Lifestyle

Bear Appeal – a solution to your wardrobe woes

By Dimithri Wijesinghe
Photos Krishan Kariyawasam

During the past two years, you’ve most likely heard the terms “Bear Appeal” or “Bear Apparel” being used by members in your friends’ circle who usually have a very minimalist sense of style with more emphasis on comfort.

“Bear Appeal”, commonly incorrectly referred to as “Bear Apparel”, has really come a long way since its establishment only two years ago. It was co-founded by CEO Thamara Kandagoda and COO Pavithra Perera.

Bear Appeal started off as a men’s basics brand. Providing high-quality t-shirts for everyday wear, they’re all about convenience and peace of mind.

The brand was born out of the need for a convenient solution to shopping for basics, which tends to be difficult as most items freely available in the market are hardly free of unnecessary designs and brand logos. Bear Appeal wanted to cater simple, yet comfortable items so that one can “set it and forget it”.

Currently offering women’s sizes as well, the company has come to be known for their excellent customer service, user-friendly website, and mind-blowing delivery policy.

It is unsurprising that the brand achieved such success, considering how co-founders Thamara and Pavithra – both incredibly laid-back guys – belong to their brand’s primary target audience. Who would understand the product more than the consumer in its intended market?

‘Others were looking for the same thing we were’

Wearing Bear Appeal polos themselves, the two explained how they had found the perfect solution to their own wardrobe woes while creating a product they and others like them could enjoy, adding: “We pretty much threw away any other type of tops we owned.”

Their size chart had also become a point of discussion as they adopt Sri Lankan standard sizing as opposed to the UK or US sizing we are used to. However, since they’re made to fit our body structure, it’s a lot easier to go by their chart.

Mates from Ananda College, Thamara and Pavithra were keen on starting their own business, but were unable to decide on a product. However, after watching an episode of Shark Tank, they both decided to go for it; pick one item, focus their energies, then gauge the outcome.

They said: “This product felt like the best option because we were looking for plain-coloured shirts with no unnecessary logos and designs and we assumed there were others looking for the same in Sri Lanka too.”

They also added: “If we wanted to buy something like that, it usually costs a lot to have it brought down and even then, the quality is never guaranteed.”

After conducting a Google survey online, they soon released the demand was overwhelming, and they decided to go all in.

“We didn’t really have an end goal or a grand scheme in mind when we first started. We just wanted to try it out, and things took off. All we wanted to do was create a simple process to order and a simple product to use.”

Designs backed by popular demand

Speaking about how they went about setting up the business, they said: “It’s not that hard to find garment suppliers in Sri Lanka. Our island is popular for garments and we make a lot of apparels here. Some of the best brands in the world make their products here and with a few phone calls and a couple of visits to factories, we selected a few suppliers to partner with.”

Their initial designs were of crew necks and polos. Following the brand’s success, the duo became more involved in trying to incorporate designs that were backed by popular demand, based on customer requests, in addition to their basic designs.

Since their product is a basic plain t-shirt, the fabric of the product is their main focus. The fabric they use is locally sourced and picked keeping in mind the tropical climate, ensuring it’s perfectly breathable. They said: “At one point, we looked at importing the fabric and it was rather messy; a lot of things were not in our control and for people like us, starting out small, we realised a number of things could go wrong.”

It’s all about the customer

While many Sri Lankan brands struggle with customer service, Thamara and Pavithra have managed successfully subvert this trope by offering a personalised service. Even as we were in conversation, they engaged with each and every customer, not leaving much time between an inquiry and their response.

The said: “We really stress on our customer service element; we provide quick exchanges, money on delivery, and are ready and willing to answer any and all questions.”

Speaking about their bold delivery policy, they explained that if a product takes longer than five days to get delivered, they offer a money-back guarantee. And according to the duo, in their two years of operation, they’ve had to compensate on only two occasions, which were as a result of unforeseeable circumstances entirely beyond their control.

They are able to provide such a guarantee primarily due to the delivery service with which they work, which is in addition to their own delivery person within Colombo.

As for deliveries to outstation areas, they said they use speed post, a service provided by Sri Lanka Post, adding: “It’s highly reliable and very fast.”

What lies ahead

Speaking about what’s next for the brand, they said they were brewing a few ideas, which they evaded sharing, stating that we would find out pretty soon. However, they said their short-term goal was to expand their range, adding: “Most of our customers go ahead and buy the whole range, and the next thing they want is more colours.”

Touching on operating a startup in Sri Lanka and also ensuring its success, the duo agreed that if they had concentrated on it as a side gig, or a part-time business, they wouldn’t have been able to sustain it for this long.

“It is not a capital-heavy business. From day one, we did not take a salary, so there was cash flow from the beginning. Once we sell a t-shirt, money comes in. So there was no major investment capital as such to get started.”

However, despite being involved full time, with Thamara quitting his cushy job to pursue their partnership, they pointed out that they both had fallback plans that were solid enough, so they were not too worried about the risks.

Speaking of their partnership, they both joked about how despite Thamara being in a long-term committed relationship, the message thread that contained the most messages on his phone was with Pavithra.

Concluding the conversation, both Thamara and Pavithra said that it’s not about waiting for the perfect idea. “The reason we even delayed this as much as we did was because I was waiting for that perfect idea, and at the time, selling t-shirts did not appeal to me; there was no flair, no flash,” said Thamara. However, they then realised that starting was important, rather than simply thinking about starting.