First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Rishabh Khandelwal: We are doing fine, Kossi. Thank you so much for asking. Hoping your family, team & you are doing well too. I was blessed with a baby boy a couple of months back. So I consider myself fortunate to be able to find constant joy in these difficult times.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Hangrr.
Rishabh Khandelwal: I started my career in tech a decade ago as a research & algorithms scientist. Having just graduated from the coveted IIT Kanpur, I found myself amidst the hustle-bustle of Bangalore working on the world’s biggest biometrics project. As serendipity had its way, my co-founder & I got connected over a micro-volunteering project, which was founded by me as a pro-bono venture. The idea of Hangrr was born, and the initial days were spent in both Bangalore and London in building the technology (that later laid the foundation of Artificial Intelligence) and setting the supply chain. 2016 – Philadelphia Eagles, Cheesesteak, Wharton’s immersive culture, and the Entrepreneurial alumni were enough to persuade me to think about attending Wharton. The admissions committee found the matching stars, and soon there was an interview call. Little did I know that this interview would put Hangrr into another orbit. A chance encounter with a college friend put us in Houston, and there was no looking back.
How does Hangrr innovate?
Rishabh Khandelwal: Clothing should be simple and made to fit your life. We are developing a cutting edge artificial intelligence-enabled fashion brand programmed with this simple philosophy. We like to keep things simple for people and build to adapt to the way people are most comfortable shopping. Hangrr was founded with a singular aim to automate the age-old luxury fashion industry. Thus started the journey to bring augmented reality & machine learning to the world of fashion. In the conquest of creating Lenna, over the last 5 years, we re-imagined pattern making, custom-fitted tens of thousands of people across the globe & built an A.I. embedded manufacturing hub. We continue to push the boundaries and envision to build a fully automated mass customization era in the next 10 years.
We built our A.I. to make great clothing, not to sell ads. We automate to deliver our customers uniquely crafted great fitted suits at ¼ the traditional store pricing. At the same time, we are helping with a 76% reduction in fresh-water usage in textiles, an 85% reduction in textile landfills, and lower the depletion of natural resources compared to fast-fashion consumption.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Rishabh Khandelwal: Over the years, we have been fortunate to work with a lot of customers to complete wedding party suits and outfits. As the world began to shut down, many people had to postpone their wedding plans. We had to rework the themes and styles as summer weddings turned into winter homely affairs. We could feel the angst and pain of shifting venues, tweaked dream weddings, canceling guests, etc. We truly believe that the world would be a beautiful place when companies are more compassionate and when they stand with their customers. We are glad that our stylists and agents, though working from home, we’re able to help our clients work through these stressful times.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Rishabh Khandelwal: Most certainly. We decided to put on hold our plans for retail integration of our brand for this year. With more and more people shifting to our online store, it felt like the right thing to do. People are much more comfortable buying sustainable products from the comfort and safety of their homes. We are also building on our very popular Vegan clothing options as more and more people are happily resonating with our mission statement. We have been stoked in getting 100% vegan suits custom made for thousands of changemakers and helping them showcase the versatility and high-fashion appeal of vegan suits. We are glad that more and more people are willing to try buying custom suits online now and willing to adapt to newer technologies while doing so.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Hangrr in the future?
Rishabh Khandelwal: The beginning of the pandemic was highly stressful, with most global supply chains disrupted. Having to keep up with operations in 3 countries was very stressful and challenging. From managing work from home sops of our tech and styling teams to ensuring every single artisan is supported 100% through these difficult times. We had to build new internal communication channels as well as tech-train most of our artisans to handle direct integrations with our complex systems. But at the end of the day, this forced offset has paid rich dividends over the last few months. I think it is rightly said that necessity is the mother of all invention. This move has helped us better our output both in accuracy and speed.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Rishabh Khandelwal: I feel there is phenomenal value in further harnessing A.I. across various aspects of Fashion and Lifestyle. Hence, we focus heavily on the technology that we are creating.
We hope that we create a mass-customized world from today’s mass-produced era. Not only is it more personable for an individual’s style and personality, but it is also infinitely more sustainable for the environment. It is how life should be—the way you like it when you want it. Our competitors in the traditional sense are Indochino, Blacklapel & Suitsupply, to name a few. But we truly believe what Hangrr has to offer is far more than just clothing. We offer you a personalized lifestyle that is easy to get, and that doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket. With our tech-enabled in-house back-end facilities, we truly take the stress involved in custom & bring high-accurate customized fashion to the world at mass-produced pricing.
We have seen drastic improvements from comparing the three ‘professional’ measurements, ‘personal’ measurements, and AI-predicted measurements. It’s common that when the same professional measures a person twice, there may be differences in the two measurement sets received. You can imagine the errors when this is executed in person because of how the measurements are based on human perception and experience. We started by challenging this notion that this is something that can be addressed quickly via machine learning. We took this further to rethink the art of bespoke suit-making, with proven results. Part of the idea of the in-person fitting is based on the subsequent understanding of the individual’s body, gait, and posture. The 3D drape is set on the human form and is highly inefficient in many parts, considering the advancement of technology today. We are not trying to beat a true artist here—but we are confident that this could solve 99 percent of the need for fitting issues and expectation-matching.
Your final thoughts?
Rishabh Khandelwal: People are much happier with the minimum hassle involved in the order process, and since we are confidently able to back every product using our technology, they are thrilled that they could make use of this. But getting to this point has taken us years of preparation. The most challenging part was building up our manufacturing capability that could utilize our technology’s power. We couldn’t just tap into existing capacities as we found them to be inefficient and rigid. The basic methodologies have only been tweaked and not radically rethought over the last 100 years. That was very surprising. Building this ground-up involved a huge learning curve, and it took us over three years to perfect every moving element in it. It’s part of the Lean manufacturing methodology fused with the insights and power of A.I. We have been able to improve delivery cycles radically while maintaining details and efficiency.