Bombay Shirt Company, Akshay Narvekar, luxury apparel brand, work culture

A combination of indoor plants, carefully placed lounge furniture and an artfully selected palette of materials and finishes makes the office of the Bombay Shirt Company look like it belongs in an interior décor magazine. Workstations are open plan, against a backdrop of elegant colours. In a corner is a cabin. The furniture has clean lines, and there is little in the way of artefacts or artworks.

This is the new office of Akshay Narvekar, 37, founder of the Bombay Shirt Company, a luxury bespoke apparel brand headquartered in Mumbai’s Lower Parel (East).

“I have been collecting images and references for offices over the years, so when it came down to doing this, we were lucky enough to find architects who were not egotistical enough to say ‘look it is our project, we will do what we want’. They took on board everything that I asked for and then shaped it in a more professional way to get the output that we wanted. The space is a reflection of our brand, trying to keep it pared down and minimalist, but at the same time just using good materials. It is also the theory of transitivity. The brand is a reflection of me, and the office space is a reflection of the brand," explains Narvekar.

References to the brand are discreetly dotted all over the office—wooden buttons serve as door handles. A square sign saying “Bombay Shirt Company", given to Narvekar by his mother, is placed at the reception.

Except, this is not exactly a space that purports to house a luxury bespoke apparel brand.

Narvekar insists he sees the Bombay Shirt Company as a tech company. “We want to go from being tech-enabled to be a tech company. So most of the hires who come from the tech side want to know that ‘we’re not joining a tech-enabled company we’re joining a tech company.’ It’s going to take some work because that’s not how we were set up historically. Data science is going to be a big part of what we do going forward across the board," states NarvekarT

The open-plan office against a backdrop of elegant colours
The open-plan office against a backdrop of elegant colours (Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint)

Narvekar’s vision is to automate everything possible in the customer purchase journey, whether that is using algorithms to predict what looks good on a particular body type, to setting up machinery and robots in a brand-new factory to deliver on his company’s celebrated personalization promise, with minimal human intervention. “Over the next six months to a year, I don’t think we will be focused on growth, but just really understanding the customer journey and refining at every level, setting up the infrastructure. We’re automating our entire manufacturing from end-to-end," he says. Last month, the company had raised $8 million from venture capital firm Lightbox.

The digital shift

Narvekar’s reinvented vision prompts me to ask myself, how different would the office have to be if it were that of a tech company?

First, the cabin. Should it stay or should it go? Tech company founders are split on that one. Some are open plan, some keep them, often using them as a default meeting room.

“We thought long and hard about whether I need a cabin. Initially, the idea was I want to sit with everybody and be part of the whole thing. But there are certain sensitive conversations for which we would need a cabin. And the corner office was just more of a space optimization perspective, it was a layout issue," says Narvekar.

Second, work culture. All tech companies that I’ve met emphasize how important their people are to the business. Narvekar is equally adamant. “My job is to make sure that whoever comes into this company at any level has to fit the DNA and the culture that we’re trying to bring about."

Finally, there is the question of collaboration and meeting rooms, which are widespread in tech companies. Narvekar offers a contrarian view. “We are not much for the meeting culture. There are four spaces where people can meet: the small meeting at the entrance, the open area, the pantry, which is actually where most of the meetings happen, or the conference room, which is never really used till someone comes in to meet us. So it’s an informal setting, in that teams are aligned to sit next to each other based on people who they work with the closest, so they have a conversation across the table from each other."

It is an interesting perspective. Some startups don’t like frittering valuable time in endless meetings, while for some they are an essential part of the daily working life.

One thing that is unlikely to change is Narvekar’s creative impulse.

“I pick the fabrics that we offer. I do it, the team helps me but I still do that myself." The workplace infuses creativity, he says.

“We used to be in a box. Here, we have windows, greenery... all these things stimulate a happier mindset."

Aparna Piramal Raje meets heads of organizations every month to investigate the connections between their workspace design and working styles.

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