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India Fashion Forum 2008: A report

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“India has now emerged as one of the most potential markets for global brands and retailers,” so saying, EVKS Elangovan, minister of state for textiles, officially marked the inauguration of India Fashion Forum (IFF) 2008 at Mumbai, on January 29.

Very true and very potent, with the Indian fashion industry charting quite a volatile course in the last four decades to emerge as a repository of new business opportunities for corporate majors both nationally and beyond. While retail has reinvented the way modern-day Indians celebrate their spending power, fashion has been at the vanguard of this movement.

Indeed, as Elangovan summarised, “Global fashion brands attracted by the opportunities available in India have started recognising India as an unexplored gold mine. However, a lot remains to be done to turn the country into a hub for fashion. There is an urgent need to create Indian brands in fashion that can be comparable with the leaders in other sectors like FMCG and consumer durables.”

Over 100 thought leaders and nearly 2,500 captains of the fashion business lent their presence and perspective at this year’s India Fashion Forum, the two-day event that does an annual stock-taking of developments in all relevant verticals of the business and attempts to pave the way ahead with clarity of direction and benefit of hindsight. Delegates at the event included representatives from international and domestic brands of clothing, textiles, fashion accessories, jewellery, watches, footwear and home.

India Fashion Forum, earlier called Images Fashion Forum, is widely regarded as the country’s largest intellectual and information exchange for the fashion and retail businesses. Amitabh Taneja, chief convener, IFF, said, “IFF has exponentially grown as a knowledge platform of the Indian fashion, retail and lifestyle businesses, providing companies with a platform to partner, network and promote their business interests through sharing of experiences, ideas and innovative concepts. India is the new land of opportunities with a plethora of sectors booming at the same time. This continuous growth has made the country the desired golden bird, where everyone wants to gain by investing and operating in the country. The prevailing market scenario makes the country’s environment apt for new opportunities waiting to be explored.”

The architecture of retail

This year, with design as the central event theme, there were several benchmark case studies presented by global authorities and super-achievers in the business.

“It is a celebration and commemoration of the fact that design not only shapes the aesthetics, but also creates the functional value and ‘reason for being’, and also provides the most endearing values to brands,” was the message from Dr Darlie Koshy, IFF chairman and executive director, National Institute of Design (NID), who also delivered the welcome address at the event.

Minister Elangovan at the inaugural session presided over the release of the 2008 edition of ‘Images Yearbook’, India’s only handbook on the business of fashion known best for its annual report on the Indian apparel market size and scope, and performance and expansion plans of key players. The book also includes thoughts of leading visionaries from the field of fashion, and encapsulates the larger trends that have defined the market in the year past.

In addition, the minister also officiated the launch of India Textile Forum.

Taking centre stage at one of the early sessions, ‘Driving Consumption,’ Kishore Biyani, CEO, Future Group, emphasised the need to innovate and capture the unexplored markets in India. “Consumption will drive economy. It is the job of modern retail to build brands,” he said, and also spoke about looking into the heritage of the country for inspiration and innovation, instead of looking beyond the borders.”

Lest one forgets, “Benaras is the soul of India,” Biyani proclaimed, and added, “It is one of the most densely retailed markets in the whole world. How many of us would be aware that it is this town that has the country’s only Tie street and a Lingerie street?” Anchored by strategy consultant Rama Bijapurkar, the panel also included D Shivakumar, VP & MD, Nokia India, and Nikhil Chaturvedi, MD, Provogue.

The session ‘Weaving a Vision for the Business of Fashion’ – moderated by Arvind Singhal, chairman, Technopak – was undertaken in two parts, covering ‘Product and Process Innovation’ and ‘Branding, Positioning & Marketing’ in the context of the businesses of fashion and textiles.

Outlining the future scenario in the emerging business of fashion in the country, Ramesh Poddar, president, Federation of All India Textile Manufacturers Association (FAITMA), and vice chairman & MD, Siyaram’s, spoke about the requirement of “innovation, path-breaking technology and healthy competition in the textiles industry.” Highlighting the challenges in the fashion industry, PK Gothi, MD, Morarjee Textiles, stressed the need for the integration from fibre to fashion for the Indian textile industry, in order to compete in global markets.

Speaking at the session on ‘Branding, Positioning & Marketing’, Sanjay Kapoor, MD, Genesis Colors, related how they have constantly drawn inspiration from the evolving art world and focused on highlighting this fact to their discerning consumers. Stressing on the need for creating an outstanding product, Shreyas Joshi, president, Raymond Apparel Ltd, reiterated a much underlined statement of branding: “People don’t buy clothes, they buy an identity.”

