StyleAccessoriesSelf-Starter: Maya & Satish Singh On Building A New-Age Minimalistic Accessory Brand

Self-Starter: Maya & Satish Singh On Building A New-Age Minimalistic Accessory Brand

Do you find yourself drawn towards clearing out the clutter in your home, sticking to basic home decor and limiting your purchases to the bare minimum? Then you, just like every other Millennial and Gen-Z, are keen on leading a minimalist lifestyle. Minimalism chooses quality over quantity, treating materialistic possessions as investments and going to the core essential quality of objects to achieve simplicity. From home decor to other worldly possessions and food to fashion, the newer generations have adopted this lifestyle with grace. Minimalism in fashion is the antithesis of the modern consumerist narrative, a break from fast and unsustainable fashion, and for good reason. And one brand is helping you keep it simple when it comes to accessories with minimal, unique, trend-setting global styles that are understated yet distinctive.

In conversation with TC46, founders of the new-age jewellery and watch brand Joker & Witch, Maya & Satish Singh share the idea behind the brand. Here, Maya talks about creating a venture as a newly married couple, dealing with the intricacies of business and making the best of customer’s buying patterns in the pandemic.

1. What is your educational and professional background?

I did my Bachelors in Fashion and Lifestyle Accessory Design from NIFT, New Delhi and started my career working as an Accessory Designer with one of India’s top Designers Rajesh Pratap Singh. I then went on to work with Hidesign in Pondicherry as a product designer and got the opportunity to transition my career from design to retail. It was a great experience working there, post which I moved to Bangalore to join a fashion e-commerce startup Styletag. This is where I met my husband and partner Satish Singh. 

Satish has an MBA in Marketing from MICA, Ahmedabad and a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. After a few years of working with IT giants like Capgemini and HCL, he decided to pursue his passion for fashion and retail by joining one of India’s first fashion e-commerce websites Fashionandyou. He has had cross-functional stints in a couple of high growth e-commerce and retail startups such as Ibibo, Styletag and Koskii. With 15+ years of industry experience, he also helps budding entrepreneurs in incubating and scaling their online businesses.

Our combined experience across design, retail and e-commerce has definitely helped us in starting and scaling our own brand.

2. What prompted the idea for ‘Joker & Witch’?

It’s not one thing but a series of events that lead to the genesis of the brand. When Satish and I met, we would jokingly call each other Joker & Witch based on our individual alter egos. Satish has always been passionate about watches and after years of working in various companies when he finally decided to do something of his own, he knew it had to be around Watches. A quick look into the Indian watch industry, made him realise the gaps and opportunities that we could work on. Since I come from an accessory design background, working around watches, jewellery and other accessories came naturally to me. So when Satish and I met, our passions also came together and Joker & Witch was born.

3. Did you always know you wanted to work in this space?

Both Satish and I have always been very creatively driven and fascinated by the world of Fashion. Coming from Humble backgrounds, we both felt the pressure to become either an engineer or a doctor. While Satish had to pursue his engineering degree, I, fortunately, got to explore my creativity and realise my passion for accessories and design at NIFT. Satish ensured he altered the course of his career, even if it meant taking a pay cut, to follow his passion for fashion and retail. So yes, in a way both of us knew we wanted to work in this space and are extremely thankful for the way things worked out.

4. What was your first milestone and how did you get there?

No matter how much work experience you have, starting your own company is a completely different ball game altogether. When we started, we had both left our comfortable jobs, were newly married and it was just the two of us handling everything from figuring out the product manufacturers to managing e-commerce marketplace channels, from photography and content creation to setting up our website from scratch from understanding intricacies of finance and taxation to packing hundreds of orders by ourselves. We learnt so many new things and made so many mistakes in the process that every little achievement seemed like a milestone. The first three years of our journey were extremely bumpy with lots of ups and downs. Talking about major milestones, our very first milestone was when we sold almost 5,000 watches selling exclusively on one of the marketplace websites, in the third month of our business. This joy was short-lived as the company shut down within a few months and we had to hop on to other marketplace channels. But it gave us a huge boost in terms of the business potential and was a strong proof of concept for us. Our next big milestone was when we launched our own website as this ensured we had full control over our sales and marketing and were not dependent on other marketplace channels. 

