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Designers hitching onto the Brand band

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In recent times, India’s fashion scene has expanded to include several new fashion weeks. Last year alone, we witnessed the country’s first ever Men’s Fashion Week and similar small-scale dos in Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad, besides the big ones in Delhi and Mumbai. And even as we begin another year, Pune is all set to become Mumbai’s ‘fashionable sister’ with a recently concluded first fashion week of its own. On the other side, the country’s ‘haute’ quotient is rising steadily, courtesy – multi-brand fashion boutiques, international western wear brands and luxury malls underlining the recent retail boom.

So, while fashion weeks, traditionally provided a profitable B2B platform for both designers and buyers; with the advent of India’s burgeoning ready-to-wear market, new business possibilities have opened for both designers and manufacturers/brands in India that spell ‘money’ and exponential growth.

Of late, brand associations have emerged as a great new area that has thrown open new business and growth opportunities for designers. Realising the enormous scope that the country’s rapidly increasing retail market offers them, designers are now collaborating with popular retail brands to make their designs accessible to a larger consumer base. A lot of designers feel that such associations are a ‘fantastic’ way to spin more money and carve out a new niche for themselves, besides working on their premium brand name through exclusive labels.

And this trend is not just limited to the sportswear segment (read Aki Narula designing for Puma, Manish Arora for Reebok and Tarun Tahiliani associating with Levi’s), what with designers designing for manufacturers that are popular amongst the ‘brand loyalist’ Indian middle class and upper middle class.

“Brands are becoming big and such associations are mutually beneficial and provide greater visibility to the designer as well. It’s happened all over the world and it’s happening here too,” says designer Narendra Kumar, whose design house has been designing for retail brands like Westside for more than  two years already and has collaborated with Creo this year.

Kolkata-based designer Kallol Datta is of the view that “designers also have an existing level of loyalty and accessibility. But when coupled with a high-street brand/mass manufacturer, the reach expands manifold. Since in India, appreciation for a ‘designer garment’ has yet to become widespread, the fashion designer/design house would benefit on the whole with such collaborations; primarily in terms of approachability and finance.”

Fashion weeks, too, now have space for brands to showcase lines they have created in collaboration with a designer. Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) President, Sunil Sethi states that the FDCI format has been envisaged to do ‘exactly this’ without being ‘in-your-face’ or creating a noise about it.

“The first brand that we associated with was Lakme. Our second sponsor happened to be Wills Lifesyle and today WLS shops have sprung up all over and it has taken a quantum leap in terms of numbers and volume over the years. The WLS brand already has ten designers working with them” says Sethi.

Last year, FDCI took a similar initiative with the first ever Men’s Fashion Week that it organised in association with Van Heusen and teamed up with Ashish Soni, Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna who showcased men’s wear exclusively made for the brand. Starting this year, Sethi hopes that ‘a lot of designers henceforth would be a part of similar events.’

Designer Narendra Kumar agrees with Sunil Sethi and asserts that fashion weeks have now expanded to include brands in their format, besides keeping segregated shows meant exclusively for designers. “It happened last year at the Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai as well. This year too, our design house is going to showcase a collection exclusively made for Killer at the Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai,” adds Kumar.

While most of the designers feel that it is certainly a bigger opportunity for them in terms of getting exposure in the commercial market as well as making designer labels more affordable to the common man; but if not done properly such tie-ups could also adversely affect the image of the designer in the long run.

“When a designer label is collaborating with a brand, the wider reach also dilutes the premium image of the label and thus results in short-term gains, and in the long-term affects the brand value. It’s very important to adopt the right marketing strategy and thus, it’s beneficial to have sub-brands to get into such collaborations that give long-term benefits. The best example would be Armani and their sub- brand Armani-Exchange,” avers Neeta Lulla.

Industry insiders and trend scouts feel that apprehensions of a designer’s image taking a beating are a thing of the past as evidently in recessionary times the only thing that has been consistent is the domestic retail market, both for the designers and brands.

“The deep pockets, which a brand may have, are often not available to a designer himself. Designers are creative and have also become smarter. Most of them have come up with an additional line or a sub- brand, only dedicated to tapping the mass market in collaboration with a brand.”

Typically, for most designers, it’s the reach and visibility that helps them decide in favour of a brand and the underlying success of such tie-ups is usually measured on parameters of ‘reach, marketing strategy, its implementation and last but not the least, compensation.’

“From a designer’s point of view, the most important thing is the ideal projection of their label. It is very critical that they  associate themselves with a fashion brand with the same image and at the same time ensure that the customer perceives this tie-up in the right fashion without diluting the original values of both the brands,” opines Lulla.

“As far as a designer is concerned, it is the kind of vision that the designer has for himself that matters. The values of the brands and its distribution network are some other things I would also look into. It should be a marriage of capabilities and not just the names. An association like this should take you a notch higher and into a new area,” says Narendra Kumar.

Designer Rocky S sums it up, stating that “the brand has to have goodwill and good recognition; the target market is an important factor, along with the price point.” On the other hand, for the brands, it’s all about creating a premium product for its customers. Since manufacturers understand how to make things commercial and can create products for the mass market, such associations can be explored to mutual benefit for a long time.

“We believe that brands, designers and the FDCI have a perfect fit and we are aligning these two which  is a part of the vision of the India’s first and the largest B2B forum like ours. Our emphasis is to get more business and opportunities for the designers,” concludes Sunil Sethi.

Currently in a burgeoning state, the Indian fashion market is now moving towards betterment through efficient management skills and greater visibility. It has now become important for both brands and designers to adapt to existing requirements and change lines accordingly. Fashion is no longer the hallmark of metros like Delhi and Mumbai alone; other cities like Kolkatta, Chennai, Bangalore, Chandigarh have begun warming up to new designer labels, international retail chains and even their own fashion week!

No prizes for guessing, that in the coming year, there would certainly be more profitable collaborations, keeping in mind the brand values of both the manufacturers and the designers, which would drive the growth of this industry.

Garima Dutt is a freelance journalist and a new media evangelist. She has worked as a journalist, anchor and new media professional with the Times of India Group, TV 18, NDTV, and writes frequently for Business standard and HT Mint Marketing. She primarily covers business, lifestyle, arts and culture and teaches journalism at Amity University as a visiting faculty.

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