Interview: Disha Singh, Woman Entrepreneur, Co-founder of Zouk

Disha Singh-Founder-CEO Of Zouk

Interview with Disha Singh,Co-founder of Zouk, a Proudly Indian and 100% Vegan D2C brand for Bags, Wallets and Accessories

Disha Singh is the co-founder of Zouk, a thriving D2C brand that offers fashionable and functional products inspired by India.

With over 400,000 happy customers and $4.5 million raised, Zouk has become a beloved lifestyle and fashion brand that has garnered support from marquee investors, including Stellaris Venture Partners, Sharrp Ventures, and JJ Family Office.

Dilip Khandelwal, CEO of Deutsche Bank India, Manoj Meena of Atomberg, and Vineeta Singh and Kaushik Mukherjee of Sugar Cosmetics have also backed the brand in its recent funding round, Series A.

After earning an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, Disha launched Zouk in 2016 with a clear focus on designing high-quality products that fuse Indian handicraft design with modern functionalities, while using 100% vegan materials.

Her products have been featured in the Netflix series Little Things 3 and the movie Sherni, adding to the brand’s reputation for style and quality.

Disha is also passionate about upskilling and supporting over 400 expert artisans who create Zouk’s products, and she is proud to provide opportunities for artisans from diverse backgrounds to grow and thrive.

Despite the challenges of being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry, she has remained committed to building a diverse team and supporting local artisans.

In addition to overseeing production, Disha takes on various roles at Zouk, including product design, brand building, and digital marketing.

Her husband, Pradeep Krishnakumar, who is also her IIM Ahmedabad batchmate, oversees other aspects of the business.

Together with their team, they recently conceptualized two successful events: Vegan Creator Day and Awards 2022, which celebrated content creators, and the Proudly Indian Fashion Show, which featured top content creators showcasing the brand’s heritage-inspired products in honor of India’s 74th Republic Day.

Disha’s passion for entrepreneurship stems from her desire to build an enduring business that will be her legacy.

Despite facing initial challenges in convincing her family to support her vision, Disha’s determination and faith in her idea led her to receive support from IIM Ahmedabad, including the IIMaverick scholarship for entrepreneurship and mentorship from IIMA professors.

As thought leaders in the industry, Disha and Pradeep are quickly scaling up Zouk with the vision of building an iconic global consumer brand from India.

They have presented as speakers and jury members on leading platforms such as TEDx, the India D2C Summit, and ET NOW’s recent Leaders of Tomorrow Awards.

What inspired you to start Zouk, and how did you come up with the concept for a PETA-certified vegan lifestyle brand?

Disha Singh: The idea for Zouk was born during my MBA days at IIM Ahmedabad. While on a trip to Kutch during a course at IIMA, I noticed my peers were easily attracted to local handcrafts but refused to buy them due to a lack of functionality.

I had always felt passionate about doing something in the fashion and lifestyle space, and this gave me the opportunity to address the gap in the market and introduce a brand that designed bags with a combination of style and functionality, married with Indian ethos and the rich heritage of our handicrafts.

When I started Zouk as a Lifestyle brand with a focus on bags and wallets I saw that a key component of this was animal-based leather.

I saw some very horrific videos of how animal-based leather is made and hence decided that I  don’t want to put our names on it.

Hence I worked very hard on finding a substitute that had similar properties as animal-based leather but can give me a superior product and is fully cruelty-free. From there I picked the direction of working only with vegan leather.

Please tell us a little about your entrepreneurial journey

Disha Singh: Nothing short of a roller coaster. When I started Zouk, I saw a gap in the lifestyle market and felt I could introduce products that offer memorable experiences with utility-driven aesthetics married to Indian culture.

But as I started building, I realized the complexities involved beyond Product Design. Production, Marketing, Sales, Operations – it’s a vast gamut of things that a brand like ourselves had to get right, to get even one customer to trust us.

From there to now having over 400,000+ happy customers – that has been the true source of happiness for me in building Zouk.

Kindly brief us about Zouk, its specialization, and the products that it offers

Disha Singh: Brand Zouk is a 100% PETA-approved, vegan and cruelty-free brand, further ethically handcrafted and proudly Indian.

Our roots and product designs are inspired by our Indian culture and ethos. All products are handmade by expert artisans in their in-house manufacturing facility in Mumbai, which is also part of the brand’s upliftment initiative.

Customers love the fact that the products are Vegan, with Indian prints and modern functionalities and there are 4,00,000+ happy customers.  Zouk has also recently won the Best Vegan Wallet award by PETA as well.

Zouk’s current set of products includes Laptop Bags, Office Bags, Handbags, Sling Bags, backpacks, Tote Bags, Statement Satchel, Statement Office bags, Women’s Wallets, Sandals, Chappals, Sliders, Bellies, Mules, and Regal Collection.

