This trendy start up has tapped into the youth’s zeitgeist and then some with their innovative designs by conforming to the popular culture.
--By MUNA SUNWAR
Four friends, Rojeet Kayastha, Robin Shakya, Romin Shrestha and Yujen Shakya thought of starting a business during the first year of their undergraduate course. Rojeet Kayastha shares, “We thought of improvising on the concept of a regular textile business and ventured in with the idea of letting our customers have their own designs in apparels of their choice.” When Kayastha and his friends started the business, it was located in a remote area. People started visiting their store, which was meant only for online operation. “It became a little uncomfortable for customers to visit our warehouse like space because of which we opened a physical store,” he adds. They shifted the location to Jhochhen, Kathmandu in 2017.
Embracing Nepali Designs
Most of the apparel Nepalis use are industrialised clothing with similar designs and prints. Other than ‘I love Nepal’ printed t-shirts, apparels with Nepali designs have not come into the limelight. The co-founders of Custom Are Us, an apparel and merchandising company believe one’s identity is established by what people wear. Unable to find unique or eye-catching designs in clothes that portrayed the youth and the things they could relate with, the co-founders took a stab at it, with their goal being to create products that would be embraced by the locals.
The company in its initial phase customised t-shirts with their own designs. Since then, they have evolved and are providing their services to corporate companies by expanding their services to include merchandising items. Most of the designs depict the essence of being a Nepali and utilise phrases or iconography popular among the Nepali youth. Their ‘Tanab Nai Tanab’ T-shirt is one of their most popular products.
The startup has an array of apparel and merchandising products in its product portfolio. T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, jackets, personalised mugs, frames, glass photo clock, keyrings and plates are the popular products of Custom Are Us. The company also has miscellaneous items like business card holders, mouse pads, puzzles, badges, stickers, flash drives, iPhone cases, eco-friendly bags, pens, caps, flex/boards and visiting cards in its portfolio. The products start at Rs 50 and can go up to Rs 2,400. “The custom-made stickers cost Rs 50 and Nepal-made jackets cost Rs 2, 400,” says Rojeet Kayastha, co-founder of Custom Are Us.
The in-house designs are prepared and handled by Rojeet and the company also buys the artwork of local artists and promotes their work. “One of the main services we provide to our customers is we print their custom designs on any of our products without any ‘minimum order quantity’ barrier,” he adds.
Friends Turned Business Partners
Rojeet and his friends have been managing the company since its inception. Their journey as entrepreneurs started when the problem of unavailability of custom tees that would portray and relate with the youth became an inspiration for them to create their own brand. Their team comprises of four co-founders and four employees that handle the production and distribution aspect. The team works systematically, each founder leading the department they are familiar with. Rojeet handles designs for the products, Robin looks after the production part, Romin takes care of the factory and Yujen helps in every field that needs a helping hand. According to Kayastha, the input for the development of any product comes from everyone on the team.
The company welcomes individual clients who want their design on any product available in the store. Custom Are Us has been serving individual clients along with corporate clients like Meraki Events, WordCamp and MG Motors. A letter or photo print on a t-shirt costs Rs 1,000 and the prices can go up according to the details in the design. The startup’s major client comprises young people and they have been successfully gaining the attention of its targeted client. “People come to our store to get customised products for gifting purposes,” Kayastha informs, adding their client range has been expanding in recent days.
The trend of business houses promoting their companies through branded merchandise and promotional items is increasing in Nepal. Corporate clients order branded merchandise for charity events and for their offices. Individual clients seek products with their own unique designs to gift their loved ones. The interest in customised goods has increased which is a plus point for such businesses. The company was started with a seed capital of Rs 1 million and has an annual turnover of Rs 6 million. The growth rate of Custom Are Us stands at 220 percent in the current fiscal year 2017/18.
Producing a Nepal based product has posed challenges for the startup as people think the prices are higher. The stereotypical thinking of Nepalis that T-shirts cost only Rs 250 to Rs 400 has weighed down the company. People expect prices to be cheap as they are used to getting deals like two t-shirts for Rs 500. However, the company says they have not provided people with cheaper products as a response, instead, they have focused on maintaining the quality and reconstructing the stereotypical concept of people on Nepal-made products.
Kayashta believes if the designs are good and new, people do not mind paying a certain amount for the clothes. Plain products that are later designed are imported from China; the startup manages stitching and printing part.
Custom Are Us operates with a vision to benefit local artists. We have focused on quality and followed trends popular among Nepali youth. “Nepali youth can relate with the designs we offer,” he opines.
As a co-founder of a rising startup, Kayastha thinks the government should run support programmes to fortify the startup scene. “People are not aware of the fact that there are dedicated startup accelerators in Nepal,” he states, adding that there are people who want to venture into new businesses but they lack mentorship.
Kayastha took an entrepreneurship course as an undergraduate and thus believes he is part of the population that knows about entrepreneurship and ways to convert an idea into reality. “But if entrepreneurs of our mother’s age want to do something, they don’t actually have the platform to gain such insights.” Kayastha expresses.
The co-founder sees himself collaborating with many undiscovered local artists of Nepal to introduce better designs and products. He thinks the designing skills of Nepali artists are good and he aims to promote such designs in the form of Nepal-made products.
The company is opening a new branch in Jhamsikhel, Lalitpur this year. “We hope to expand in terms of outlets and also the production quantity of the products,” he shares, adding that the company wants to deal with the increasing customised apparel and merchandise demand of Nepal.