Shikha Kajaria is a quintessential South Delhi diva. Mother to three boisterous boys, a gym addict, and the owner of a chic wardrobe replete with black dresses of all kinds. Gayatri Reddy Bhatia, on the other hand, is a bubbly beauty from Hyderabad, mom to two sweet girls, and a lover of books, cricket and creativity, a fact amply reflected in her closetful of vibrant outfits with nary a black one in sight.
Despite the differences, these two unlikely companions are bound together through friendship and an overarching love for fashion. We meet the entrepreneurs for a freewheeling chat, where amidst makeup application, hairstyling and outfit trials for the shoot, they spill the beans on running a business and maintaining strong partnerships.
“I love clothes. Just looking at them gives me immense joy. And when you do something that you love, it doesn’t feel like work,” smiles an exuberant Gayatri, while Shikha chimes in, “I’ve always been a fashion enthusiast but was apprehensive about entering the production side of things. So when Gayatri and I discussed this idea over lunch one day, it seemed the right fit.”
Shikha is married to Rishi Kajaria, the Joint Managing Director of India’s premier ceramics brand, Kajaria Ceramics. Gayatri is part of the Reddy family associated with the Deccan Chronicle and the erstwhile IPL team Deccan Chargers; she’s married to Aneesh Bhatia, an entrepreneur and the son of the co-founder of Air Asia. Apart from their illustrious family connections, Shikha is involved in the CSR wing of Kajaria Ceramics, whereas Gayatri has worked with Deccan Chronicle for years, continuing to write features for them even now. Yet, neither had dabbled in business ventures of their own until they envisioned Sverve, with things taking a drastic turn when the pandemic struck.
“Everyone started shopping online during the pandemic. Every business was overhauled, and fashion, too, had to embrace this medium to survive,” Gayatri shares with candour. “When we were in Dubai with our children last year, it was impossible to go shopping because my kids hate being dragged to stores! Fortunately, I discovered this online portal where everything was delivered to us in two hours flat. It was so convenient.”
“Shikha and I decided to do something similar in India. The way we dressed had also changed to a more casual vibe, so we made the offerings all prêt, priced under Rs 50,000. Our USP is the delivery of the outfit within 24 hours in Delhi and within two to three days pan-India. A recent order in New York reached the client in just four days!”
Highlighting how Sverve is an e-commerce platform with a difference, Shikha says: “We wanted to focus on homegrown products, so all our 22 designers are independent Indian labels. Each one is doing great things in their field but lack the visibility or the reach of A-list designers. By bringing talented designers together, we aim to satisfy both our clients and the sellers on our platform. Our motto is whoever wants a nice outfit quickly, can get it in one click.”
The two have a shared vision — to make online shopping for unique designs an easy proposition. They do this by scouting through social media channels and other mediums for the best upcoming indie designers; by offering quick delivery of outfits catering to last-minute social gatherings or travel plans; and by classifying clothing as per body types (curvy, petite and everything in between), making the task of scouting through endless options a less daunting one.
When it comes to their own fashion aesthetic, however, they are as divergent as chalk and cheese. Where Shikha dons comfortable jeans and T-shirts for daily wear and a slew of safe black dresses or occasions, Gayatri enjoys experimenting with silhouette, colour and sparkle. These differences in personal style work in their favour, allowing them to represent and cater to a wide variety of sartorial preferences on Sverve.
Though initially they sought the help of industry experts like Pernia Qureshi to set up shop, they soon found their own feet. Their large social circle, consisting of both friends and professional connections, enabled them to bring a cornucopia of designers on board.
“We add a handful of new designers to the plattform every month, and are growing steadily as word spreads,” says Gayatri.
Online sales, data and analytics are indicative of popularity. But these power ladies tasted real success at their first on-ground pop-up in Hyderabad recently, which was very well received.
“It was lovely to see that buyers and sellers were both happy,” Shikha shares. “We were trying to get the pulse of the market, to gauge whether a western wear pop-up would do well, and we were amazed at the results.”
Friends turning business partners can be a tricky transition, but these two self-assured women brush this notion away, with more pop-ups of this kind on the cards as the brand continues to grow.
“I was always wary of having a partner, worried that there might be an ego clash. But we both found our middle ground. We multitask and work together as a team,” Gayatri elucidates. Shikha adds, “The transition from friends to partners was beautiful and so easy. We always communicate openly, and it helps that we share the same vision. It’s so important to have trust and faith in any partnership.”
However, their relationship isn’t all work! The foundation of Shikha and Gayatri’s business connection lies in their comfortable camaraderie with each other. Married to two best friends, they socialise, travel and spend plenty of time together outside the office. While Shikha feels she couldn’t have asked for a better partner as they are both easy-going and happy-go-lucky people, Gayatri hands out this sage advice: “Two heads are always better than one, but you should initiate a partnership only if you get along with each other. It’s also important to be with someone who brings something unique to the table. Partners must complement one another.”
Then there’s their personalities that certainly add distinctive flavour to their relationship. Where Shikha enjoys cooking, working out and playing fun group games like Psych! with her boys for downtime, Gayatri enjoys reading, yoga and engaging in fun activities with her young children.
Starting a new business is difficult on many counts, and it took a year for the idea of Sverve to see the light of day. When asked to share advice on setting up a new venture, Gayatri responds, “Do your research and be very particular about your finances. Don’t do anything that doesn’t make financial sense. Most importantly, you must be hands-on. It’s a 24x7 commitment.”
But it is Shikha who nails it when she says, “When it comes to starting your own business, follow what you like because you should want to be at work and not have to be at work.”
Going by their example, a team of besties working together is not only a pleasurable proposition, but also an assured recipe for success.
Photography: Abhishek Khandelwal; Creative Direction & Styling: Amber Tikari; Hair & Makeup: Divija Puri
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in HELLO! India’s October 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!