men's fashion

A startup called ‘Buttalks’ wants to help Indian men buy better underwear

The e-commerce platform curates and delivers to its subscribers the kind of underwear they ought to own.

At a time when the internet is changing the way Indians buy groceries, pay bills, and commute, three young entrepreneurs are using technology to help men upgrade to better underwear.

In August this year, Chennai-based Brijesh Devareddy (27), Surej Salim (32), and Manish Kishore (32) launched Buttalks, an e-commerce platform that curates and delivers to its subscribers the kind of underwear they ought to own. The startup already has over 1,400 customers, of which 30% are annual subscribers.

Of course, Buttalks isn’t the first inner-wear internet startup in the country. In recent years, several online lingerie ventures like Zivame and Pretty Secrets have helped expand India’s innerwear market, which is estimated to reach Rs 68,270 crore by 2024.

But Butttalks is certainly the first venture that focuses solely on men’s innerwear, a segment that’s currently sized at Rs 7,450 crore, according to consultancy firm Technopak.

Ignorance isn’t bliss

In conservative India, the need for well-fitted innerwear mostly doesn’t exist. While women typically purchase lingerie in a hush and hurry, men rarely give much consideration to their undergarments.

Even the proliferation of online shopping in India hasn’t made much of a difference to men’s shopping habits, Buttalk’s founders insist, because urban Indian men are not used to spending time to choose briefs. That’s why Devareddy, Salim, and Kishore incorporated Buttalks in May 2016, and then spent over a year on market research before starting sales.

“From all the data, what we realised is that not everybody is giving too much attention on what they exactly buy,” Kishore said. In most cases, he said, men simply pick up whatever is stacked near the billing counter in a mall while shopping for other things. Most don’t pay attention to brands, models, or even sizes for that matter.

“It’s a mechanical process and that’s something we wanted to change,” Devareddy added.

During their market research, the trio also discovered that Indian men often don’t know when it is time to replace their underwear.

Besides causing discomfort, ill-fitting and worn out underwear can be something of health hazard. Wearing the right sized underwear has a direct effect on a man’s sexual health, and a proper fit can help reduce issues related to infertility, according to Rajan Bhonsle, a professor and consultant in sexual medicine. “I see that there is so much ignorance about something as basic as this [choosing the right underwear],” Bhonsle said. “This is something that’s never spoken about. Breast cancer has its own space, women’s health issues have their space, but men’s issues lag behind,” Devareddy said. “All these have to be highlighted and somehow a platform has to be created.”

What’s in the package

Buttalks has a subscription model where customers get the products at their doorstep periodically, after registering for the service. The company has three different subscription plans, starting from Rs 999, and the prices vary based on the brands – such as Hanes, Levi’s, UCB, FCUK, Park Avenue, and Emporio Armani – that are included. Customers can either choose the annual plan, where three boxes are sent four times a year, or just buy a sampler box with three briefs.

The products that go into each box are based on an exhaustive questionnaire that customers must fill out while signing up. The questions range from the kind of fabric they prefer to colours, brands, styles, and the kind of lifestyle they lead. For instance, customers who are into sports are sent products made with quick-dry fabric. For the most eccentric customers, Buttalks supplies quirky or kinky briefs.

The right fit

It’s early days but there’s already a growing list of things that could potentially become a pain in the ass for Buttalks. For one, it has set out to disrupt a segment that’s rather lifeless and will require a massive change in customers’ mindset. In a 2016 survey of 300 Indian men, 75% said their inner-wear purchases were need-based and not based on what was trendy in the market. That said, most of Buttalks’ customers, who are between the ages of 20 and 50 years old, discover it through social-media channels, the co-founders added, which could mean there’s some change afoot.

Then, there’s the question of money. The startup is boot-strapped so far, though it plans to close its first round of funding soon. The co-founders also steadfastly refused to share Buttalks’ revenue details. So, how many investors jump on onboard, and how much will they be willing to sink in, remains to be seen.

A key challenge is that the subscription model in e-commerce that Buttalks is built around hasn’t taken off so far, so investors may not be entirely bullish, argued Arvind Singhal, chairman of consultancy firm Technopak. Most subscription businesses are based on an element of surprise, and discovering new brands or products, but customers in India aren’t entirely ready for that, he added. “We’re still a cautious set of customers, and want to know what we are getting, what we are buying, and what the value proposition is before we commit ourselves,” Singhal said.

This article first appeared on Quartz

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Do you really need to use that plastic straw?

The hazards of single-use plastic items, and what to use instead.

In June 2018, a distressed whale in Thailand made headlines around the world. After an autopsy it’s cause of death was determined to be more than 80 plastic bags it had ingested. The pictures caused great concern and brought into focus the urgency of the fight against single-use plastic. This term refers to use-and-throw plastic products that are designed for one-time use, such as takeaway spoons and forks, polythene bags styrofoam cups etc. In its report on single-use plastics, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described how single-use plastics have a far-reaching impact in the environment.

Dense quantity of plastic litter means sights such as the distressed whale in Thailand aren’t uncommon. Plastic products have been found in the airways and stomachs of hundreds of marine and land species. Plastic bags, especially, confuse turtles who mistake them for jellyfish - their food. They can even exacerbate health crises, such as a malarial outbreak, by clogging sewers and creating ideal conditions for vector-borne diseases to thrive. In 1988, poor drainage made worse by plastic clogging contributed to the devastating Bangladesh floods in which two-thirds of the country was submerged.

Plastic litter can, moreover, cause physiological harm. Burning plastic waste for cooking fuel and in open air pits releases harmful gases in the air, contributing to poor air quality especially in poorer countries where these practices are common. But plastic needn’t even be burned to cause physiological harm. The toxic chemical additives in the manufacturing process of plastics remain in animal tissue, which is then consumed by humans. These highly toxic and carcinogenic substances (benzene, styrene etc.) can cause damage to nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.

The European Commission recently released a list of top 10 single-use plastic items that it plans to ban in the near future. These items are ubiquitous as trash across the world’s beaches, even the pristine, seemingly untouched ones. Some of them, such as styrofoam cups, take up to a 1,000 years to photodegrade (the breakdown of substances by exposure to UV and infrared rays from sunlight), disintegrating into microplastics, another health hazard.

More than 60 countries have introduced levies and bans to discourage the use of single-use plastics. Morocco and Rwanda have emerged as inspiring success stories of such policies. Rwanda, in fact, is now among the cleanest countries on Earth. In India, Maharashtra became the 18th state to effect a ban on disposable plastic items in March 2018. Now India plans to replicate the decision on a national level, aiming to eliminate single-use plastics entirely by 2022. While government efforts are important to encourage industries to redesign their production methods, individuals too can take steps to minimise their consumption, and littering, of single-use plastics. Most of these actions are low on effort, but can cause a significant reduction in plastic waste in the environment, if the return of Olive Ridley turtles to a Mumbai beach are anything to go by.

To know more about the single-use plastics problem, visit Planet or Plastic portal, National Geographic’s multi-year effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis. From microplastics in cosmetics to haunting art on plastic pollution, Planet or Plastic is a comprehensive resource on the problem. You can take the pledge to reduce your use of single-use plastics, here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic, and not by the Scroll editorial team.