Benita Chacko

"A fourth of our apparel revenue on our online store comes from women": Royal Enfield’s Puneet Sood

Speaking on the occasion of the limited-edition helmet’s launch for it’s 120th anniversary, the Global Head- Apparel Business and Gordon May, the brand's historian, share the process of creating the helmets that depict the brand’s history.

Celebrating it’s 120th anniversary, the motorcycle brand Royal Enfield, has created an exclusive range of limited-edition helmets consisting of 12 designs- each inspired from a poster/advertorial from one of the twelve decades of the brand’s legacy. Each helmet is hand painted and they retell the stories of the last 120 years.

In an interview with afaqs!, Puneet Sood, National Business Head - North and West India & Global Head - Apparel Business - Royal Enfield and Gordon May, Royal Enfield Historian and Enthusiast, behind documenting the motorcycle’s history, shares the process of creating these limited edition helmets and his thoughts on the overall riding apparel market.

Puneet Sood
Puneet Sood

“Helmets are one of the most important protective gear for any rider. It's the first thing motorcyclists buy after purchasing the bike. It’s also very personal and the rider wears it with pride. There could not have been a better canvas than a personal helmet,” Sood said.

Sood said that work on the helmets started over a year ago with discussions on what they could do and how the helmets could become the canvas to tell it’s stories. The focus always remained on style, comfort and most importantly, protection.

“These helmets are a perfect mix of classic designs, history and modern day technology. We use the best materials. The interiors are of absolutely premium quality. It is coated with a specific coating that ensures it doesn’t need to be washed as often. That brings in sustainability and water conservation. They pass all global safety standards. To bring in the human touch, these are all hand painted. That is what makes these a real collector's item,” he added.

The helmet representing the 1900s decade
The helmet representing the 1900s decade

Every week for the next six weeks, Royal Enfield will drop two helmet designs, one each on Monday and Wednesday, with sale of these going live on their website only on Saturday and Sunday at 12 noon. Each helmet design will carry a unique number starting 001/120 till 120/120. The helmet packaging will also consist of a postcard (actual poster/advertorial artwork) with the story inspiration for that design.

The open face helmets are priced at Rs 6,950 and full face helmets at Rs 8,450 and are available only online. People have to register to purchase these helmets on the brand's official website. For the first weekend they received 10,000 registrations. However, only 120 units for each design have been made, so they are sold at a first come first serve basis.

The first Royal Enfield advert
The first Royal Enfield advert

May helped choose the best story to tell. While researching these stories was an easy task for him, as he has been writing about the brand for the last two decades, he described the process of selecting the stories for the helmets as a ‘real challenge’ saying that there are so many that it eventually came down to choosing if they should focus on the story or on the original posters that they have from that decade, which the community will be able to relate to.

For example, for the 1910s, the helmet is inspired by Royal Enfield’s racing successes at the Brooklands circuit and the Isle of Man TT. In 1914 at the Isle of Man Junior TT races, for the first time ever, all 49 riders were wearing crash helmets. The corresponding film narrates the brave, but tragic, story of Frederick James Walker, who wins the race but loses his life in a fatal crash. May said that in the same decade there were many other stories.

The helmet representing the 1910s decade
The helmet representing the 1910s decade

“For example, in World War I, Royal Enfield made side cars with machine guns fitted on them, so that soldiers could get to the frontline very quickly and retreat very quickly. While investigating that story, we discovered that it also made sidecar stretchers. These were mobile ambulances that could get to the frontline and bring the wounded away quickly,” he shared.

The poster that inspired the 1910s helmet.
The poster that inspired the 1910s helmet.

Speaking on how he found these stories he said that one story often lead him to another. “In the 1950s Royal Enfield opened its first factory in Madras and while investigating that I discovered that in 1956, two young Indian students bought one of the first Bullets that came off the production line, and rode it all the way to England to the Redditch Royal Enfield factory,” he added.

Gordon May
Gordon May

Making films on subjects from 12 decades ago comes with its challenges. The greatest challenge here was to do justice to the stories by being respectful to the people of that time.

“It would be easy to glorify something without being fully respectful to the memory of that person and their achievements. Since the films are animated, quality was crucial to bring these stories to life,” he adds.

They also needed some imagery from that decade to be the origin of the story. “The intent was to tell real stories in the way they were. All the storytelling on our helmets originates from an actual poster or some piece of content from the past that was available. Then we had to build around it. The entire 1910’s film is made from just one poster. That was a challenge,” added Puneet.

Both Sood and May declared the 1930s helmet to be their favourite among the 12. It depicts the first Bullets that were released in 1932. May even has a personal connection as he owns one of the first Bullets ever made.

Sood said that the riding community in India has struggled to get the right riding apparels, more so women riders. If they get credible riding gears, they are very expensive and are not suitable for Indian climate, as many originate from Europe. The cheaper ones are not credible enough.

“The market has lacked a credible player for a very long time. We're trying to play that role in the market. We've gotten into multiple collaborations with brands that are globally the best in making these products and we've kept safety at the heart of it,” he adds.

The market is evolving quickly because a lot more people are opting for leisure motorcycling, rather than just commuting. “That also means there needs to be more education. So we need to play that role of ensuring that our community is aware of what they need in terms of safety and also improve the whole industry’s quality,” he says.

Speaking of Royal Enfield’s apparel range, Sood said, the apparel range completes the ecosystem around the motorcycle. It is chosen not only by those who own the motorcycle but also by those who aspire to own one or those who have owned it in the past.

“We don't believe that Royal Enfield is just a motorcycle brand. It's a lifestyle brand. And I think apparel contributes to it by making the whole lifestyle complete. Apparel has also become a canvas for us to tell our stories,” he said.

Apart from it’s 2000+ dealerships, it’s products are available on third party ecommerce players like Amazon, Myntra, Flipkart, Tata Cliq. They are also available in Shop-in-Shop stores like Central and Shoppers Stop. Last year, they collaborated with the denim brand Levi’s and the apparel built in collaboration with it was available across stores. “In our Shop-in-Shop channel almost 40 per cent of the people who bought our lifestyle apparel did not own a motorcycle. There is a large group of people who want to stay connected to the brand even if they are not riding the motorcycle at that point of time,” he adds.

The brand has witnessed a 50-50 split when it comes to their online versus offline sales. In offline sales, Shop-in-Shop stores like Central and Shoppers Stop have more people shopping for lifestyle apparel and at dealerships, where consumers buy their new motorcycles, more riding gears are sold. On it’s brand website, they see a lot of brand enthusiasts, whereas on third party apps, it sees a lot of people who are trying to figure out what kind of riding gear to buy.

The brand is also making products for shorter rides like office commutes. “Safety isn't something only for long rides. It is also when you ride to your office. Our StreetWind jacket, which is a full mesh jacket at a very affordable price of less than Rs 5000, has done really well,” Sood said.

While not disclosing the revenue numbers, Sood said that they have been exceeding expectations with ‘double digit growth on the higher side’ for the past few years.

Last year, Royal Enfield launched its first-ever apparel and riding gear range, exclusively for women. Sood said that since the launch one out of four consumers visiting it’s online store are women. One-fourth of it’s revenue also comes from women. Though 75 per cent of its visitors are still men, women spent a lot more money in it’s online stores.

“Since we've been able to bring in an accessible range, it has led more women to ride, either as a rider or as the pillion. It also means they've become more aware of it. Men buy apparel for themselves. Women buy for men as well. Women may be spending a lot more because they're building up their riding gear, but they spend substantially more than men do on riding gear and motorcycling apparel,” he added.