Tunic Factory, a start-up by IT professionals Kiran Padmanabhan and Anand Pathrose Mani, custom makes school and college merchandising
It’s a tale of entrepreneurship that seems right out of the start-up legend of young engineer-turned-entrepreneur and author Varun Agarwal, who ‘braved Anu aunty and co-founded a million dollar company’ through apparel merchandising. Well, the millions may still be quite a few million meters away, but it’s with the same unbridled enthusiasm that city-based IT professionals and entrepreneurs Kiran Padmanabhan and Anand Pathrose Mani, have been making an imprint on the city.
Tunic Factory, their one-and-a-half-year old start-up company that is into “institution branding through apparel merchandising”, in other words, custom-making sweatshirts (a.k.a. hoodies) and T-shirts for schools and colleges, has already racked up an impressive clientele from the city and beyond.
Similar to Varun’s story, (as told in the bestselling semi-autobiographical novel How I Braved Anu Aunty and Co-Founded A Million Dollar Company) the idea behind Tunic Factory also seems to have stemmed from thinking beyond the well-tread engineering-MBA track.
“Even while we were studying engineering, my Christ Nagar school buddies and co-founders, Rohan Joy Mathew, Sandeep Kumar, and I knew that we wanted to do something different. We were not too keen on an IT start-up, which again is something that every other engineering graduate seems to be doing. We researched quite a lot on what we could do and played around with several ideas, including soft toy manufacturing. That’s when we realised the potential for a merchandising company, particularly in Kerala. Those who wanted to get college/school merchandising had to outsource it from outside the State and that too at a high cost,” says Kiran, a graduate of Noorul Islam College of Engineering, Thuckalay and a former student of Loyola school and Christ Nagar school.
“We started the company with a few thousand in pocket change that we had hoarded from cash that we got for Vishu, Onam, and so on,” he adds.
The start-up’s first customers were the students and alumni of Loyola school – Kiran’s high school alma mater. “The principal of the school, Father Joseph Edassery, gave us the go ahead, his only caution was not to use the school’s logo in our merchandising. There are a lot of proud Loyolites, including myself, and our hoodies with ‘Loyolite’ printed in bold was a big hit,” explains Kiran.
Soon orders came pouring in from Christ Nagar School, Trivandrum International School, Amritha College of Engineering, Kollam, Marion Villa College of Engineering, and so on.
Gradually, as word on their products spread, they also started getting orders from individual groups such as stunt bike team GhostRyderz and ‘C Factor’, a bunch of friends and students of Christ Nagar school. “We even got an order from Centre Point School, Haryana,” says Kiran, with a grin.
The 24-year-old, who has also studied animation at Toonz, designs the apparel depending on the client’s requirements.
Meanwhile, Anand, who is the operations and product analyst at the firm, sources the clothes from factories in Tirupur and Thirunelveli (Rohan and Sandeep are no longer involved in the day to day operations of the firm).
The customised T-shirts usually cost Rs. 350 and the hoodies cost Rs. 700, but the prices vary depending on the complexity of the design and the number of colours used in screen printing.
“Our firm is a completely friendship run enterprise. Our apparel model, so to speak, is our friend Aravind Jayakumar; our friend Debrub Mainak does the marketing, my sister Krishnaprabha does the accounts… We’re not selling just hoodies and T-shirts. We’re selling unity, a sense of camaraderie that comes with wearing your love for your college/school on your sleeve,” says Kiran.
The young entrepreneurs have big plans in store for their company. “We’re thinking of expanding our merchandising to include baseball caps. The problem with this is that, because of the complex process involved in making caps, we can only take bulk orders for the same. Also, hopefully, we’ll soon expand the business to other parts of the State and maybe, eventually, even, open up an outlet in the city,” says young Kiran, with all the confidence that sure to brave all the aunts and odds that come their way.
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