of vegan leather brands in the market now. What makes you stand out?
Glad you asked that. When we started, we were the first ones and we kept thinking if customers would support us. They have done that, which has nudged others to follow suit. But apart from being the early one, our products truly help us stand out. The entire process from designing a new product to making them has helped ensure the highest quality. Our customers love the Indian prints and the fact that we focus on the functionality of the product too.
With so many luxury brands as well as sports apparel mammoths experimenting with vegan leather, do you think conventional leather will be phased out soon?
We hope so. Bags and wallets can definitely become a more responsible category and set the trend for other categories to follow. If the other brands don’t follow suit, we will continue to take the lead in spreading this message.