MAKE IN INDIA: SHIV-NARESH STYLE
Back in the 1980s, Adille Sumariwala represented India at many international events – including the 1980 Moscow Olympics – as a 100m runner. Sumariwala is the current president of the Athletics Federation of India and over the last three decades, has observed Indian sport from close quarters. Almost 30 years ago, he once called a budding sportswear entrepreneur to ask about quality sports apparel.
That entrepreneur was RK Singh, founder and chairman of Shiv-Naresh. “After I was done taking measurements and details of apparel, Sumariwala asked me to have lunch with him,” recalls Singh with great fondness. Having lunch with one of India’s top athletes of the time was a big deal for Singh. Today, India’s top athletes are lining up to wear Singh’s shoes: Boxers MC Mary Kom and Vijender Singh, shooter Abhinav Bindra, cricketer Yuvraj Singh and the Indian hockey team all swear by Shiv-Naresh.
Singh was a national-level athlete and remembers the struggle of finding good apparel in the 1970s. To fill the void, he started Shiv-Naresh in 1980. He worked with Delhi Cloth Mills and soon started to learn basic tailoring. Shiv-Naresh started out of his home in west Delhi and Singh’s wife helped him in the initial years. “The edge I had was that I understood better the kind of stuff athletes sought out,” he says. For the first seven years, the business was run out of his home. In 1987, Singh set up a factory-cum-shop and his products were sold directly to athletes. Soon, sports federations and associations started to take note of his brand and approached him to manufacture for them. In 1991, Singh set up a factory in Samaypur Badli, on the outskirts of New Delhi. Currently, Shiv-Naresh has five factories that churn out sporting apparel of all kinds and the company posted a turnover of Rs 69 crore in the last financial year.
The men’s hockey team has been wearing kits designed by Shiv-Naresh for the last four years. A spokesperson for Hockey India says, “We have been using their apparel for training as well as playing and our association with them has been excellent.” Shiv-Naresh apparel has been used in movies like Mary Kom, Sultan and Azhar. Talk of Mary Kom and it brings a smile to Singh’s face. “She has been using our products since the beginning of her career and it’s a testament to our quality that she has been with us for so long.”
Maintaining quality is both critical and challenging for Singh, who says that his mantra is simple: don’t compromise on it, even if margins are lower. “It’s not about the money, as we cater to enhance the athletes’ performance,” he says.
What’s equally important is the feedback they receive from athletes. “We are constantly looking to improve and athletes know that we can or will deliver what they are seeking,” Singh says.
Singh named the brand after his two sons, both of whom assist him in running the business. He is 75 now and is still hands-on but his sons look after day-to-day operations. Singh says that he always wanted his sons – an engineer and a science graduate – to take on the business. “They’ve helped immensely in making the brand what it is today,” he says, the pride evident in his voice.
The secret of his brand’s success has been careful execution and planning. “We never wanted to expand just for the heck of it and didn’t believe in opening huge stores,” he says. Shiv-Naresh products are widely available on sites like Flipkart and Amazon. “Our audience has been athletes and they are fully aware of what we are all about,” he says when asked about the brand’s lack of promotion. Singh doesn’t fret about competition from giants like Adidas and Nike. When athletes wear the brand’s apparel and bring laurels to the nation, he feels a great sense of pride.
Did he ever imagine in 1980 that his brand would become this big? “Honestly, no. I never thought we would become what we are today. I only wanted to solve athletes’ problem of finding good apparel,” he says. As an athlete, Singh wanted a “good pair of shorts” but was unable to find one. Someone told him he should go to Patiala, as it was the place to find good sports wear. That one journey in a rickety bus changed his life, and has enchanced the lives of a lot of Indian athletes over the last 30 years, too.