You’ll see pretty much the same black and brown generic-looking luggage and backpacks in Indian airports. If you spot a smart-looking bag that stands out from the crowd, chances are that it is Mokobara.
Mokobara aims to fill a gap in the market that has homegrown budget players like Safari and VIP on one end, and multinational brands like Samsonite on the other. Its product portfolio includes luggage, backpacks, totes, travel accessories and women’s handbags, with prices ranging from Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 15,000.
Co-founded by Navin Parwal and Sangeet Agrawal in January 2020, the brand is aiming for a slice of the mid and premium segments, which make up about 30% of a Rs.20,000 crore industry.
The founders were colleagues at Urban Ladder. Agrawal then moved to Flipkart, and Parwal worked at Uber and WeWork, before they teamed up in 2019 to build Mokobara.
A Category Ripe for Innovation
“Not much innovation has happened in this category,” says Agrawal, “There is a set of consumers who have transitioned from Bata shoes to Reebok, Nike, and now wear brands like Onitsuka Tiger. They care about their airport look and share travel stories on social media. The bags they carry, however, have been noticeably absent from this conversation. Mokobara aims to give them thoughtfully-designed products that they are proud to sport, at a price that makes sense.”
Taking a leaf out of American brand Away’s book, both co-founders stress that Mokobara is a travel company, not a luggage company. “Travel for us covers micro commutes from your home to office, just as much as it refers to long-distance journeys,” says Parwal. Luggage currently contributes to 55% of Mokobara’s sales, with 40-45% coming from handbags and lifestyle products. The founders want to flip this to 35% from luggage and the remaining from handbags and lifestyle products.
Many brands have tried making this transition, since luggage is an infrequent purchase category. Has anyone in the category succeeded?
“It’s very hard to do when your brand already stands for luggage,” says Parwal, “but we can do it, because we’re new and still shaping the narrative.” Mokabara’s backpack is, in fact, its largest selling product.
Design as Differentiator
Mokobara relies on design to create differentiation and the founders went to London-based agency Morrama to design both their first product (a cabin bag) and the overall design language.
Lagom – the Swedish principle of ‘not too much, not too little’ is the founding principle of the brand’s design philosophy and it is manifested through the product design and experience. Some examples:
- Japanese wheels: Wheels are a frequent customer pain-point for luggage. To address this, all Mokobara products use wheels from Japanese company Hinomoto.
- Strength with aesthetics: The hard shell of suitcases is typically enforced from outside to make it sturdier, even though this interferes with the design. Mokobara spent time figuring out how to reinforce the shell from inside, so the outer bag aesthetic would not suffer.
- Signature lining: All Mokobara products come with a signature yellow lining. “We want customers to smile when they open our products,” says Parwal. Initial feedback actually went against this idea, with customers saying yellow wasn’t a good idea because it would get dirty. The team went ahead and implemented the yellow lining anyway, showing that you should know when to disregard research and listen to your gut.
- Thoughtful touches: There are small thoughtful touches like a USB port and a laundry bag in every suitcase and even a magic eraser that, after dipping in water, can remove dirt marks. Agrawal says they are also working on solving the problem that hard luggage needs extra space to open flat.
The founders tell us how their latest luggage product came about. “Our children’s luggage is for a six or seven year old who sees their parents packing for a trip and wants to emulate them. At the airport they want to walk their luggage, just like their parents. Finally, they will inevitably get bored, so we’ve provided a strap for the parent to carry the bag on their shoulders.”
Following the Consumer Brand Playbook
Mokobara launched online first and sold only from their site, before moving to horizontal marketplaces. They have recently opened two offline stores in Bengaluru. The founders are clear that Mokobara is not a D2C brand, it is a consumer brand and retail expansion will continue.
“There is a massive opportunity to build more consumer brands in India,” says Agrawal. This has already been proven by brands like Titan, Mamaearth and Manyavar. We look to these brands for inspiration.”
“The temptation when using digital marketing for a new brand is to focus on features and keep experimenting with new positionings,” points out Parwal, “ We were careful not to do either. Our content was always focused on the joy of travel and we kept up the drumbeat of this positioning. If you keep switching tactics, you may get some temporary traction but no one will remember what you stand for. ”
What’s in the Bag Now?
Despite the fact that Covid hit travel soon after they launched, the founders have continued to build. They have raised $11.6 million over four rounds so far.
This data from Traxcn reports Mokobara’s revenue in FY22 at Rs. 12 crore, with a loss of Rs 4 crore. However, the founders say they are now at an ARR of Rs.180 crore and profitable.
Post-pandemic travel and a continuing wave of ‘premiumisation’ in India have provided tailwinds, while portfolio diversification is helping.
The founders know that there are no overnight successes in consumer brands. Says Agarwal, “The consumer brand playbook is there to tell us what to do, so as founders our job is to decide the timing for these things. When do we launch offline stores? When should we do offline campaigns? Should we sign a celebrity? We’re looking at a horizon of 10-15 years to build a consumer brand. If there’s one thing we have learnt from our experience so far, it’s that being patient and waiting for the right time is all-important.”