Melorra raises 5 million dollars from Lightbox Ventures




Its name in Greek suggests "golden apple", in Norse legend "forever young and beautiful". Melorra is a well-funded Internet startup with a vision as big as its name. Co-founder Saroja Yeramilli tells The Retail Jeweller how her company intends to harmonise young consumers and fashion trends, on the one hand, with jewellery, allegedly on the other. Rrishi Raote

Everywhere one turns in our industry today there is a jeweller either with or in search of a good idea to maximise their brand’s potential in a world where consumers are moving online. The standout names in precious jewellery online so far are, of course, BlueStone.com and CaratLane.com — but the offerings are growing more diverse every week.

The latest to make a sizeable splash is Melorra. This is a Bengaluru-based startup anchored by an experienced core team of professionals who believe that they have a pathbreaking approach. The company only began operating on 8 January, so the publicity splash is owed less to immediate market impact than to the astonishing track record Melorra has in securing venture capital support. Headlines in January, following a funding announcement, informed us that in its second round of funding, this early stage Internet business received $5m (over ?33cr) from Lightbox Ventures — the largest ever such investment in India. The first round happened seven months previously, and in stealth mode.

Saroja Yeramilli, co-founder and CEO, explains : “The thought behind Melorra was that young women in India really don't buy fine or precious jewellery any more. All manufacturers and retailers are saying that women of 25-35 are not buying fine jewellery,” and that discretionary income is spent on couture, vacations and mobile phones instead. “This is a big concern for the entire jewellery industry.”

The reason, she says, is that “Most jewellery that the industry supplies is [designed] for weddings. It is heavy, chunky, traditional jewellery — which is actually more suitable for Indian clothes. Indian women of all age groups are moving to Western attire. We call this the Great Wardrobe Mismatch, where 80 per cent of the wardrobe is Western, but 80 per cent of the jewellery is Indian.”

What’s more, she says, globally, “Jewellery lags fashion by two years or more. The trends in clothes come into jewellery a little later.” Ruffles, checks and certain colours are in now — but, for example, the colours of the season are slow to work their way into the jewellery industry. Jewellery designs don't change that fast, anywhere in the world.

It is not as if Indian jewellers are unaware of this situation, nor seized of the need to attract young consumers. Design-wise, the most widespread response has been to create lighter pieces for everyday wear, pieces that remain Indian in look and material. “They have just contemporised age-old designs,” says Yeramili, implying that they have missed the point — and the bus.

“We plan our jewellery on what women are wearing globally,” she says. Melorra will closely track international clothes brands such as Zara — a name she mentions several times, because it is famous for updating its stock every week.  “We talk to fashion editors to know which trends will come to India,” says Yeramilli. “When we are certain that Zara [and others] will bring those clothes here, that's when we design. We want to be absolutely current with fashion. Clothes take longer to design. The cycle turns over much less for jewellery. So we are able to design in season.”

Though Melorra expects to have a fully functional website up in April, at present it functions off an Apple iOS app (developed for them, incidentally, by one of the founders of ClearTrip.com, the Internet travel giant, working with a UX designer from San Francisco). On the app there is almost no text, and the look is clutter-free.  There is no crowd of product images; instead, the approach is couture-led, with subsections sorted first by occasion (Party, Work, Casual) and then by fashion trend (currently checks and stripes, pastels, ruffles, vintage gold, Bohemian soft-and-flowing, and so on). Melorra’s jewellery designs — all, says Yeramilli, exclusive to the retailer — are viewed in these subsections, firmly subordinating the jewellery to the overall look.

And this is what the CEO intends. “I, as a woman, understand how women buy and wear jewellery,” she says. “The outfit comes first. Jewellery is an accessory. We treat it like a true accessory.”
    
Melorra’s approach combines jewellery, technology and fashion. “Our vision is to bring together the three different industries,” she says. “We have people fom fashion and  textiles. We have magazine editors and content writers. In tech we have UX-UI designers, engineers, etc. From jewellery we have merchandisers, manufacturers, designers.”
    
The brand, she enumerates, must stay relevant, fashionable, affordable and comfortable.  The first attribute is covered by the Melorra app’s proprietary “Stylefeed” which demonstrates, in Yeramilli’s words,"This is the global trend. This is the jewellery for that." The second is covered by the exclusivity of Melorra’s designs.
    
As for affordability, “Jewellery is an accessory and not an investment alone. We make designs in all the precious materials. We make innovative use of white, yellow and rose gold, two-toned and three-toned gold. We use many interesting colour stones like quartz and citrine, not just ruby, emerald, sapphire.” The average item price is just ?16,000.
    
And the notion of comfort came from the market survey which was part of Melorra’s setup process. Carried out among young consumers in five metros and Indore, Yeramilli says consumers’ pain points were a clear takeaway, including literal pain — on account of heavy pieces and poor finish and fit. “Everything we discovered in the survey is built in,” says Yeramilli. “That's where we learned about the wardrobe mismatch, growth of global brands, increase in Western wear.” So the products look distinctly different and Western, being light, occasionally delicate, and rigorously sleek with a predominance of straight lines.
    
Melorra has not begun marketing yet, though it will soon, chiefly “on social media and digital properties”. Part of the $5m funding from the latest round will be spent on marketing, says Yeramilli, and the rest on talent and technology. There are about 40 employees at present. A secure logistics partner has already been identified, Sequel Logistics of Mumbai. It is too early to get user or sales numbers of any sort, says Yeramilli politely.
    
Of future plans, such as bricks-and-mortar stores for customer experience or sales, she will only say, “Wherever the young women are shopping, we want to be there,” though Melorra’s Android app will very soon be released, and “Today, young people are very comfortable with apps. A phone is an extension of your arm.”
    
Likely because of the founders’ clarity, experience and business smarts, Melorra had a gentle birth. “The amazing thing has been that we did not struggle too much,” says Yeramilli of herself and co-founder R Krishnakumar. She has worked in leadership positions for top consumer brands for over 20 years. She was on Jacob Kurian’s turnaround team at Tanishq in the 1990s, and led the team that established the brand in the USA in the mid-2000s. She has also worked in operations and retail for Kaya Skin Care and Dell Computer respectively. Krishnakumar has worked at Tanishq’s parent Titan, Arvind Lifestyle and Mahindra Retail.
    
Will Melorra win consumers’ trust as it has venture capitalists’? “Every company will want to ensure that they get it right first time,” says the CEO. Besides a clear idea, talent and technological smarts, “We have a 30-day returns policy, the best vendors, a strict in-house quality team, IGI / SGI certification for our diamonds.” And she appears to understand her target customers: “Our vision is to build a really iconic brand for millennial women.”
  

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