Ask any woman to name the most important accessory in her wardrobe, and you’re likely to receive one of two answers — bags or shoes.
Considering their importance and widespread usage, shouldn’t we be choosing vegan and sustainable options over their leather counterparts? This is certainly what Mansi Gambhir believes — the Creative Director and Founder of Gurugram-based THE GUSTO, launched in November 2020.
“THE GUSTO, as its name implies, is an enthusiastic and zesty brand. By providing functional products, including handbags, laptop bags, desk accessories, and more, we strive to simplify and organise the lives of our customers,” shares Mansi as she joins YS Weekender for a chat.
She adds, “We build our core offerings on our customers’ feedback, whether they are professionals, students, or household members. Our mission is to provide affordable, user-friendly, sustainable, and handmade accessories to everyone.”
A BTech engineer by qualification, Mansi has ten years of experience working with multinationals like Infosys and the Royal Bank of Scotland. In 2016, she started her entrepreneurial journey with GALLOP INTERNATIONAL — a sister company of THE GUSTO — which manufactures handbags for various domestic and international brands.
“Our goal was to create bags with sustainable materials and functionality as the sole purpose. Hence, we use only vegan leather, essentially a polymer, which is a near substitute for leather. It is both cruelty-free and environmentally friendly. It has leather-like grains and texture and yet causes no harm to livestock,” she explains.
Adding, “Since it is a factory-made product, it expands our design options by allowing us to choose from a wider range of colours and combinations. Besides, our product selection includes organic cotton linings and vegan suede and corduroy varieties, resulting in exquisite goods.”
Mansi asserts that THE GUSTO’s diverse products cater to people of all ages, including students, teachers, doctors, pilots, IT professionals, and homemakers, looking for a well-organised and functionally rich accessory.
For instance, one of THE GUSTO’s users who runs a school was so impressed with the bag that she ordered one for each of her teachers as a women’s day gift.
Along with its website and Instagram handle, the brand is available on all major ecommerce portals, including Amazon, Nykaa, Nykaa Fashion, Ajio, Caelum, and Flipkart, and ships pan-India.
In fact, it also offers online services to clients in the United Arab Emirates through its UAE website.
Products on offer
Besides manufacturing bags in many categories, THE GUSTO recently introduced a line of corporate décor, which features wide-ranging products, including trays, baskets, and organisers, to make your work environment less stressful.
Made from 100 percent cruelty-free vegan leather, Mansi describes these utility organisers are perfect for all office essentials.
“There is no seasonality in our collection. Instead, it is driven by our interactive customer feedback process, allowing us to know what our customers are looking for in a bag and incorporate their demands into the next offering,” says the founder.
For example, THE GUSTO created the Beyond Tote in its COSMOS collection for women who love carrying their world in their bags but prefer a sleek, stylish, and useful one to hold.
“The bag went through multiple iterations before we knew it was the right product,” she adds.
Its products are priced between Rs 1,000 for its wallets and go up to Rs 4,000 for the laptop and office bags.
Mansi calls all its customers true celebrities in their own right but also adds that her designs were spotted on the likes of Ahsaas Channa, Achint Kaur, and Saloni Chopra, among others.
Naming brands like Lino Perros, Mirragio, and Zouk — who offer similar products — Mansi believes her brand stands apart due to the focus on the high quality and utility of its bags. “We create bags with a purpose,” she smiles.
Moreover, she is working on developing new sustainable materials to raise the style quotient without putting a dent in customers’ wallets.
Recently, THE GUSTO released personalised tags for bags and plans to release an entire line of personalised bags soon.
As Mansi explains, “Our consistent focus is to organise our valued clients’ lives while they work, travel, and manage technology by supplying gadget-friendly cases and pouches, among other things.”
Challenges and growth
The volatility of the current market scenario — where THE GUSTO has oscillated along with the pandemic waves — was its most difficult challenge.
However, Mansi proudly shares the brand was fortunate to receive strong support from its internal and external stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, and workforce, as it navigated market uncertainties.
She says, “We had faith in our products, which led us on a journey of perseverance. After the second wave, the brand grew 30 percent monthly with almost no marketing costs. Our growth was fuelled by repeat customer orders and direct customer feedback.”
“Our products are our most significant proof of innovative concept, and we are confident that we will reach unimaginable heights with these minimalist fashion accessories, functionally rich at an affordable price point, and can disrupt the ecosystem by becoming the customer’s first choice,” she adds.
According to Grand View Research, Inc, the Indian artificial and vegan leather market size is expected to be valued at $8.14 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 8.3 percent over the forecast period. Thus, brands like THE GUSTO are poised for success.
Initially, the brand invested about Rs 25 lakh to set up the business, with Rs 15 lakh invested in fixed assets and Rs 10 lakh in working capital.
Since then, Mansi says, it has had an encouraging growth trajectory, where all its KPIs have increased. THE GUSTO has grown from one order per day to 50 orders per day through its website and other ecommerce partners.
Moreover, its Instagram following grew to 20,000 in a year organically only by word of mouth.
“In light of the overwhelming response from the Indian audience and international inquiries, we launched our UAE website recently and are processing orders there as well. Ultimately, our clients are our biggest supporters, and they spread the word about us. We have a large organic following and a high rate of repeat orders. We are bringing on SMEs to help us take our marketing to the next level. We are also working on increasing our offline brand presence,” she says.
Ending the conversation, Mansi shares, “With the encouraging results of the previous financial year, we are now prepared to commit a significant portion of our working capital to a dedicated marketing budget, which should propel our growth to the next level — 3X sales by Q2 of FY 22-23.”
She adds, “We believe in taking baby steps. So we have devised a detailed monthly sales plan that integrates our front and backend efforts. We are currently bootstrapped, so new funds are used to expand our manufacturing facility, increase working capital, and cover higher inventory costs.”