One of our favourite lifestyle brands seeks inspiration from everyday life in India to brighten up our lives
What’s the one thing that you always pick up when you travel abroad? Apart from the booze at duty free, it’s likely to be a fridge magnet. Shubhra Chadda and Vivek Prabhakar had successful corporate careers – Shubhra with KPMG, Nortel & NetApp and Vivek with Titan, Motorola & Sun Microsystems – and a common passion for travel. And it was during one of these travels that the idea for Chumbak germinated.
Today, it is one of the most well loved brands in the lifestyle space in India, with a portfolio of products that ranges from fridge magnets to mobile and computer accessories, flipflops, tees and boxer shorts. But there is one distinctive detail that is common to every Chumbak product – and that is the vibrant menagerie of colours – making them a perfect choice for our current issue. My Big Red Bag in conversation with Shubhra Chadda, co-founder of Chumbak.
Shubhra, thanks for talking to us. How did the idea of Chumbak germinate and how did you settle on the name?
We set up Chumbak in 2010 after spending a lot of time researching the idea. Vivek and I loved travelling and Chumbak found its roots in our journeys abroad. We would often travel on a budget and the best souvenir to get back from the countries we visited used to be a fridge magnet. This made us realize the dearth in souvenirs that people could take back from India, and in that realization, Chumbak was born. We began with fridge magnets and the name Chumbak instantly stood out for us, so we immediately registered it. The rest is, well, some really fun and mad history.
How big is Chumbak now in terms of employees? When do you think you reached an inflexion point in your journey?
We have over 60 people working with Chumbak as of now, and we are adding 4-5 more every month! We have also expanded geographically – while we continue to be headquartered in Bangalore, we have also set up offices in Delhi and Mumbai.
Fortunately for us, we got a fantastic response to our products when we launched, and with the help of continuous feedback and interactions on social media, we were able to delight our customers and turned profitable within the first 6 months of launch. We continued to expand our portfolio with more products in the home and lifestyle space, such as coffee mugs and boxer shorts. But there came a stage where we were faced with a choice – we could continue to grow steadily and supply our products to established stores, or we could take on the more daunting task of building our own brand. It didn’t take us long to decide in favour of the latter, and that led us to raising external capital and hiring experienced professionals in 2012. To my mind, that was the inflexion point for Chumbak and today we have a bunch of highly talented individuals helping to drive the company’s growth. Our future plans includes tons of fun new products, more awesomeness for our loyal customers and many more stores.
What is your design philosophy and inspirations? What the one thing that is a must-have for your designers?
Our inspiration comes from the India that we see and experience everyday, in all its madness and glory. We want our designers to feel the same and then translate it back into our designs. We believe that our products should be recognizable 9 out of 10 times without the logo and to achieve this we follow a very strict filtering process before any product hits the racks. That is the design test all our products have to go through.
We are a design led company and take great pride in our design thinking. From our products, to our office and kiosks to absolutely everything that is Chumbak, we take great amount of care as to how they look and feel. Design will always take precedence in all things we do at Chumbak, whether it be the launch of new categories, kiosk formats or even our website.
Where all do you sell your products and what kind of people are your primary customers?
We sell our products across different formats. We sell in multi brand outlets and we sell at our own Chumbak kiosks. We have around 20 kiosks in malls across the country. This format has worked very well for us and we are looking to expand this concept by adding five kiosks every quarter.
Apart from the metros, we also have many customers from non-metros and tier-2 cities in India. Many of them buy through Chumbak.com and that is a major channel for us and it is constantly growing.
Our fridge magnets have always been popular and are a terrific gifting option. Of late, we are seeing a lot more traction with our tech accessories – mobile phone cases and laptop sleeves are flying off the shelves and we are seeing that our target audience is becoming extremely aware of how their gadgets are dressed up. They love our designs and we guarantee them great quality. Our bobbleheads too have acquired a certain cult status with many people identifying the Chumbak characters through our promotions in social media and at exhibitions.
We are just so glad that everyone is as mad about Chumbak as we are.
What are some of the designs and designers that you personally admire?
I am a big believer in approachable design – simple but with heart in it. I am a huge fan of Dr. Seuss’ books and I love the humour and art of Emily McDowell’s products.
Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and learn all aspects of the business. I am neither a designer nor a retailer by profession, but today I know the ins and outs of every aspect of Chumbak – from products to merchandising to sales, marketing and accounts!
Apart from that, I think it is important for the founders to invest some of their own money into the company before raising funds from others – this ensures a strong allegiance to the business.
Your personal favourite from your portfolio of products?
That’s like asking me to choose a favorite child! Our magnets obviously have a special place in my heart – they kick started this wonderful journey. I also love our colourful boxer shorts – before we launched them, boxer shorts only came in boring checks and stripes.
Since we are in the midst of our Colours edition, what is your colour palette for the season?
Yellow, teal, coral and a hint of pink!
As a travel enthusiast, what are your favourite destinations in India?
I love the landscape of Leh and Ladakh – it is stunning and so different from anything I have ever seen. Otherwise, the backwaters of Kerala are a perennial favourite and always manage to rejuvenate me.
Finally Shubhra, this is a question we ask all our interviewees – if you had a chance, who would you want to have a special dinner with?
<Thinks for a while> You know I don’t want to name someone for fear of being disappointed, but if I had the chance, I’d love to have dinner with Lady Gaga!
My Big Red Bag brings original content inspired by life’s joys and passions. Check out other articles from our Colours Issue, and stay tuned to our latest content by following us on Twitter and FB. See you on the other side!
All images from Chumbak’s portfolio.
Editors Note: The recommendations above are based on the editors’ personal tastes and opinions – these are NOT PAID endorsements. My Big Red Bag takes no responsibility for the availability of the items described above after the time of publication.