Interview with Sahil Nandal, Co-Founder of Free Society

Sahil Nandal

An exclusive interview with Sahil Nandal, Co-Founder of Free Society, multi-brand streetwear, sneaker and vintage store

Sahil Nandal aka ‘Frankly Street’ is an ambitious and enterprising youngster who has been, for nearly a decade now, donning many hats while constantly adding new feathers to his cap(s) of phenomenal successes and achievements.

A stylist, consultant, content creator, influencer, and an all-round fashion mogul, Sahil has amassed a huge loyal following base, especially amongst millennials and GenZs from all over the world, who look up to him for tips, guidance and exclusive info whenever it comes to anything fashion, streetwear and/or hype-related!

What’s even more fascinating though, is that Sahil is a visionary serial entrepreneur too. He is the Co-Founder, Director and CEO of Free Society – India’s premier hype marketplace offering globally-curated, multi-brand streetwear, sneakers and vintage products for young Indians.

Sahil was born in New Delhi, where he spent his early childhood. Being the younger brother to a professional designer, he has always been intrigued by fashion. Since his dad was a Government employee posted abroad, it allowed Sahil to have global exposure from a young age.

He spent his middle-school years in Brazil, and then moved to Japan to begin his high school at St. Mary’s International School, Tokyo.

Growing up in Japan not just inculcated in Sahil the Japanese socio-cultural values of discipline and politeness, but also opened his eyes to the amazing world of curated fashion, streetwear, sneakers and personal style, which was unlike anything he had experienced before!

It was here he saw how everyone was super comfortable in their own personal style and would regularly wear customized or rare sneakers just for themselves (and not to brag).

The tremendous exposure to streetwear fashion and discovering numerous underground labels during his time in Japan laid the foundation for Sahil’s fondness and lifelong love for streetwear and sneakers, and would come to his aid later in life –while starting-up Free Society.

After completing high school, Sahil pursued BBA in Business Economics from Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan. During his freshman year in college, when Sahil was only 17 years old, the entrepreneurial bug bit him for the first time.

So, he founded a creative event curation and consulting company named TOTH (Totally Off The Hook) Events, which went ahead to do many successful events and grew massively in popularity with its role in hosting after-parties for world-famous musicians such as Afro Jack and Rihanna.

The revenue earned from this venture helped Sahil back then to pay for his college tuition fees and living expenses in Japan.   

After graduating, Sahil joined a Japan-headquartered international consulting firm, Skylight Consulting Inc., where he gained valuable experience by working as a strategy and management consultant for giant tech companies such as Rakuten and Sony. But it was not too long before he discovered that the itch for being an entrepreneur and doing something revolutionary was going nowhere.

In 2015, he decided to move back to India, to start a first-of-its-kind, customized 3D-printed jewellery brand – Mirakin. The inspiration for launching this brand was derived by Sahil as he wrote his college thesis on 3D-printing and its use-cases in fashion – a concept he wished to implement in real life, and Mirakin became his gateway in doing so.

With its unique and exquisite designs, Mirakin was able to revolutionize the luxury jewellery segment in India, and its products were sported by celebs like John Abraham and Nargis Fakhri. 

While building and growing Mirakin was offering a treasure trove of entrepreneurial learnings for Sahil, it was around the same time, he had the opportunity to be the curator for India’s very first sneaker event in 2017, followed by many more such mega events and meetups after that.

Upon witnessing closely the rising demand and almost no supply for curated hype and cool sneakers, Sahil was able to foresee that the sneaker and streetwear industry in India is going to blow up in the years to come.

This is why he eventually decided to leave Mirakin and start Free Society along with co-founder Shashwat Singhania in 2020. From then onwards, there was no turning back; together the co-founder duo went ahead to establish the foundational processes and SOPs for business operations, and recruiting the core team members for Free Society.

As the CEO of the company, Sahil mainly handles Free Society’s growth strategy, retail management and marketing and communications, among other strategic areas. With a mission to grow the company into a leading platform for streetwear and sneaker lovers in India and Asia, Sahil has been consistently directing market expansions to propel the business forward.

He is also simultaneously curating an array of specialized products and brands, as well as focusing on and implementing an omnichannel approach for his bootstrapped brand that led it to breaking-even without any ad-spends whatsoever, and has helped in setting Free Society apart and ahead of the curve in the Indian market.

