All That Glitters: This Entrepreneur Is Building a Jewellery Brand For Young Women
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Saroja Yeramilli has had a career spanning close to thirty years. From advertising to sales, and building consumer brands at major conglomerates, the self-admitted ‘accidental entrepreneur’ is now leading the charge at Melorra, a daily wear jewellery brand that caters to the needs of young women especially.
She says she has always been someone to move beyond her comfort zone.
Yeramilli spent the first three years of her career at advertising agencies, before moving to Titan Industries as an advertising manager. However, she then made a seemingly strange switch to sales. A few years later, she was leading the sales and marketing for Titan’s jewellery brand Tanishq. It was during this time that the underperforming brand went through its famed turnaround.
However, despite such an illustrious career, she says she has not been career-focused at all times. “I have balanced my life to the best of my abilities; I have taken three breaks, three sabbaticals, and never wondered whether I can come back to the rat race and get a good role,” says Yeramilli.
The Melorra Story
As a young woman, Yeramilli says she never quite found the kind of jewellery that she would look for. While there existed and still exist several older brands, all of them seemed to be making only traditional jewellery. That gap stayed with her, she says, and when e-commerce happened, it looked like an opportunity.
“I really felt that younger women's needs weren't being met by the traditional jewellery industry and then e-commerce was fascinating. So the combination of the two and my love for building brands came together in the idea of Melorra.”
75 per cent of the brand's consumers are under the age of 35, and 30 per cent under the age of 25.
According to her, they are on the cusp of fashion, jewellery and technology, “I have always seen us as a digital-first company.”
One of the early backers of the Bengaluru-based start-up was venture capital (VC) firm Lightbox. A well-known name in the venture capital circle for having invested in brands that marry consumer needs with technology, Lightbox happened to be the very first venture capitalist that Yeramilli met.
“I kind of lucked out in meeting one of the best VCs in India in the very first attempt,” she says.
While she had a vague notion that $2 million would be enough to start the business, the Mumbai-based firm corrected her and the company ended up raising a much-publicized $5 million seed round.
However, it took about a year to set up the business and launch that made sure their fundamentals were right.
“I had an international quality expert working with us in the beginning and then, we set up a whole design studio with state-of-the-art facilities. We actually wrote down a core design philosophy document, which is our secret sauce of success.”
When starting, she also realized that experienced jewellery designers wouldn’t work well for the brand, and so the company hired extensively from colleges. That’s something they have continued to do, and with successful results.
“We hire young interns, and we take six months to train them in our unique way of designing.”
Melorra operates on a no-inventory model. Every single piece of jewellery that they sell is made after getting an order. Yeramilli says this not only saves a lot of capital, making the business far more efficient, it also talks volumes about the social impact footprint.
In recent times, the fast-fashion industry has come under the scanner of climate activists who have criticized the environmental harm that comes along with the tag of affordability.
“By having a no inventory model, we only make what a customer requires, that leads to a huge reduction in carbon footprint and being sustainable. Why make it if somebody is not willing to buy it?”
Melorra launches a new collection of at least 75 designs every Friday, with each having been inspired by global trends, says Yeramilli. “We only take 40 days to design a collection. It's a global first concept, I believe, in terms of the speed of new production.”
On the manufacturing side, the company only uses 3D printing facilities. The company uses casting when it comes to gold jewellery, making it lightweight and affordable.
According to her, it is extremely important the price points that they sell at are affordable as they have positioned themselves as a daily wear brand.
“We are positioning jewellery as an accessory, and not just as an investment,” she says.
Melorra has delivered to over 1,500 towns across the country and has the capacity to take orders from any pin code.
In October last year, the company raised $12 million in funding from Lightbox, BlackSoil Capital and some family offices including the Burmans of consumer giant Dabur.
Yeramilli says the company has massive plans going forward, with aggressive hiring, expansion of their offices as well as facilities. In the current fiscal year, she says revenue has grown more than 500 per cent over last year and the expectations are that the numbers would double next year.
She says the company has very strong margins, probably even the highest in the industry. Profitability, considering that they are investing in growth, is a few years away. The target is to attain breakeven by fiscal 2023.
“We feel that we want to be a billion dollar brand by FY26 and so we have to keep investing in our story. We have to keep investing in our growth as there is a large market out there. Even if we reach that stage by that time, it's a small percentage share of the massive opportunity.”
On what she sees herself doing in the next five years, she says this is her swan song.
“I'm here to build a very, very significant business and hopefully build a great global consumer brand.”