When Krsnaa Mehta was a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York (1998-2002), interior design was limited to the privileged and home décor meant shopping for artefacts from craft emporiums or a handful of lifestyle stores. Travelling between New York and Mumbai, he was struck by the limited choices available for gifts. That is when the idea of starting a brand that sold sophisticated India-inspired homeware and artefacts came to him. It took almost a decade to follow up on it.
In 2012, goaded by friends, and after successful spells with lifestyle brands such as Good Earth, The Bombay Store and The Elephant Company as a consulting designer in Mumbai, Mehta started India Circus as an online store that sold home décor, fashion and personal accessories. His friends, Xerxes Talati and Devika Khimji, became co-investors.
Talking to Lounge over Google Meet from his Mumbai office, done up in a signature India Circus wallpaper, Mehta, now 43, admits to feeling the jitters. “I wasn’t in a comfortable position juggling between my family business and doing independent design work for brands like Good Earth, Westside and The Bombay Store.” Mehta’s father, Rajan Mehta, owns the well-known Zeba Design store in Mumbai’s Lower Parel. “My friends started telling me that it was time I tried to do something on my own. And while they did support me, starting the business did scare me initially,” he says.
Today, the brand has offline stores across cities and offers products ranging from furniture, tableware, fabrics and personal accessories to wallpaper and wall art. Its diverse product lines come in prices ranging from Rs. 87 for face masks and Rs. 419 for cushion covers to dinner sets starting from Rs. 6,822 and wooden benches for Rs. 13,499. Quality products at affordable prices is their mantra.
For most customers, the website, www.indiacircus.com, is their first introduction to the lifestyle brand. It also continues to draw in the numbers. Mehta, now the brand’s design director, says the team receives around 2,500-3,000 online orders every month, with numbers peaking in October-March, a period when most of the major Indian festivals and weddings are celebrated.
Mehta only went in for an offline store initially as a marketing tool that would allow potential customers to touch and feel the products. In 2017, the first India Circus by Krsnaa Mehta brick-and-mortar store opened in Colaba, south Mumbai. Outlets—measuring 400x600 sq. ft—followed in cities like Pune, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Chennai. “These stores were set up primarily for marketing purposes. The thought behind it was that when our customers experience our products, they will know that they can order the product online without having to worry about its quality,” Mehta explains.
But the 15 offline stores—five in Mumbai; two each in Chennai and Pune; and one each in Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Alibaug, Jaipur and Hyderabad—have turned revenue generators as well. “We have 15 stores and are looking at capping an overall presence of 20 stores by the end of this year,” Mehta says. Besides bringing in revenue, the physical stores augment the brand’s presence and make it accessible to customers across all age groups.
From a rookie entrepreneur to the founder of a recognised brand, Mehta has come a long way, dreaming of a global presence on the back of support from Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd. In January 2016, the holding company of Godrej Group acquired a 51% stake in India Circus. The brand name was changed to India Circus by Krsnaa Mehta.
The years leading up to the acquisition had been good years for India Circus. Its India-modern design aesthetic had found acceptance and things were going fine. So, Mehta wasn’t feverishly looking for investors. But when Godrej & Boyce expressed interest in acquiring it, he agreed readily. “The moment Navroze (Godrej) and his father, Jamshyd(Godrej), expressed interest in India Circus, I thought that there was only one way to grow this brand and that was to have strong backing,” says Mehta. “I have always equated success with having the ability to reach as many customers as possible. And today, while it is India Circus by Krsnaa Mehta, in many ways besides just the name, it is also a much stronger brand than when I started it,” he adds.
A 2016 Mint report on the Godrej & Boyce acquisition noted that India Circus would close fiscal 2016 with revenue of ₹20 crore. The brand, Mehta says, has grown by 75% year-on-year over the last five years. “Our revenues are at ₹60-70 crore currently and are looking at reaching ₹100 crore within the next three years. We are on track with respect to this business trajectory,” says Mehta. He hopes some day to be running 500-600 stores globally.