His long-term vision is to establish Free Society as the one-stop, go-to destination for all things fashion, streetwear, and sneakers, much like Dover Street Market or Hypebeast, yet making it accessible and curated for young Indians.

Of course, for Sahil, there’s never a boring day at work, as his penchant for discovering brands, experimenting with new styles from relatively unknown brands, and collecting rare sneakers and streetwear, aligns harmoniously with his brand’s aesthetic and growth strategy.

At times, he spends hours scouring the Internet, looking for independent brands that stand out, and with whom he can collaborate to realize his goal of getting Indians, young or old, to dive deep into streetwear and to develop their own unique style.

On his Youtube channel Frankly Street, Sahil also hosts and interviews India’s alternate cultural movement’s icons through his show ‘The Locals’.

From developing his own personal style while living in Japan to spreading knowledge today through social media and other channels around everything that is stylish, cool and trendy, Frankly Street (Sahil) has come a long way indeed!

Today, not only is Sahil the first name on the list for brands when a campaign needs to be amplified, but he is also on the speed-dial of so many celebrities, entertainers and sports personalities, for when they need to look their best. He absolutely loves and cherishes helping people shift from wearing loafers to buying their first sneaker.

Though being an influencer and stylist is all about passion (and not about earning profits) for him, yet it has brought Sahil numerous accolades over the years. He has, till date, partnered with leading hospitality brands and done content collaborations with premium brands like, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Levi’s, Nike, Puma, Adidas, and many more.

He has also styled many hip-hop music videos, and even did the end-to-end styling for an OTT show, Red Bull Spotlight on MX Player. As a much sought-after celebrity stylist, Sahil has also worked with Diljit Dosanjh, Badshah, Shilpa Shetty, Virat Kohli and many more.

Yet, he likes to stay humble, grounded, and thoughtful, doing his bit for the society by volunteering with NGOs like Literacy India.

As an avid traveler, adventure-seeker and globetrotter, Sahil has traveled to more than 60 countries across the world already, while expanding his personal collection of sneakers and streetwear. His other hobbies and interests include street food, and football.

Can you share the inspiration behind founding Free Society and what motivated you to enter the streetwear and sneaker industry?

Sahil Nandal: In 2017, I had the opportunity to be the curator for India’s very first sneaker event, followed by many more such mega events and meetups after that. Upon witnessing closely the rising demand and almost no supply for curated hype and cool sneakers, we were able to foresee that the sneaker and streetwear industry in India is going to blow up in the years to come.

This is why we eventually decided to leave Mirakin  (his customized 3D-printed jewellery brand) and start Free Society along with co-founder Shashwat Singhania in 2020.”

From then onwards, there was no turning back; together the co-founder duo went ahead to establish the foundational processes and SOPs for business operations, and recruiting the core team members for Free Society.

What makes Free Society special in the Indian market? Free Society is known for its globally curated streetwear and sneakers. How do you select the brands and products that align with the store’s vision?

Sahil Nandal: Free Society is known for being India’s premier hype marketplace offering globally-curated streetwear, sneakers, and vintage products. Free Society is also the only marketplace in Asia offering certain brands like New Balance and Birkenstock on retail while also giving the customers an option to buy the limited edition, sold out hype products like Jordans and Yeezys.

Their collection of grail branded vintage pieces from 80s and 90s also sets them apart from any other brand in India. The selection of brands and products aligns with the store’s vision through our careful curation process.

We spend time discovering independent brands and items that stand out and resonate with the brand’s aesthetic and growth strategy. We collaborate with these brands to introduce unique styles to young Indians.

Streetwear and sneaker culture have gained immense popularity worldwide. How do you stay ahead of trends and ensure Free Society offers cutting-edge and sought-after items?

Sahil Nandal: My exposure to streetwear and sneakers during his time in Japan laid the foundation for his deep fondness and understanding of the culture. I keep a keen eye on trends and spend hours scouring the internet to discover independent brands that offer unique styles.

Our dedication to experimentation and passion for discovering new brands helps Free Society stay ahead of trends and provide cutting-edge items.

What challenges did you face while establishing Free Society, and how did you overcome them?

