Adrian Peter Tse
Nov 11, 2014

‘Contradict the status quo’: Mayarya’s advice for building fashion brands

HONG KONG - Given this city's high rental costs, international competition and a local market dominated by big players, launching a startup fashion brand requires a creative eye, the identification of a strategic gap and strong business fundamentals within a global context.

Reika Shetty, co-founder and CCO at Mayarya
Reika Shetty, co-founder and CCO at Mayarya

A lack of “variety and fashion” in the maternity-wear category served as the starting point for Mayarya, a local boutique with ambitions of being far more. When Reika Shetty, co-founder and chief creative officer of the company, experienced two pregnancies, the “opportunity” became personal.

“I’d worked in management for high-end stores like Intermix, Kirna Zabete in New York,” said Shetty, who went on to franchise Satine, a Hollywood multi-brand boutique, in Japan and to design and collaborate with top designers Alexander Wang, Jason Wu and Rebecca Minkoff.

“I was disappointed at the lack of exciting maternity wear on the market," she said. "It all looked the same. My two children, Maya and Arya, became inspiration for the Mayarya brand,”

Before Shetty had stepped into the fashion world, however, she’d studied finance and accounting and had worked in “finance in New York for a few weeks” before realising that it wasn’t her calling.

“My father was always a business type while my mother was artistic," she said. "I wanted to join the two together.” Determined to follow her passion, she landed an internship at a multi-brand boutique in Soho in New York and rose to a managerial executive position where her business skills complemented her eye for fashion buying.

Shetty believes that understanding the lifestyle of customers is a key to identifying niches that can be harnessed through a multi-brand setup. “You can curate and bring the best and most fitting fashion to your customers in a one-stop shop without restrictions of a single brand,” said Shetty.

This focus on understanding customers has helped Mayarya think of unique services such as “home fashion delivery”, which allows pregnant mothers to try on outfits from the comfort of their own homes. According to Shetty, Mayarya does at least four deliveries per week, and the idea originated with a customer. The store also serves as a meeting place for women and soon-to-be mothers. 

Mayarya store in Hong Kong's Sheung Wan neighborhood


One of Shetty’s mentors, Yutaka Tada, an ex-director at Issey Miyake, taught Shetty the importance of finding a “contradiction to the status quo” and then “solving this contradiction”.

“Our brand and marketing is about the experience of mothers and the emotions in pregnancy,” said Shetty, who discovered that there was nothing in maternity fashion wear that lasted from pregnancy to post-birth.  

“Women going through a pregnancy can suddenly feel alone because their family and friends aren’t going through the same experience," she said. "Their bodies change during pregnancy and aren’t the same after birth." This insight sparked a search for tasteful designer clothes that could be “adapted and worn” during and after pregnancy whilst forming the crux of Mayarya’s brand.

Armed with this proposition and a five-year business plan, Shetty did a thorough analysis of the market. The insights are that the maternity fashion sector is Asia is “fragmented” with a mix of traditional outlets as well as “wife and hubby startups that start out with a lot of passion but wane before they reach scale.” Major players include online stores such as ASOS and Shopbop that have maternity shopping sections. In terms of buying behaviours, pregnant women would also purchase plus-size clothes from brands like H&M that "wouldn't fit properly" in an attempt to maintain a level of fashion, Shetty said. 

Mayarya currently does its marketing in-house and employs a balanced use of “advertising and influencers” and its own customers to create word-of-mouth. “You want to advertise in the right way to the right people, involve your customers in offline and online and use influencers such as bloggers to build the brand organically,” Shetty said.

Mayarya's asymetrical dress in purple


Influencers that have supported Mayarya include well-known New Zealand fashion blogger Jasmine Smith and local celebrity actress Amy Chan. Shetty plans to revamp the company’s website to integrate its social channels and optimize the e-commerce platform. Currently, Mayarya has two stores in Hong Kong and stocks 20 designer brands coming from Europe, Asia and the United States with some exclusive designer partnerships. 

Mayarya ships to 152 countries worldwide. According to Shetty, the company’s web revenue has grown from 5 per cent to 30 per cent within a year. Mayarya plans to open a third store in Hong Kong and is considering a launch in Singapore.

“We’ve also had requests for brand licensing in Southeast Asia, but we want to let our operations in Hong Kong mature first,” said Shetty. 

 

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