CHENNAI: It was once a 200 sq ft shop at Egmore with two sewing machines, one tailor and a signboard bearing Gentleman Outfitters in bold letters. Twenty-five years down the line, with a swanky workspace and around 50 outlets across Tamil Nadu, under the name Derby, founder Vijay Kapoor has built an empire in men’s casual wear. CE visited Derby corporate office at Peters Road recently. Quirky and antique showpieces, minimal decor, curated artwork, and furnished desks adorn the creative workspace. The managing director, Vijay Kapoor’s cabin speak volumes of his aesthetic sense. An open-space with green goodness to unwind, mind maps to assess progress, and motivational quotes hung on the walls. A place for everything and everything in place — he likes it decluttered. Vijay was dressed in an ash-coloured Derby t-shirt under a checked blazer and complemented it with a pair of light blue jeans. Behind his dashing personality and an aura that exudes confidence is the life of a 23-year-old who struggled to establish an identity with his entrepreneurial debut.
The big step
Vijay was born in Bengaluru in a middle-class family with four siblings. He studied at St Bead’s Anglo Indian school and was a mid-ranker. He went to Loyola College in Chennai, completed his BCom and worked as a salesperson for the initial few years. He enjoyed the first taste of success at this job with the promotion to a sales executive. However, that wasn’t his cup of tea. He decided to start a business with his savings of `1 lakh. “A friend and I wanted to start a Punjabi restaurant. We invested `2 lakh. The plan flopped due to financial reasons and it was a big loss for me. I used to wonder why it was so difficult for the working class to step out of their boundaries and take risks. But I continued with my sales job until the next plan worked out,” opened up Vijay.
Why a garment business out of all the other options? Behind a fashion-conscious person is a life-changing experience that transformed his personality and core beliefs. “Once I happened to visit a house as part of my sales job routine. I wore a simple shirt, pant, chappals, and a cloth bag. The security refused to let me in saying ‘Dogs and sales representatives aren’t allowed.’ That jolted and scarred me big time. The next day, I borrowed a formal shirt tucked inside a formal pant and complemented it with a pair of shoes. He welcomed me with a salute. That moment made me realise that people judge a book by its cover,” recollected Vijay.
For the perfect fit
Months of groundwork in men’s casual wear and custom-made clothing motivated him to start his business on a small scale with a meagre investment. The first shop called Gentlemen Outfitters was opened in 1994 at Egmore. “I learned everything from stitching, cutting, designing, and taking the measurement. We went to every person’s house instead of expecting them to walk in all the time. Wedding seasons got us busy. We stood apart in our fits for the Indian body types and that garnered us a devoted following through word of mouth. Upon the feedback from our customers, we ventured into ready-made clothing and used our strengths wisely. The shop was renamed Derby in 1998. Then began the journey,” shared Kapoor.
Of the 50 outlets in Tamil Nadu, 19 are in Chennai. Derby also imports garments. It is working towards expansion in foreign countries.The brand and its staff are staunch believers of slow fashion, recyclability, and ethical values. By 2025, Kapoor personally wants to create 1,000 first-generation entrepreneurs.