Sahil Nandal: Establishing Free Society came with its fair share of challenges. One of the main hurdles was introducing a concept that was relatively new to the Indian market. Streetwear and sneaker culture were not as widely understood or embraced in India at the time.

Overcoming this challenge required education and awareness-building efforts. We had to invest resources in creating engaging content, organizing events, and providing styling tips to pique the interest of potential customers and educate them about the culture.

Another challenge was sourcing authentic and globally renowned products for resale. Building relationships with international brands and suppliers to ensure a consistent supply of desirable products at competitive prices was a daunting task, especially for a startup.

Free Society tackled this by forming strategic alliances and partnerships to quickly source products as soon as they were released globally. This allowed them to offer local customers access to sought-after items shortly after their international drop.

The streetwear and sneaker market can be highly competitive. What sets Free Society apart from other multi-brand stores in the industry?

Sahil Nandal: Free Society’s differentiation lies in its globally-curated selection of streetwear, sneakers, and vintage products. Free Society is the only multi brand store in India currently carrying resale as well as retail branded products in addition to carefully curated one-of-one branded vintage products.

The meticulous curation process led by us ensures that the products align with the brand’s vision and resonate with young Indians. Additionally, the brand’s bootstrapped approach and emphasis on an Omni channel strategy helped it achieve success in the Indian market.

Free Society has a strong online presence. How has e-commerce and social media contributed to the store’s success and brand recognition?

Sahil Nandal: “Social media platform allows me to share my passion for fashion, streetwear, and sneakers with a large following while allowing our potential customers to learn more about new brands and styles.”

Additionally, the use of e-commerce has enabled Free Society to reach a broader audience and make its curated products accessible to customers online.

Free Society’s physical store location is known for its unique atmosphere. Can you tell us more about the store’s design and how it complements the brand’s identity?

Sahil Nandal: Free Society’s physical store is designed to create an immersive and unique atmosphere that resonates with the brand’s identity.  The store’s interior is characterised by a brutalist urban-industrial feel, creating an environment that’s visually appealing and Instagram-worthy.

In addition to its design, the store’s layout encourages exploration and engagement with the New Delhi store having three floors of retail and hype. The physical store becomes an extension of the brand’s online presence, offering customers a hands-on experience with the curated selection of products.

How do you see Free Society contributing to the growth and recognition of emerging streetwear designers and artists?

Sahil Nandal: Free Society contributes to the growth and recognition of emerging streetwear designers and artists by collaborating with independent brands worldwide that stand out and align with the brand’s aesthetic.

Our passion for discovering unique styles and brands allows us to showcase and promote the work of these emerging designers from India and all over the world, thereby giving them a platform and a whole new market for recognition.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to venture into the streetwear and sneaker retail space?

Sahil Nandal: Venturing into the streetwear and sneaker retail space requires a deep understanding of the culture, the market, and the target audience. Here are some pieces of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs:

Educate Yourself: Understand the history and trends of streetwear and sneaker culture. Familiarize yourself with the most sought-after brands, styles, and collaborations.

Curate Carefully: Curate your product selection thoughtfully. Offer a mix of established and emerging brands, ensuring authenticity and quality. Keep a close eye on global trends and releases.

Build a Community: Streetwear is as much about the community as it is about the products. Create engaging content, host events, and foster connections among enthusiasts to build a loyal customer base.

Embrace Technology: Leverage e-commerce platforms and social media to extend your reach beyond your physical store. Develop a strong online presence to cater to a wider audience.

Stay Authentic: Authenticity is key in streetwear culture. Be true to your brand’s identity and values. Avoid gimmicks and focus on providing value to your customers.

Innovate: Streetwear and sneaker culture are constantly evolving. Stay updated on the latest trends, technologies, and marketing strategies to remain relevant.

Customer Experience: Prioritize customer experience both online and offline. Make sure your physical store and website are user-friendly, and provide excellent customer service.

Partnerships: Collaborate with brands, artists, and influencers to create buzz and attract attention to your store. Collaborations can also help you tap into new customer bases.

Adapt and Evolve: Be prepared to adapt to changes in the market. Keep an eye on emerging subcultures, and be open to expanding your product offerings based on customer demand.

Persistence: Building a brand in the streetwear and sneaker space takes time. Stay persistent, learn from challenges, and continue refining your strategy based on feedback and results.

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