Entrepreneurs Arpit Mantri, 36, and Mili Gajera, 34, believe that if you have the mindset to reinvent and change, then opportunities will present themselves to you at every turn. In 2014, when Mumbai-based Mantri was looking for buttons for a his bandhgala jacket for a wedding in the family, he found that the choice of accessories for men was limited. “The ones I found in the market were too staid. I wanted something sophisticated and chic. That’s when I thought there may be others like me looking for something similar. That was my eureka moment for starting the Exquisite Co., an enterprise for creating exclusive handcrafted men’s accessories," says Mantri.

After working as a marketing consultant and a director of Blue Lotus Realty Project Consultancy, a family concern, Mantri decided to start the Exquisite Co. with Gajera, a jewellery designer and his sister-in-law. “We both bring different operational skills to the business but share the same overall vision to create a contemporary men’s accessories by employing local artisans," said Mantri. Gajera is a jewellery designer with her own jewellery brand and is based out of Jodhpur.

The genesis

Mantri approached Gajera for advice since she had knowledge of artisans in Rajasthan and could help Mantri get connected with them. “It took us two years to create designs, hire a graphic designer and set up an artisan workshop in Rajasthan. Since the product is handcrafted, no two sets of buttons or cufflinks look the same," said Mantri.

The Exquisite Co. offers buttons with a range of unique designs, mainly consisting of a coat of arms, insignias, and royalty symbols. The first line of buttons took inspiration from the state of Rajasthan with designs stemming from the state’s rich culture and heritage. Mantri then approached high-end established men’s ethnic wear labels in Mumbai (Ajay Arvindbhai Khatri, Just Men, and Kora to name a few) to showcase their work to understand the initial response. Finding the response to be positive, it gave them impetus to create further lines. They reach new clients through these labels and social media.

“Each of our pieces is handcrafted. Other than buttons and cufflinks, we have added other men’s accessories like brooches, collar crests and lapel pins to our collection," says Gajera.

Mili Gajera
Mili Gajera

While you can select a design from their existing collection, the Exquisite Co. also creates bespoke buttons and cufflinks, crafted by artisans in Mithri, Rajasthan. On average, a bespoke design takes a month to deliver. The buttons and cufflinks are created in brass, copper, and pure silver and can be customized to any colour. While the buttons are made to order, the cufflinks are kept in stock for instant purchase. The lead time for an existing design is 7-10 days depending on its intricacy. The button sets start at 7,500 for a set of five, and can go up to 26,000 for a set of 13. The cufflinks start from 2,500, with bespoke sets priced differently.

Marketing mantra

While Mantri handles the market and meetings with clients in Mumbai, Gajera takes care of the designing and manufacturing at the workshop. She also plays a key role in reaching out to bloggers and influencers.

Mantri is clear that their products are for a niche market. “Our clients are people, who care about craftsmanship and are looking for something intricate," says Mantri. Word of mouth has been the go-to method of marketing as they have gathered their loyal clientele through client references.

Social media has been another tool they have used to market their products. Orders are placed directly with the company or through their social media handles. Currently, they are in the process of tying-up with relevant online and offline platforms to make the products accessible.

Problems at hand

In the handcrafted market, it is difficult to sustain since the pieces are handmade with no two orders look the same. Sometimes, this becomes a challenge to explain to the client. Also, scaling up production is a challenge. Last minute client requests for customization, at times, cannot be accommodated since it takes weeks to create the design.

In the growing accessories market, The Exquisite Co. hopes to find a place as the go-to company for exclusive accessories for men.

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