BeUnic: Closet is not the place to be says this mom who built an LGBTQ+ community marketplace
BeUnicis an e-commerce and fashion marketplace that showcases lifestyle products created by queer entrepreneurs.
- One of its founders, Simmi Nanda, was inspired by her son Aashish Chopra, to build a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community.
- Though they failed to strike a deal, the founders’ story left the sharks visibly impressed.
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The inspiring story of its founders — the mother-sons trio of Simmi Nanda, Aashish Chopra and Vishesh Chopra left the sharks impressed.
Started in 2019, BeUnic is a Delhi-based startup that functions as an e-commerce marketplace and fashion brand which curates and produces lifestyle products, from queer creators and entrepreneurs.
“A mother has so many dreams for her son – he studies well, gets married and has children. I had these dreams too. But when I learned about Ashish’s sexuality, I was very saddened. I thought my dreams would never come true. But they’re just dreams. You can weave new ones. This was the beginning of my new journey,” shared Nanda on the show.
While Nanda works on BeUnic full-time, Aashish works on it part-time. He has a full-time job in the HR department of Google. He’s worked with Philips and Amazon in the past. His elder brother, Vishesh, also has another business revolving around NFTs and cryptocurrency.
The diversified interests of the founders led to the sharks backing out from investing in the brand, but Nanda’s story of accepting her child’s sexuality and starting a community left the panel visibly impressed.
‘Closet is not the place to be’
A law graduate from Delhi University, Nanda shifted to Nagpur after her marriage and ran a business with ex-husband, selling dental and medical equipment. After 22 years of marriage, she divorced her husband. Consequently, she undertook multiple courses to ‘transform’ herself, including a course on public speaking.
In 2016, she got to know through her sister and niece that her son, Aashish, is gay. Aashish was 19 at the time. Her first reaction was one of shock and hurt, and for four months she and Aashish were not on talking terms.
Her elder son Vishesh educated her about the community and helped her process the information. Gradually, she came to the realization that this was normal and Aashish needed her support.
Advertisement“I thought I should help Aashish, he must have struggled enough already. Our public speaking mentor told us to deliver a speech that’s close to our hearts, in front of a group of 40-50 people. I prepared a speech for him (Aashish) and accepted him in front of everyone – Love them, hug them, and kiss them because the closet is not the place to be in,” shared Nanda on the show.
Inspired by his own fondness for heels and the lack of inclusive footwear, Aashish started BeUnic as a gender-fluid and inclusive footwear brand. It expanded into an online marketplace after Aashish attended a conference in Bengaluru for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs. He realized that most queer entrepreneurs sell their products primarily through social media channels like Instagram because setting up a website was costly and complex.
Today, apart from footwear, BeUnic offers clothes, accessories, footwear, stationery, and home decor. It currently has 500 products from 26 creators, which have been shipped to 12 countries. The startup commissions designs from queer artists. It also uses models from the community to promote its products.
“The other platforms are just selling merchandise. Our platform’s specialty is that we’re trying to build a community,” added Nanda.
BeUnic generated sales to the tune of ₹20,000 in FY20. The following year, when the founders tried building a marketplace, Covid-19 impacted their business. BeUnic sold merchandise worth ₹1.25 lakh in FY21 and ₹50 lakh in FY22.
Too early to invest
While all of the sharks were moved by the founders’ story, they saw little merit in investing in the startup. BoAt co-founder Aman Gupta was the first to back out, stating that BeUnic appeared to be a ‘side project’ for the founders.
Sugar Cosmetics’ co-founder
“If you can strengthen the community you’re building to reach sales worth ₹2-₹3 crore, then it can become an investable business. However, your (Simmi) journey has inspired me, and I believe, will inspire many other people,” remarked Thapar.
Shaadi.com founder Anupam Mittal echoed Thapar’s sentiments about the founders’ story being incredibly inspiring while advising them to build a community app or network that could later be leveraged or converted into commerce.
AdvertisementLenskart co-founder Peyush Bansal, however, made an offer of ₹25 lakh for 25% equity, along with ₹75 lakh in debt on the condition that founders convert BeUnic from a marketplace to a D2C brand and work on it full-time. He even offered the founders to create BeUnic eyewear for Lenskart.
“I’d like you to make eyewear for BeUnic too, and I’d sell that brand on Lenskart. If you wish to use the community to source your designs, I’ve no problem with it,” said Bansal. However, the founders declined the offer and walked away without a deal.
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