Dream big, dress up India, reposition the brand, understand responsibilities, campaign smart, remain motivated… These were the key points around which revolved the thoughts and discussions on the first day of IFF 2008.

In the session ‘How to dream big,’ DPS Kohli, chairman, Koutons Retail, related his brand’s success story, while other speakers discussed ways of spotting trends that make business impact.

In just a matter of 16 years, a brand that has grown over 10,000 times is worth a study. The reference here is to the much-in-news, home-grown brand Koutons Retail, which has gradually spread itself across India and established itself as a discount brand. Kohli has no outlandish strategy to explain the meteoric rise. Simply put, “With an initial investment of Rs 4 lakh, today our brand has over 1,000 stores with 37 manufacturing units. The magic behind the success of this brand is in providing better value to the customer, especially the middle class youth, by offering the most competitive rates.”

To a pointed question, Kohli said, “We are in no hurry to go global because the priority right now is to expand retail operations in India through the franchise route. We believe that ‘speed’ is the essence of business, and we can’t afford to go slow on this.” The expert panel however was of the view that infrastructure needed to be improved for the overall growth of fashion retail”.

Bruce Rowley, global brand and communications director, Invista, shared insights on unveiling of its new global brand campaign, ‘Some Clothes Love You Back,’ which builds on the unique understanding that the Lycra brand fibre possesses on how consumers want their clothes to move, look and feel. The campaign will feature an extensive range of media around the world including online platforms. Furthermore, Invista will be supporting its brand, mill and retail customers with this brand campaign providing materials such as dedicated hang tags and POS.

In the session ‘How to fashion your retail space right,’ Phil McArthur, SCSM, Ivanhoe Cambridge Inc., Canada, described the mall culture that is emerging globally, and how mall developers are becoming innovative and environmentally conscious. He cited the relevance of innovative power usage and gave an example of how one of the malls in Canada uses power generated by wind. Arthur also stressed the need for malls to focus on customers, and not emphasise the cliché, ‘The bigger the better.’

“Ninety per cent of malls are done by the real estate developers. The mindset of the real estate developers is different from that of the mall developers”, added Dharmesh Jain, CMD, Nirmal Lifestyle. He further said, “The mall has to integrate and create harmony with the community, and should engage more into joint promotions. Malls should not be just a constructive space, but should focus more on innovation. There should be a constant engagement between customers and malls. The mall developers have to also ensure that there are no traffic problems, which will have a negative impact on the mindset of people living around the mall.”

Speaking on the repositioning of brand Vimal, Chetan Desai, VP, marketing and retail, Vimal Textiles, said, “We are focusing on brand identity, communicating the brand promise, and the retailing experience. We have given a new look to the Vimal logo, which is now more open and will connect more to the youth .

Elaborating on the strategy at Nike, Atul Ujagar, director, Nike India, Sri Lanka & Pakistan, said, “It is in our nature to innovate. Apart from the usual fabric that goes into making a clothesline, Nike has gone a step further and tied up with Apple to incorporate a sensor in its sports shoes which allows athletes to track their speed of performance. Relentless innovation is what Nike has been known for, and the Beijing Olympics will see more of Nike products.”

The day concluded with motivational sessions with Lakshmi Menon Bhatia, director, Global Partnership, Social Responsibility, Gap Inc., who spoke on ‘Wealth Beyond Profits’; Tony Hunt, motivational management speaker, who spoke about ‘Challenge of Change’; and Christian R Fabre, alias Swami Pranavananda Brahmendra Avadhuta, founder and CEO of Fashions International, who spoke about ‘Fashioning Life’.

A melting pot

Simultaneous talkathons and shows characterised the beginning half of day 2 at IFF ‘08. Trend Talk Shows, a Textile Excellence Club, and a Fashion Retail Quiz would have left anyone hard-pressed for choice.

The Trend Talk Shows unveiled five major orientations that are representative of current trends, all a manifestation of the influences of the larger socio-cultural landscape. These were presented by Promostyl, the world’s leading trend research agency based in France. Presenting Promostyl Directives at the Trend View, Laurent Le Mouël, creative director of Promostyl, spoke about the key influences playing on the minds of consumers and their impact on businesses. The master also discussed the route to model these into design and business strategies.

The launch of Textile Excellence Club saw a series of workshops by Moreno Petrulli of Mitor, Italy, while an invigorating session with quizmaster Derek O’ Brien pitted some of the leading brands in the country against each other. The brand-related quiz was a battle of wit and intelligence, and witnessed an unmatched display of enthusiasm and zest from the participants. From the six teams that participated, Pantaloons won the Fashion Retail Quiz.

