Riya Kalra is from Mumbai, India. She lived in the U.K. and Spain for seven years while studying and speaks English, Hindi, some Spanish and Marathi, one of India’s local languages. Having completed her Bachelor of Business Administration at EU Business School in 2013, she returned to Mumbai to live and work. As an entrepreneur, she has very little time for hobbies, but loves to swim when she can.
We spoke to Riya about her entrepreneurial journey and how her BBA has impacted her career.
How did you come to found Candyskin?
I’ve been working with my dad since I was 16. I used to visit my father’s plant and learn about everything from technical to production processes; everything. My father manufactures industrial textiles. These are a different kind of textiles, the ones you require mostly to manufacture tires. I took a break to study and after I finished my education, I went to work for him again. I began independently handling sales for a product they had never previously sold. I was just one person looking after multiple aspects of the business around that product, including, sales, marketing, overseeing dispatching, and I was good at it.
Then, my sister had the idea of starting this business. She needed some help finding production houses and then marketing, branding, sales and all of that. So, we got to work. It took us about a year because we lived in China for a month to learn how bras are manufactured. Then we launched Candyskin in January 2017.
We currently sell our products in about 250 stores in India. We have had many international opportunities, including selling in Selfridges in London, but they had some exclusivity clauses we didn’t like. So, we aren’t selling at any international locations yet, but we do sell online via about 15-17 different platforms. My sister takes care of production and company finances, and I take care of everyday operations, as well as marketing off and online.
What has surprised you about starting your own business?
Just how much I’ve learned. You gain experience fast, and it’s real-time experience in things that you haven’t thought about before. And that’s because you’re dealing with different people and different mentalities. I lived outside India for almost seven years and when you’re out for that long, your mindset is a little different from the typical Indian mindset. So, it takes a little time to understand how people over here work. And the work culture is very different here to how it is in Europe.
We also didn’t expect that when we started we would be packing cartons, taping and barcoding the boxes ourselves. You come to realize just how much you need to do, things like paperwork, taking care of the legalities and some other requirements that are unique to India. We learned a lot. I now feel like I can like guide other people and say, “OK, don’t make all of these mistakes, we’ve already done them, here’s how to avoid them.”
You have said you are one of the first companies of your kind in India, how so?
In India, most industries or companies are male dominated. What’s different about our company is that it’s founded by two women who are producing and selling products for and to women. Generally, in our industry, most brands are led by men. And I don’t think someone who’s not a woman can really understand what a woman needs.
Would you say that Candyskin has a niche in the market?
We are very good at functional lingerie. For example, we have products that are antibacterial; we’re the first company to offer them in India. Women here tend to get a lot of UTIs because of the really hot weather; bacterial and fungal infections are more common in Indian women. Our underwear helps to prevent these problems for up to 100 washes.
We took this direction because of our own experiences and the realization that these antibacterial products were not available on the market. And it’s been going really well. We now also sell bras that are antibacterial and moisture wicking because, as you know, India is hot.
How do you evaluate the market and introduce new products?
Well, we do lots of things but one of those is that whenever we have a new product we are planning to launch or want to develop, we ask everyone in our to office try it and we get their feedback. Only then do we move forward. We won’t launch a product if nobody likes it.
Do you specifically hire women, or are you open to all candidates?
Job roles at Candyskin are open to all candidates, but we prefer hiring women. We do have more men working in the warehouse. We want to support other women as much as we can; even the factories we work with the employ the maximum possible percentage of women, all of them including laundry factories, providers, etc. We monitor that carefully.
Do you develop your marketing strategies in-house?
We have an in-house marketing team who devise different concepts for what we want to do and products we are planning to launch. We’ve done lots of different projects and even had a collaboration with MTV India. Millennials here still watch MTV.
How do you feel about the body positivity movement?
It’s amazing. We are also going in that direction and use real women instead of hiring models for our shoots. Ultimately, we want women to be able to see themselves in our clothing.
How has studying at EU impacted your career?
The curriculum at EU helps you to understand what’s coming in the future, even though at the time you don’t really have the experience to see it because you’re just a student. For me, it was a lot of the guest speakers that had the biggest impact on my career, like when I met Jean-Claude Biver from LVMH Group, Zenith and Hublot, or Dr. R. Seetharaman from Doha Bank.
All of these real people talking about their businesses and sharing case studies from their own experiences are much more illustrative than just sitting in class because they’ve been there, they’re running their own businesses on a daily basis. I learned a lot from those guest speakers.