Business

Baggit: The handbag firm begun 'by mistake'

  • 29 July 2014
  • From the section Business

Starting a business isn't always the result of a concrete plan. For some it happens just by chance.

But for Nina Lekhi, building it into a successful enterprise was no accident.

Today, Baggit is one of India's most well-known women's handbag brands; its products are available in more than 60 cities and it has just started selling in the UK.

But according to its founder this $15m (£8.8m) company started "by mistake".

"I failed in my first year of university, and I was completely distraught," says Ms Lekhi.

"I didn't know what had happened because I was used to being a good girl in class, being the head girl, always being the teacher's best student, and suddenly this whole thing came upon me that I've failed. It was for me as if I'd failed in life."

Image caption Baggit is one of the most well-known handbags brands in India

To keep herself occupied during her year at home she did a short-term design and screen printing course, while also getting a job as a part-time sales assistant in a Mumbai shop.

She started making bags using canvas, with colourful patterns on them, and convinced the storeowner to keep her creations in the shop. Her products slowly became popular, but it took a while for Ms Lekhi to take it seriously.

"I kept having exhibitions and then people across the street wanted it more, stores wanted it and all the time at home everybody kept saying, 'What is this you're doing, you're just making bags for vegetables,'" she says.

In fact even the brand name came from a joke she had shared with a friend who had helped her start up the business.

"My friend and I were in a changing room after we'd gone for a swim. At that time Michael Jackson's song Beat It was very popular.

"So we were singing it aloud and then because we were also talking about the bags, we started singing, 'Bag it, bag it' and that's where the name came from."

Image caption The firm's first store failed, but it now has several shops

By then though, she had identified a gap in the Indian market - realising there was growing demand for trendy, yet functional handbags.

She experimented with different materials and employed skilled workers to stitch the bags.

But she hit a big obstacle when she tried to set up the firm's first store in 2000.

"It was a complete failure again. More than 100% of the money we put in we lost," she says. "But somewhere that made us a brand. That gave us the kick and the taste of being a brand."

As the Indian economy grew, and the middle classes began to expand, the business also grew as people had money for more than just the basic necessities.

Image caption The firm organises a weekly yoga and exercise session on its rooftop

"Earlier everyone was at home taking care of the house and kids," Ms Lekhi says. "Now because they were going out they wanted to be as well dressed as the women next to them. They became more and more fashionable."

At Baggit, the number of employees grew to more than 500 and Ms Lekhi realised there was a lot more to running a business than just being creative.

"I had serious problems with cash flows, so I had to figure out how to manage that. I started paying more attention to accounts and processes," she says. "I hired professionals who could help the company achieve its targets."

Perhaps unusually for a business person, she also credits yoga and meditation for her success - even insisting her employees practise it, because she thinks that it makes people better at their work.

So every week the company holds a one-hour yoga and exercise session on the rooftop of its office building for its entire staff.

But above all of that, Ms Lekhi says, it's passion that has kept her going.

"I think what is most important for anybody who wants to be an entrepreneur is that there's going to be a lot of hard work ahead of you, so you better love what you're doing. If you don't love it, don't get into it, I would say."