Speaking at a session titled ‘Where is the Business’ – themed around consumer insights and opportunity areas, with a comparison amongst India and other BRIC nations – Ireena Vittal, head, Retail Practice, McKinsey & Co., spoke about the various issues that India is currently facing. She also presented a case study on ‘How the Indian & Chinese economy will grow.’ Keeping in mind that “the Indian retail market by 2015 will be around $415 million,” she implored retailers to bring a correction in the market and move away from the ‘sale’ phenomenon as it spoils the customer’s shopping pattern.

That Bollywood and fashion in India have a deep-rooted connection, was well-brought-out by BS Nagesh, MD, Shoppers’ Stop, at a session on ‘How can We Work with Bollywood to Pioneer Trends?’ The highlight of his talk was Shoppers’ Stop’s association with the film Om Shanti Om (OSO), wherein the merchandise was specially created by an in-house team and the film’s production house. According to Nagesh, “It is time for fashion retailers and Bollywood to join hands, and leave behind any inhibitions about the lack of professionalism in the film industry.” The total sale generated through the OSO line at Shoppers’ Stop was a whopping Rs 60 million, signifying clearly the returns that can be generated through a successful association with the film industry.

Nagesh also flagged off the celebrated CEOs Conclave with a prelude in his markedly distinguished style. The conclave was made alive and given a truly ‘brainstorming’ character by a veritable army of retail and fashion industry leaders. They included Chetan Shah, MD, Pepe India; Hemchandra Javeri, CEO, Home Solutions Retail; Vinay Nadkarni, CEO, Globus; Sanjeev Agrawal, CEO, Pantaloons; Rishabh Soni, MD, Sports Station India; Suresh Bhatia, director, Major Brands; Anurag Rajpal, business head, Spencer’s Retail; Shailesh Chaturvedi, CEO, Tommy Hilfiger (India); Anupam Bansal, director, Liberty Shoes; Bijou Kurien, president and CEO, Lifestyle, Reliance Retail; DPS Kohli, chairman, Koutons Retail; Akhil Chaturvedi, director, Provogue; Reetika M Dalal, executive head, Forbes Brands; Ram Chandra Agarwal, CMD, Vishal Retail; Anil Lakhani, ED, Gini & Jony; Manoj Chandra, VP, Bata India; and Vijay Chauhan, director, sales, Adidas India.

In the session ‘Fashion Forward – Buying, Merchandising, Trendspotting, Durability of Fashion, Fashion Changeover,’ the panel agreed that India still had a long way to go before local brands became as successful as international brands. Designer Krishna Mehta said, “We cannot compare Indian fashion retail growth to the popularity of international brands. Indian brands are setting new trends vis-à-vis international brands, which follow global trends, and these may not be apt for Indian customers.” Vinay Nadkarni of Globus added, “In the current scenario, where only five per cent of the total retail market is organised, we need at least five years to grow to the size of successful international brands.”

Bijou Kurien anchored the session on ‘Fashion Reach’, wherein the panellists agreed that product and reach go hand-in-hand to ensure appropriate distribution network. Balvinder Singh Ahluwalia, president of sales and marketing, Koutons Retail, said, “There are a few precautions to be taken to ensure maximum penetration of the market, like your own supply chain management, your own financial strength, and right kind of merchandise for the consumers.” Anil Lakhani stressed the need for maximum penetration of the market, saying, “When we can have a dial-a-meal for Rs 400, then why not dial-a-shirt?”

A session on ‘Fashion Logistics’ had panellists supporting the franchise route, as they agreed that it adds value and supports the supply chain management, as well as brings out the entrepreneurial ability in an individual.

The last session on ‘Fashion Profit’, anchored by Hemchandra Javeri, saw panellist Amar Agarwal, MD, SPA Agencies India, emphasising the importance of keeping bottom-lines in focus in day-to-day working.

The conclave also focused on various core and critical peripheral areas of the industry including appropriate distribution network, organisational constraints, achieving big-scale sales, effectiveness of marketing campaign, and logistics management.

Nagesh concluded the sessions thus: “We require a clear vision and objective for fashion merchandising in India. While the supply chain management is ready for all challenges, we need to set clear benchmarks for profitability.”

The journey, as they say, has just begun in the real sense of it. It has all the thrills of excitement, discoveries, learnings, conquests, stumbling blocks, hard-earned successes, and unexpected miracles. A nation’s destiny perhaps waits to be rewritten, once again.

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