Heiress to a billion dollar textile empire, Radhika Goenka makes a departure from towels and bed linen to nail lingerie

Radhika Goenka. Pic/Milind Saukar
Radhika Goenka. Pic/Milind Saukar

Radhika Goenka wears her lineage lightly. The 24-year-old heiress to the US$3.5 billion Welspun empire, was certain that she wanted to do something of her own. Two years of harbouring an idea, followed by three years of putting plan to action has finally made it possible for her to realise a dream. Barely days away from the launch of her first bespoke brand of lingerie, Goenka's days are packed with business meetings and ironing out last-minute-details.

Daughter to BK Goenka and Dipali, she seems to know a thing or two about making noise. The young entrepreneur is poised to introduce India to the lingerie vending machine, the first batch of which will be installed in Mumbai over the coming weeks. Goenka is keeping her cards close to her chest currently. "I don't want my competition to know too much about my plans," she tells us with a disarming smile, as we meet her at Welspun house in Kamala Mills. It's a Friday, but she barely has time to cool off. "It has taken me a long time to make it here. It's not easy to venture out of the family business. In fact, initially, my parents just laughed it off. And then things got serious. But after the heat cooled off, they mentored me. I studied the market and went back to them with a business plan. I took advice from senior management of the firm too. It took me over a year to get a go-ahead from my father," she says.

Her interest in lingerie dates back to college. "After a degree in liberal arts from Wellesley College, Boston — that's where Hillary Clinton went — I moved to London for a year-long course in LCF. There, for a project, we had to develop a core fashion product. I and two other Russian students picked lingerie. That's where the seed was sown. We called it Veremente, Italian for 'love always'. That's where my company Veremente Simple Living Pvt. Ltd. gets its name. Under that, I am launching Lingerie Shop, an e-commerce platform, under which we plan to introduce six bespoke brands. For the offline platform, we'll have the vending machines."

It's not like she did not try her hand at textiles. "I interned with Christy, our core brand in Manchester that supplies towels to Wimbledon. It gave me a basic understanding of how the system works. I worked with my mother too for Spaces in the bed-sheets and linen arena. But it was just not me. I wanted to do something that had a stamp of my own," she says, adding, "But yes, seeing Wimbledon stars use our towels is always exciting, especially Roger Federer - he's my favourite!"
Goenka calls the next chapter in her life her "proving ground". Is she nervous? "I am not. Maybe a little, actually," she laughs.

Edited excerpts from an interview.

Why a lingerie vending machine?
Why not? You see them fully functional abroad. We have the capital. Why go abroad for such experiences? I want to bring the concept to India. I'm a believer in Make In India concept and an admirer of Narendra Modi. Rather than a new product, I wish to create a different concept of the product itself.

Where do you plan to install it?
Essentially in public places with plenty of footfall. Airports are one option we are looking at, besides malls. We could consider multiplexes too. I want to start with Mumbai, and then eventually branch out to seven cities including the metros. We have a few ideas, I don't want to give away too much at this point.

Do you think Indians will be open to buying lingerie in public?
That's the mould I want to break. We won't know until we try, will we? Also, the products in the vending machine are fully packaged — it's not like you'll be pulling out a bra or panty in public. What's inside the box is known only to you.

Tell us more about the features?
It's user-friendly. There will be a screen where you can see the product closely, examine the details. We also plan to have one salesperson at each machine, to guide our customers.

How can the vending machine tackle the issue of size, and cater to a customer base that is largely used to lingerie trials?
The machine, much like our online platform, will have a size guide. We are targeting the buyer between 22 to 45 years. If they are cool with purchasing lingerie online, this should not be a stumbling block either. Online, we will have a 48-hour return policy. And off-line, customers could try it at a restroom nearby and then ship it back to us, if they need to.

What can the customer expect from Lingerie Shop?
The best quality. My father has taught me to focus on quality. He says, no matter how beautifully you package a product, it is the touch and feel that matters. We have invested a lot in that.

What do your parents have to say now that you are ready to launch?
They are observing for now (laughs). But they have asked me to tread cautiously. I like to hit the ground running. Life is too short. Everything has to be in the here and now. I am aware of the expectations and that it takes time to to build a brand. There's always a cash burn in the first step. It will take a few years to gauge the returns. But, I have a game plan and I believe in going with my gut.