New Identity, New Beginnings
‘What’s in a name?’ they say. A rose by any other name would still retain its essence and identity. So is the case with Fab Jewels (promoters of Fabulous Unrounds), a top business-to-business (B2B) jewellery company that decided to change its name to Walking Tree, even as it pursued the same values and vision, but with a revamped outlook, and a lot more to offer by way of consumer insight-driven retail and superlative design propositions.
It takes a lot of thinking through and research for a manufacturing firm to come up with complete branded solutions, and a major shift in strategy.
The Walking Tree group’s curated, consumer-driven brands have been born out of a bigger vision to make jewellery more relevant to today’s generation.
A constant need to adapt to the changing markets and developing their creative muscle moving forward has helped them launch a curated B2B brand in India called Aesthete and Shades of Love in China, as well as consumer brands Unsaid Library in Europe and the recently-launched Her Story in India.
ANKIT MEHTA, co-founder, Walking Tree, unfolds the story behind their successful journey to SHANOO BIJLANI in a freewheeling talk.
Give us some background about your company.
Walking Tree is backed by two top diamond and jewellery houses H. Dipak and the KBS Group. While H. Dipak is the world’s largest manufacturer of princesscut diamonds and a specialist of unround diamonds since the 1990s, the KBS Group is one of the pre-eminent manufacturers and suppliers of diamond jewellery. Kunal Shah, from KBS Group, is a co-founder of Walking Tree.
The success of Fab Jewels rests on nine years – when it decided to bring in a new-age contemporary design language to communicate directly with the next gen by introducing the brand Fabulous Unrounds. The journey began with fancy-cut diamonds, and over the years, we learned the nuances of design and to manage innovation, from working with new materials and techniques to creating cool workplaces for creative people. I guess we were at the right time and the right place. India was at the cusp of going from completely traditional jewellery to something more modern. We built the entire design language for a new kind of jewellery that was not traditionally bought by retailers or sold to consumers in India at a sort of mass scale level.
How did the brand name Fabulous Unrounds come about?
Before we launched Fabulous Unrounds, we were working on a super creative brand that was way ahead of its time. So, we harnessed that creativity into a more everyday wearable product, and since it was beautifully crafted and looked fantastic, it was named Fabulous Unrounds!
During that time, we were championing the cause of fancies as a new-generation category. Drawn by its success, we started attracting more talent. We moved to a new office, and that gave birth to our design centre in Andheri, Mumbai.
Fab Jewels’ focus has always been design. I guess yours was the only company that had a dedicated modern design centre, which is now named Walking Tree Design Studio. Your comments.
We created this modern space, a centre for inspiration, six years ago to keep pace with the growth of Fabulous Unrounds. We thought that the first step is to give our team a ‘fabulous’ new environment because earlier, our office was in a garage, literally! A creative place, which would allow our designers breathing space and a free rein over their imagination.
Tell us about the success story of Fab Jewels that was started in 2010, and your shift to China.
By 2012-13, we hit fantastic numbers in sales, and we realised that this is bigger than what we had imagined. It is then that we decided to have trade shows in the Westin Hotel, Mumbai, during IIJS. From then on, we have grown rapidly and have been doing business with the best retailers in India, including independents and majors.
After having experienced this kind of a positive response in India,
we created Unrounds China, and realised that the country offered the same business opportunity with fancy-cut diamond jewellery.
We have done quite well there, too. It’s still early days, because China has gone through a bit of a tough time. But we have been able to penetrate all good retailers and started championing the cause of fancies with a strong design input.
So how did the idea of opening a retail store in Juhu, Mumbai, come about?
While we were already leaders in fancy-shaped diamonds, our jewellery designs also came into their own. It was then that we began to make serious investments in design – in the talent and in the process. With a proper design studio, we realised that just restricting ourselves to fancies didn’t make sense. We began exploring other categories like jadau, gem-set jewellery, and jewellery set with rounds. It was but natural that we should not let go of that last mile of presenting our product to the consumer and that’s how our experience centre in Juhu came about.
The Juhu store became our testing ground. We needed at least one part of our business to talk directly to the consumer, test our creativity in the purest way, learn from that, and then approach our retail vendors with actual consumer data that would be invaluable in helping them make informed decisions. This would only serve to make our B2B offerings stronger. Our intention was never to directly compete with our retail partners, but we were looking for opportunities in retail that our retail vendors were not looking at.
In the Juhu experience centre, the ground floor was reserved for our wide range of B2B offerings, while the second floor showcased new consumer-driven ideas. These consumer stories became poems of emotion, which eventually got translated into a piece of jewellery. After about a year and a half, and meeting a wide range of consumers, we realised that there was a huge opportunity to reposition the jewellery for the next generation of consumers, instead of it being just a statement of wealth or luxury. These powerful and unique consumer
insights led to the birth of our two consumer brands – Her Story in India, and Unsaid Library in Antwerp, Belgium.
Why in Europe?
We thought if we could crack it in Europe, then emulating it in India, China or America would be easy. So we pushed ourselves in the slightly tougher market because we thought there was a global opportunity. Unsaid Library is not your typical retail store – a customer walks into a well-designed library, picks a piece of jewellery, picks a postcard, selects the packaging, sits down and writes her thoughts. It’s focused on the emotion of gifting.
How different is the concept of Her Story from Unsaid Library?
We are exploring two very different consumer propositions – gifting and finding an expression of yourself and who you are through jewellery. Her Story is about precious self- expression and Unsaid Library is a precious gifting brand.
How did Walking Tree come about?
When we realised that we needed a larger and more encompassing name for all that we were doing, we thought of calling the company Walking Tree. The name represents the simultaneous and complementary values of rootedness and agility that we exemplify and strive for in the company.
The design studio and the backend that we have built, is something that we believe is the strongest in the country. And that makes everything we are now attempting to do a part of an exciting journey.
How has the response been to Her Story?
Her Story has been quite a journey. Through our experiences, we discovered that women respond to meaningful luxury. Our Altamount Road boutique in Mumbai, which opened in February this year, has become a spot of warmth and conversation around jewellery. We have seen women who have bought from collections based on their personalities without being pre-empted or led, and we are looking forward to the upcoming season to truly understand how big this can be.
So coming back to the Walking Tree business, how many verticals do you have?
Walking Tree is geographically in three locations, India, China and Europe. The company has two main verticals: the consumer brands (Her Story and Unsaid Library) and Walking Tree Design Studio.
Walking Tree Design Studio is our new face to the trade. The design studio powers B2B businesses, signature and private label brands across India and China. Our most recent B2B label Aesthete, which is a luxe offering for connoisseurs, is ready, and will be India’s first signature label, while our premium international bridal label, Shades of Love, is available in China.
Fabulous Unrounds is continuing the way it was, but all the new categories that we are presenting as complete labels will be curated and we will be tying up with top retail partners. We will offer them shop-in-shop marketing collaterals, design, and creatives. We believe that the market is more ready for it – as the retailers are looking for freshness, superiority in design and craftsmanship, along with an entire branding solution.
ANKIT MEHTA, Co-founder, Walking Tree Design Studio
Interiors of Walking Tree India
Walking Tree India office.
Spirit of the Wild Cascade earrings, Her Story
Heart of Blue drop earrings, Her Story