The luxury market is touted to be worth around US $ 1.3 trillion globally and is growing at around 5 per cent. In India, about 30 per cent of the luxury market is dominated by garments, personal items and fashion accessories and is worth around US $ 6.25, experiencing consistent robust growth for decades. In fact, with COVID-19 and the consumers becoming more conscious about spends, the luxury segment is getting a higher push.
In the menswear market, both internationally and in India, there is a growing interest in the seemingly unassuming pocket square that the younger generation is preferring over traditional ties. Pocket Square is a small piece of square fabric that is folded and inserted into the pocket of the suit jacket chest and gives a distinct look to the outfit. Globally, the market for luxury pocket squares is dominated by players like Hermes, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Dior, Bulgari and PRADA. No Indian player has made a noticeable dent in this market, as yet, but recognising the opportunity and taking inspiration from Indian traditional weaves that have great reputation in the global luxury market, Gunjan Aggarwal and Bejoy Veer Suri co-founded Goulian Finch, and have entered the luxury retail domain of pocket squares with a bang. With the notion of reviving traditional handloom weaving and giving it an international twist, the duo has painstakingly created a brand that is world-class. It took them a lot of efforts and almost 2 years to perfect each design thread by thread, before they could start selling. What’s unique is that the brand deals with unconventional handwoven mulberry silk pocket squares that have been weaved painstakingly by the Benarasi weavers.
In conversation with the Founders of Goulian Finch to know more about the brand…
Flagging off Goulian Finch
“We went on a trip to France, and there, I saw men wearing pretty coloured pocket squares and we were inspired by that. So, we wanted to create hand-painted pocket squares, but by the time we were starting on this thought, we realised that the market already had similar products, but the art on these were digitally printed, so that took me on a journey to Benaras. I figured that the weavers in this part of the country were facing a difficult time because of the rise of electric loom. Getting men a flavour of hand-weaved accessory was then a priority for me and I got my first set of trial pieces done from here. The first design was supposed to be in seven colours, but there were lots of technical issues. Then we hired a team in Benaras who could work with the weavers and make them understand how to weave a pocket square,” Gunjan recalled the journey from the beginning.
The couple mentioned that it was not an easy journey for them and it took a long while and multiple visits for them to finalise every product. “Initially, they refused straight out. They didn’t want to do smaller designs as it took more efforts… and then we involved somebody who works at a university there and has worked with the weavers. We’ve been lucky to put together a team. It took us almost 2 years to get our first sample,” Gunjan further added.
Overcoming the challenges
“Even today, it’s a nightmare for us to go back and look at the numbers because when we started, we were so passionate about it we didn’t even look at the numbers. Each sample was setting us back by 40,000-50,000. But, we didn’t let the financials hit us. There are some other aspects to a pocket square, like hand-rolling. To find someone in India to do that took us 6 months. Finally, we got someone and trained her through YouTube videos,” Gunjan listed out the challenges they have faced.
“Most of the people who make pocket squares in India get it sewn by a machine; nobody gets it hand-rolled. So, we had to do a lot of trial and error, work with a lot of tailors, and reach out to a lot of people. We reached out to a lady who hand rolls pocket squares in England, and she replied to us in a rude e-mail saying, ‘If I do it for you, you’ll say it’s made in England’. Then we trained a few temple ladies for a year and got them to do it,” Bejoy added.
“From the time we started selling, we got a very good response globally, and things were okay to start with. But of course, post March, things have tanked. They are picking up slowly now. We’re getting orders for weddings,” Bejoy noted the initial response for the brand. The pocket squares for Goulian Finch are priced at Rs. 12,000 upwards. Commenting on the price factor, Bejoy mentioned, “If we sold it at a lower price, it would have sent a message to the market that the fact that it is handcrafted is not being valued. If we lower the price, we’ll definitely have more sales, but the message we want to send to the market is the product is ‘for people who value Indian handcrafted things’. We want to uplift the art factor associated with our brand and want to do justice to the handiwork of the weavers; the price here justifies our design process and efforts.”
The brand was stocked in premium luxury hotels and palace properties all across India. But with COVID-19, the founders are not eyeing offline retail so much now. Apart from their own website, they are selling to the International market through Not Just A Label, Aashni + Co. online, and through Taj Khazana offline. But the word of mouth sales has been one of the key markers for the brand since the start.
“There’s a niche gifting segment in India, and also people are shifting from wearing ties to pocket squares. We didn’t approach Goulian Finch from the route that the existing pocket squares in the market aren’t good enough; we saw this as an opportunity to create something that is unique. In terms of international brands, there isn’t much difference in pocket squares from one brand to another, but from my personal experience, if I am wearing a pocket square regularly, I would want something different, handcrafted. So we are getting responses from the global Indian traveler who wants to experiment, and then, there’s obviously the wedding market,” Bejoy highlighted.
Internationally, renowned brands like Alexander Olch, Boglioli, Turnbull And Asser, and many more are recognised for their designs and fabrics. But the handcrafted look of Goulian Finch undeniably sets it ahead of the race.
With 60 to 70 per cent customers being men, Goulian Finch wants to keep adding more male-centric artistic products to their portfolio in the days to come. From cuff links to ties in a later stage, the identity that the brand has created with its make will only be honed in the near future. The discerning man is the brand’s target audience, and they know that if they are selling luxe in an elevated manner, their followers will only increase. As for exploring other weaves of India, Bejoy stated that they are keen and have got some queries too. But with the pandemic, they are taking things a little slow and want to diversify when the markets are a little more opportune.