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

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German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

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Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

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Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.