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Ankit Saboo turned his hobby of collecting bow ties into a business idea.
Ankit Saboo turned his hobby of collecting bow ties into a business idea.

How a collection of bow ties became a venture

  • Saboo believes that there are limited options for bow tie enthusiasts in India
  • Saboo launched Indian Bow Tie Co. with a line of woollen and cloth bow ties and later, introduced buttons and cufflinks

As someone who loves to dress up, it was no surprise that Ankit Saboo, 33, took a shine to bow ties when he noticed how people would wear them to work, at casual dos, and even as an every day accessory when he travelled abroad. For Saboo, it was in contrast to how people would wear bow ties in India—typically, as occasion or formal wear. He started collecting bow ties as a hobby and it culminated into a business idea about four years ago.

The genesis

In 2009, Saboo had joined his Jodhpur-based family business, Saboo Engineers, which manufactures and exports cement, mineral processing plants and machinery. But he knew that he wanted to run his own venture as well. “Initially, I did a lot of research on the food industry but the investment was very high. With Indian Bow Tie Co. (Saboo’s men’s accessory brand), I could use my own savings and investments to set it up. That apart, the whole idea of starting this company was not just about earning money but doing something for my personal satisfaction and love of fashion," he says.

In 2015, Saboo launched Indian Bow Tie Co. with a line of woollen and cloth bow ties and later, introduced buttons and cufflinks. The products are available online as well as in 12 stores across the country including Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Goa, Ahmedabad and Jodhpur.

Making the choice

Apart from the fact that bow ties can be a standout fashion statement, Saboo believes that there are limited options for bow tie enthusiasts in India. “There are some international brands such as Zara and Tom Ford that do satin or formal bow ties that are typically priced between 3,000 to 5,000 per piece but their availability is restricted to the metros. I have customers from remote areas in Jharkhand and Kerala as well as tier-II and tier-III cities buying from my website," Saboo claims. Priced between 1,100 and 1600, Saboo has not only played around with fabrics but also designs, to offer something unique. For instance, there are bow ties made with ikkat prints. About five years ago when Saboo bought a wooden bow tie from Two Guys Bow Ties in New York, it inspired him to make his own adaptation—the best-selling ‘Moochwala’ wooden bow ties in the shape of a moustache.

To keep fixed costs down, Saboo has only two full-time employees—a tailor and an assistant in charge of tracking orders and paperwork. He works on commission basis with a carpenter and metal smith. His office and storage space is in the same building as his family business unit. “Our yearly collection is made in bulk and we stock it. If there are any personalized orders, we do that on contract basis. For example, we did promotional bow ties for Simba Beer," he adds. Pretty much a one-man show, Saboo handles product design, development and marketing by himself.

Roadblocks

Since he doesn’t have a design background, Saboo spent eight months perfecting his designs, developing the product line and packaging, before the launch. “It was a process of trial and error. After experimenting with almost 30-40 bow ties, we hit gold with the perfect pastings, fabrics and knots," he adds.

According to Saboo, the first two years of launching Indian Bow Tie Co. were the hardest. “I was losing hope as there was not much sales. Then I realized that I had to make my products visible," he adds. Apart from pushing his products on social media, Saboo started travelling across the country participating in exhibitions and flea markets. Gradually, the business improved. “Out of the 12 stores that stock our products, six of them approached us on their own," he says.

Learning curve

In a hot country like India, not many want to wear bow ties during summers. “We have tried to show that one doesn’t just have to wear bow ties with shirts or formal wear; one can also experiment and pair it with a polo neck," he explains. In addition, Saboo expanded his portfolio to include cufflinks and buttons. Soon, they will be introducing lapel pins and wooden ties. “I realized that I needed to retain a customer’s interest for a few minutes when he visits my website. In order to do this, I have to offer a choice of products and not just one product," Saboo observes. According to him, their sales are highest during winter and the wedding season. “The average sale during this time is around 1.5-2 lakh per month from our bow ties, cufflinks and buttons. With more products in our basket, we look forward to achieving higher sales in the coming season."

The other lesson he learnt the hard way was to be careful about where he stocks his products and to patent his designs “Having a patent for our highest selling design would be added protection; plus, it would help with marketing," he explains.

For Saboo, the biggest takeaway is the satisfaction of having set up a business for a product he’s passionate about. “Recently, I met someone at a party who recognized me through my brand and said how much he loved our products. It was such a great feeling," he says.

Style Wise is a series that looks at how accessory startups are finding a niche and overcoming challenges.

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