How an Indian entrepreneur is taking on sportswear giants like Adidas, Puma

When Vishal Singh suffered strain in his foot while working out in a gym, his trainer suggested that he try on a pair of Azani footwear. Azani Sports’ patented Sonic Surge midsole system claims to cushion both horizontal and vertical forces for a soft landing of an athlete’s feet.

Azani Sport is a sports gear manufacturing start-up that sells online and through select retail outlets. Siddharth Suchde, a Harvard graduate, decided to start a sports apparel company after playing squash at the international level and winning an Asian Games medal for India.

It was recently selected by Sequoia India to be part of its first group of 17 start-ups for the Surge programme — an accelerator of sorts to kick-start a young company with a $1.5 million cheque and mentorship from star investors and founders like Rajan Anandan and Kunal Shah. 

Opportunity

The market for fitness and sports apparel is expected to cross $50 billion worldwide between 2018 and 2023, accelerating at a CAGR of more than 5 per cent, according to a Technavio report. The sportswear market in India grew from Rs 24,000 crore in 2014 to Rs 37,000 crore in 2016, according to a Euromonitor report.

The athleisure market is dominated by global majors like Puma, Adidas, Nike — each sell apparel worth billions of dollars every year. So, how does Azani plan to set itself apart in the crowded space?

Product mix

The founder says that most of the big brands are focused on a specific segment — running shoes account for as high as 95 per cent of their sales. Azani intends to offer products that are tailor-made to meet the unique demands of a particular sport as the gear that is suitable for running might not be suitable for playing squash or lifting weights in a gym. 

Further, the company differentiates itself by attending to the needs of individual customers. If a sportsperson flags a deficiency or has a suggestion, the product might be immediately taken back to the drawing board to work out a solution. These successive iterations are meant to improve the product along the way. 

Challenges

To maintain the novelty of customising a product multiple times could be a challenging task as the company plans to scale up in terms of categories and take its fare to mainstream e-commerce platforms where products have a fast off-the-shelves pace.   
Road ahead

At present, Azani makes sports apparel only for men. It is planning to launch gear for women and kids in the next few months. Suchde says a retailer from J&K contacted him for supplies recently.


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