As for the support lent by the parent company, Mehta says it is not just financial. “It is also a lot of love, attention and appreciation for what we do. India Circus is the baby of the group but it has become a part of the ethos of a brand that is celebrating 125 years,” Mehta says, adding that he has independence when it comes to the brand’s creative aspect and day-to-day running of the business “as long as I remain within the budget that I have set for myself”.
Mehta’s Instagram page is a pretty pastiche of his life and interest in interiors, travel and all things beautiful. It has also, not surprisingly, become a channel for India Circus customers and admirers to connect with him. He has visited homes done up in India Circus products. He adds: “A lot of people post testimonials online. These testimonials are so charming and heartwarming; they tell you that people are enjoying the ethos of the brand.” Besides compliments and general comments, Mehta also has people seeking his inputs on how to do up their homes. “They ask me questions like what wall paint colours would go well with our wallpapers, for instance, and I actually respond to them,” he says.
His 150-member team too is steeped in the culture of being accessible to customers. “Just yesterday, someone posted from Canada thanking the team for delivering the 100 or so wedding return gifts she had ordered from us. She said that she was happy with the service and made a special mention of the team member who had done the delivery. These little things matter,” Mehta says.
The Indian interior design industry is growing at a fast clip. A 2022 report from the International Market Analysis Research and Consulting Group (IMARC Group) states that the interior design market reached Rs. 2,307 crore in 2022 and is expected to reach Rs. 4,235 crore by 2028 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.3% from 2023-28. Another report, from the Ireland-based ResearchandMarkets.com, states that India’s home décor market in 2022, estimated at Rs. 2,367 crore, is expected to reach Rs. 3,250 crore by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 4.18%.
A report by TechNavio, a global technology research and advisory company, estimates the online home décor market size in India will grow by ₹3,090 crore, accelerating at a CAGR of 10.24%, between 2021-26. Certainly, home décor is a popular subject on social media—especially on Instagram and Pinterest. If cottagecore was popular yesterday, it’s Barbiecore décor today. From maximalism to minimaluxe, the trends are changing constantly. In a situation where new D2C (direct to customer) brands emerge every day, it’s perhaps natural that some end up being copycats, serving up cheaper imitations of more popular brands. Mehta is no stranger to these.
He terms the mom-and-pop stores on Instagram a kind of threat but they don’t faze him. “When it comes to brands that have copied our designs, we send out a legal cease-and-desist notice to them.” But the imitators he finds amusing are the wedding card designers and decorators. “They just take our designs in the background, put a square in the middle and write ‘Mihir weds Shalini’. That’s it. They don’t have to do any other work!” Mehta laughs before taking comfort in the quote, “Imitation is the best form of flattery.”
The place Mehta heads to when he wants to get away from it all is his home in Alibaug. Life there, he says, is about “living in a tropical paradise with birds, bees, billions of trees and the ocean”. He does enjoy travel, though, preferring cities or places that are extremely tropical or high up in the mountains. “There’s no in-between,” he says.
Today, Mehta is happy he has achieved his vision “of creating products that would make me proud of gifting India to people”. “We have people coming up to us telling us that they love gifting India Circus when travelling abroad. These are testimonials to the fact that what one wanted to achieve is being achieved,” Mehta notes.
While he may joke about being called “India’s Cushion Man”—we sell 8,000 cushions a month, he shares—Mehta says he would like to be remembered as someone who “brought the business of design to the forefront of the country’s retail industry”. Mehta’s role in the company today is two-pronged: It entails analysing sales reports and data to create more of what his customers want; and it involves exploring Indian crafts and their design language and adapting them to the brand’s India-modern aesthetic.
As for the distant future, Mehta hopes to see an India Circus store in at least one Indian airport, at Oxford Street in London, and in New York. “It is not an impossible dream but it’s not a priority right now,” he signs off.