5. What are your tips for an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to enter this space?

  1. Be very sure of what you want to do, why you want to do and when you want to do it. It’s important to research and understand the gaps and opportunities in the market, be passionate about the subject and ensure the timing is right.
  2. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a bumpy, lonely and hard journey that can test the grit of the best in the business. It requires perseverance, passion and courage to push through all the obstacles that will come your way. So be prepared for it.
  3. Be on top of your finances. Start small, lean and strong. Avoid unnecessary expenses. Aim to achieve profitability rather than chasing valuation.
  4. Be ready to get your hands dirty doing things you have never done before and learning new things every single day. Ensure you have fun ticking off tasks from your never-ending to-do list.
  5. Get a partner who can balance your strengths and weaknesses. It’s good to have someone who has equal skin in the game, is equally passionate and experiences all the best and worst moments of the business along with you.

6. What were the 3 best business/financial decisions you made?

  1. Streamlining our categories and focusing on building each vertical before foraying into new categories.
  2. Staying lean and frugal in terms of our expenses right from day one. 
  3. Ensuring we were profitable from the beginning and taking debt capital when it was the right time for us to scale up. 

7. How long did it take you to monetise your venture? What was the turning point?

We were able to monetise our venture right from the first month of business as we were exclusively selling on e-commerce marketplaces and always had positive unit economics. But the turning point for the business was when we launched our own website and were able to control our visibility and sales, directly reaching out to our customers across India.

8. Are you looking for funding/have-acquired investment/intend to bootstrap your business?

We are extremely proud to have been able to build a profitable D2C brand staying bootstrapped all this while. In the process, we have learnt how to be extremely cautious about where we spend our money, have been able to identify our core strengths and weaknesses and have been able to grow steadily without making any big blunders. For the next stage in our growth story, we are looking to raise funds by the next financial year so that we are able to scale up, reach a much wider audience and grow the business at a much faster pace.

9. Who are the key employees/vendors you need to secure to work in this space (the first 3 hires/vendor partnerships)?

Since Satish and I managed a lot of the work initially, our first three hires were in packing, quality control and order management. Having said that, I believe that since in an e-commerce business the pace is quite fast, every department is equally important and needs to be in sync with each other and with the company goals on a daily basis. For a brand like ours which is primarily online, photography and creatives, merchandising, marketing, design, warehouse, logistics and operations, packing, finance all play very important roles.

10. How do you intend to scale up/expand your business in the next 5 years?

In the next 5 years, we intend to become a cult global watch and jewellery brand emerging out of India. In the next few months and years, we will expand our product categories and aspire to go omnichannel by opening kiosks and stores that will bring our shopping experience to life and allow our customers to have more meaningful interactions with our products. 

Our vision is to create a ‘House of Profitable Brands’ in the Fashion and accessories D2C space, which creates exceptional value to its customers, employees and shareholders. While our first brand Joker & Witch is a new-age contemporary watch and jewellery brand for the Millennials and Gen Z, our second brand Teejh focuses on working with Indian craftsmen and creating India inspired jewellery, sarees that the modern Indian women can relate to. We aspire to create and grow distinctive brands in verticals such as pets, fragrance and wellness, food and experience and also start a non-profit foundation aiming to address some of the concerning issues in society. 

11. How has your business pivoted after the lockdown and in light of the pandemic?

The last two years have definitely been tough for most businesses due to the pandemic. We too faced issues with our production cycles, logistics, and deliveries due to lockdowns in different parts of the country. But since people are stuck at home, online shopping has seen a boom and being an e-commerce brand we have been able to gain from that. We have seen slight shifts in our customer’s buying patterns and the kind of products they are investing in, but overall we have only grown during this period.

12. Can you tell us a little about Teejh?

We launched our second brand Teejh in November 2019 when we realised that even in the cluttered space of the Indian ethnic jewellery market which mostly consisted of blingy festive pieces, there was a demand for simpler and subtle styles that could seamlessly blend into an indo-western wardrobe. We wanted to bring together ethnic-inspired styles that today’s modern Indian woman could wear every day even with her western outfits. Our designs are traditional with a modern touch, affordable, wearable and relatable. Currently, we have oxidised silver jewellery along with a range of handpicked sarees and intend to launch new collections and categories this festive season.

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We spotlight inspiring women who are entrepreneurs or have skill-based passion projects and are willing to share knowledge, advice and tips about getting started in the space. Each Self-Starter’s story will be highlighted in a prime slot on the Homepage for a whole week, after which their story will appear under the ‘Work’ category on The Channel 46.

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