With Zouk products, consumers get a chance to opt for Indian choices, a different option in the market apart from the usual Western designs.

Besides, Zouk bags are high in fashion, style, and functionality. The designs add oomph to any outfit with its unique and rich diversity of craftsmanship that preserves and promotes “Proudly Indian” handcrafted products made by artisans.  ​

What sets Zouk apart from other vegan brands in India, and what unique challenges did you face in creating a vegan lifestyle brand?

Disha Singh: All Zouk products have a combination of style and functionality with an Essence of India. They are also responsible, cruelty-free products.

By identifying a gap in the market that offered only western looking products. I understood that customers wanted more Indian choices and thus brought them to the market.

Thus, designing bags that were high on fashion, style, and functionality was important. But it was also important to create products that had the true Indian essence, handcrafted by Indian artisans.

After all, a unique and rich diversity of craftsmanship to preserve and promote, and what better when I can cater to our consumers with “Proudly Indian” handcrafted products made by artisans. This is a key differentiation factor.

The biggest challenge I faced while running Zouk, is it was difficult to convince artisans to work with me as a woman founder.

They were so conditioned to work with male leaders that it was strange for them. But when they saw the passion which I shared for the products we made together, it became fine. That really helped both sides grow, in terms of the quality and quantity of products made over the years

What is your long-term vision for Zouk, and how do you see the brand evolving in the future?

Disha Singh: The coming years will see me expand our current collection of Bags, Footwear, Wallets, and Accessories, while also adding newer segments.

The brand will also be expanded into newer channels of distribution like offline stores. I believe that we now have the brand-market fit and it’s going to be an exciting new phase for anyone who joins our Zouk family in the coming years.

What strategies have you used to market Zouk products, and how have consumers responded to the brand so far?

Disha Singh: Zouk has been a very active brand on its social media channels. I have always believed in providing engaging content that truly pushes our brand values of being Proudly Indian, Responsible, and Handcrafted.

On a regular basis, we bring out content across these values combined with various themes. In fact, we use our content to not just talk about our products but also about the values that we stand for.

For example, Around Diwali, we always talk about how Diwali gifts deserve to be Proudly Indian. After all, Diwali is a pan-India and global festival of light and happiness.

Women’s Day 2023 #UnapologeticallyYou- On this Women’s Day we showcased different women from different industries and how they are Unapologetic & Proud of their life choices.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as co-founders of Zouk, and how have you overcome them?

Disha Singh: As a brand operating in the non-essential space, I had to stop operations during the first lockdown. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

It allowed the Zouk family to introspect, connect with customers and chart out a path ahead for the long term.

It also brought the entire team closer. The most challenging part was to continue supporting our artisans as a bootstrapped early-stage business.

Reflecting on it now, it was the best decision made. I did not lose a single employee at that point. The growth has been phenomenal too.

What was the inspiration behind turning into an entrepreneur

Disha Singh: The idea of stirring an entrepreneurial pot hit me during the second year of IIMA, where I got a chance to meet the local artisans at Kutch.

As I saw these artisans making beautiful handicraft products but with no modern utility. I noticed a huge gap in the market and thus the idea to begin the journey of entrepreneurship was born.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to start a vegan or sustainable brand in India?

Disha Singh: Starting a vegan or sustainable brand requires genuine passion and belief in the cause. Identify your values and what motivates you to create a positive impact through your brand.

Understand the current market landscape for vegan and sustainable products in India. Identify gaps and opportunities where your brand can make a unique contribution.

Study consumer preferences, emerging trends, and potential competitors. Your brand story should resonate with your target audience.

Clearly communicate the purpose and values of your brand, emphasizing its vegan and sustainable aspects.

Connect with customers on an emotional level by showcasing the positive impact they can make by choosing your products.

Continuously innovate and evolve your product offerings to meet changing consumer needs and preferences.

Stay updated on the latest trends, technologies, and sustainability practices. Adapt quickly to market changes and consumer feedback.

Starting a vegan or sustainable brand in India is an exciting journey filled with challenges and opportunities.

By staying true to your values, delivering high-quality products, and fostering meaningful connections with your customers, you can make a positive impact and contribute to a more sustainable future.

What are your success tips for young and aspiring entrepreneurs?

Disha Singh: Ask for help. Entrepreneurship is a very lonely and long journey. However, one can make it easier by asking for help and advice from experienced folks.

During my journey, whenever I have asked for help from fellow entrepreneurs, they have immensely helped me.

They share their take on any problem and how they tackled it. That has helped me come up with a solution fit for us at Zouk.

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