You may have come across a famous quote of Darwin “Survival of the Fittest.” There is a competitive struggle for existence in this world where one needs to be authentic, smart, driven and dedicated. RITZ Magazine speaks with the Belgian Consul General for Southern India, Mark Van de Vreken, who took us through his journey of his diplomatic mission in India. The pleasure was once again ours when Abishek Rengasamy, a social entrepreneur, who owns ‘Dumbell’, agreed to open up to us about the biggest passion in his life. On one side, we have a Belgian diplomat, who aims to leave his consular legacy in India for others to build on at the end of his four-year tenure. On the other side, we have an Indian sports entrepreneur, who aims to build a fitness legacy internationally with his clothing line. Despite their differences, these men share the same zeal towards their work, the common motto of ‘BE Fit’!
Photographer: Dinesh Baburaj
Styling: Subhathra Shankar
Makeup: Anushya Devi A
Hairdo: Komal Shanmugam
Location courtesy: Savera Hotel, Chennai
Abishek Rengasamy is the founder and the chairman of a fitness and lifestyle apparel brand called Dumbell, which was awarded as one of the top three start-ups from South India by Start Smart Awards at an event recently held at the Madras Management Association. Dumbell competed with thousands of innovative startups from South India based on a set of rigorous criteria. RITZ digs deep into the life of this successful entrepreneur.
You’ve won a prestigious NITI Aayog award for young entrepreneurs; please tell us about your journey.
It has been a very adventurous process or life journey so far that I am happy to share with you. In my entire family background, there have been no businessmen. My father retired as the Director of the University of Madras, mother was a homemaker. We come from a very low middle class background. I went to Don Bosco, Egmore for my entire schooling, which laid the foundation for me; it taught me discipline and how to network. After I did my B Tech in IT at Velammal, I immediately got placed with TCS. I worked there for nine months. But even within this short period, I won a prestigious Harbinger award at office, which is given to those who set a path to others. However, 6 months later I felt that I was not a right fit for that job. I loved the company but wasnt sure about the nature of my work because I knew I could give a lot more to this world. I quit my job and started preparing for CAT exam, but a month later I also quit that and decided to become a businessman.
What made you start a business soon after your marriage? Do you think you felt the pressure of your personal life was lifted off your shoulders?
My wife and I have been good friends from college days. She comes from a very orthodox family. In the final year we wanted to get married, and so we approached our family, but there was strong resistance from her family. However, I don’t blame her parents or anyone because any parent would naturally be concerned for their kid. But at the same time I did not want to lose her from my life, and she felt the same way about me. We even waited for a year to convince her parents, but when that did not happen we decided to get married against all odds. On August 23, 2012, we got married and since then we are waiting for her parents to accept us, which we hope will happen soon. I felt that my personal life was now set, as you correctly pointed and that is when I took a deep plunge into business. On Aug 31, 2012, I started a small outlet below my residence called ‘A square’, which stands for Abishek and Archana (my wife). I sourced lots of garments from different places, and I bought a lot of steel racks and placed all the garments. One of my dear friends lent me a hand to start the business. Both of us painted the entire place. Slowly business picked up, but we were also very vigilant to seek opportunities, we personally walked up and down the stairs of several IT companies, MNCs and educational institutions to spread the name of our brand. So, that’s how we pulled all the customers towards us like a magnet.
So, when did you move on to a large-scale business? What was the secret to your success?
We started in 2012 and by 2014 our business was flourishing. We then moved to a 2000 sq. ft. location. The secret has been the lowest price for the highest quality. In 2015, I approached Spykar, which is a multinational brand that produces denim. From 2009-15, Spykar was not very active in Tamil Nadu. I found a lot of potential in it. I approached them to convince them to let me have the distribution rights and that’s what they did, they accepted me and gave me the exclusive distribution rights for entire Tamil Nadu and Andaman. At that time my school friend, Mr. Girish Subash joined me as he believed in me, and we joined hands to form a private limited company. We started selling in all major retailers like Saravana, Pothys etc. We started making good turnover, seeing that other brands like Zodiac, Zod, Z3 etc. also approached us. In 2017, I started my own brand.
Why did you want to get into fitness clothing? Why not something else?
During my school days I used to play football and by the time I started college, I also became interested in bodybuilding/weightlifting. I used to participate in the TIES (Tamil Nadu Inter Engineering Sports) events, organised by Anna University. So, after studies, I used to hit the gym. That is when I thought that fitness brand is what I wanted to focus since sports has always been my passion. I am not doing weightlifting ever since my marriage, but I am into fire arms shooting sports. I am also developing sports garments for specific sports such as shooting, fencing etc. Since I was into weightlifting, I wanted my brand ambassador to be a weight lifter, so we approached the Olympian Sathish Kumar Shivalingam, who graciously accepted our request. So, this is how Dumbell’s journey really began and since I collaborated with Spykar, fashion has been integrated into Dumbell. It is not just sportswear but also fashion wear. I took inspiration from their work culture and their business partnership that they have with their retailers. The CEO of Spykar, Sanjay Vakharia is also alumni of Don Bosco (Matunga), so we used to have regular conversations, which got me motivated.My close friend, Murali Vijay Kumar aka BIGLEE, who is now the senior vice president of Dumbell, has played a crucial role in laying the foundation of this brand. Now, he handles our nutrition supplement line.
Tell us a bit more about your sportswear and with which retailers do you sell your brand?
We sell at the moment at VR mall, Grand mall Velachery and Galaxy mall Red hills, Triplicane, Kodambakkam, Vellore and Coimbatore. All these are franchises. Since the brand is also about fashion, Dumbell is not only about sports. It is also about fashion. Someone who goes to the gym can flaunt his or her abs as well as his or her fashion statement. There is no point in making sportswear in just one monotonous colour. Customers like wearing different colours to go to the gym or to play any other sport. We don’t position ourselves that our brand is very cheap, we position ourselves honestly and say that if you pay ` 199 then for that money you’ll get good quality stuff suitable for that range. More importantly, we do not lie to our customers in order to position ourselves better in the market.
People in our country are actually embracing sports and fitness more and more. So, has this changing context helped social entrepreneurs like you to perform well in sports sector?
I have done some market research before starting my sports venture. Based on that, we can safely say that in the coming decades, India is going to become better and better at sports and make a mark on the international level. If you look at our sports minister, Mr. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, a former Olympian and his agenda, it is incredible. My brand ambassador is also an Olympian. There are lots of athletes from many sports in India now, not just cricket. Even the layman is trying to keep healthy. 10 years ago, there were just 2 gyms in the entire city, now there are 2 gyms on every street even in the remote corners of our country. Even the gyms are fully packed now. People have begun to understand the value of physical fitness. They realize that in the long run it’ll save them a lot of hospital bills if they exercise and stay fit.
What is your New Year resolution?
I feel proud that our brand is not just about fitness and looks but is also responsible for promoting sports and health among the public. Usually all international sports wear brands put the name of a famous cricketer, or a famous footballer on the back of the T-shirt, but we are planning to promote the local players from our city, state and national levels. This year, we want to pitch our brand to investors and hopefully get our first round of funding through them. Once that happens, we plan on reaching a higher level and on approaching bigger brand ambassadors to aim for the global market. We want to have exclusive outlets throughout the country as well as in other countries.
What is your message to young entrepreneurs?
Only if you are a risk-taker and a go-getter will you actually be able to survive in this world.