Key people of Mavango – Akashdeep Singh, Founder and CEO and Gurbans Chatwal, Vice President, Global Strategy and Country Head (India) – on the changing trends of the Indian consumer and the brand’s expansion plans.
HOW IT BEGAN
For Akashdeep Singh, founder and CEO, Mavango, fashion comes naturally. When he was seven years old, he would trouble his mother to make sure that his socks matched the colour of his shirt. Later, during his summer vacation, he would make money by getting his own shirts designed and tailored, and sell them to his friends. Despite coming from a family of doctors and having graduated in Commerce, it was Singh’s one-year trip to South Africa, where he worked and travelled extensively to places like Zambia, Zimbabwe and Kenya, that helped him to set his goals. After being in the apparel industry for two decades, he came out with an exclusive brand, Mavango fi ve years ago.
Singh explains, During my stay in Zambia for 1.5 years, I vividly remembers the old from an African village who told me to be ‘Mavango’, go and conquer. Well, that’s how Mavango took form. He elaborates, “We had started Mavango with US$ 1 million, operating from a small unit in Russia. We started the business with manufacturing shirts and today we have expanded to a wider range. Early origins, 15 years ago, took shape in Russia as a designer and trader of fabric that helped to build partnership with various other fabric designers, manufactureres and traders. We would get our designs made from companies such as Arvind Mills and Raymond.”
Mavango uses the best premium fabrics, modern doubleblends with high-end fi nishes for its brands. Adds Singh, “In our collection we use modern and contemporary designs and fabrics blends like modal, at the same time, we also use core Indian heritage fabrics made from cotton like seer suckers.” Sourcing of fabrics is also based on the core strength of a particular region globally. According to Gurbans Chatwal, VP- global strategy and country head (India), “If you look at the apparel industry and its business cycles we have been able to maintain a trajectory of around 45 percent year-on-year, in spite entering just 5 to 6 years ago. That matches very well with the aggressive rates as witnessed with players from the apparel industry. We have also been successful in curbing down some of these economic challenges because we spread our business to different countries and aggregated our sales through them.”
CHANGING WITH TIME
Mavango has evolved tremendously in these five years by expanding its product categories to a wide range of womenswear from being just a menswear brand. The brand’s motto is to give its target audience of 22+ age group a fantastic combination of price, style and quality. “Our core value has been to maintain an European style and design with optimised manufacturing and price. “That is what we stand for,” says Singh. “Our USP is the fact that we believe that the inside of the garment has to be as good as the outside, which a lot of brands tend to ignore. We are very experimentative with our products in spite of the fact that we do not serve teenagers who are not part of our core audience of the 22+ clientele. Product wise and price wise, we are highly optimised and that has been the strength of the brand,” he futher said.
Mavango is present only through MBOs in India. The brand is targeting at first-time job hoppers who have disposable income or even people who are just young at heart. Priced reasonably with European cuts and finishes, the brand is present only in selective MBOs. Chatwal points out that they are in no hurry to push volumes through various MBOs but he is on the look-out for selective partners who will represent the brand right and compliment it. Says Chatwal, “If you look at European countries, the strategy does not only work through retail; but also through a concept called chat room businesses and through online presence. We would look at online, e-commerce channels and look at retail shelves that would complement each other.” Mavango does have plans for an exclusive outlet in India but not very soon. At the moment, the brand is trying to find more ways of creating a good customer experience.
Adds Singh, “Nowadays, we have to engage customers and ensure that they love the product and return to us again and again. We have retained 88 percent of our customers year-on-year, which is a fantastic figure according to the industry.” Meanwhile, retail staffs are imparted training programmes on how to handle a customers and share information on the brand, it also include Internet-based training. The brand is looking at various ways of making a retail staff understand what Mavango brand represents, especially with so many other brands around that are available on the shelf with various price-points. The objective is to create a good customer experience at the MBOs.
Although Mavango started out as a shirt’s brand, the denimwear category was added a year later. It has been growing at 68 percent year-on-year. Adds Singh, “Each and every work that we do on denim is absolutely a work of art. Generally, a customer takes times when experimenting with a denimwear and are little reluctant to change it over to a new brand. Moreover, denim is a more loyalty-based product. People tend to get loyal to a denim brand for life and hardly changes them ever, unlike the shirts or other apparel categories. We have seen sales growth in our sweat shirts, polos and tees. Historically, denimwear are perceived to be a work wear product. Likewise, more and more brands, like Levi’s, Lee and Wrangler are projecting denim as a rugged garment but our (Indian) understanding of denim is more towards the European, not American. Therefore, if you look at our denimwear range at Mavango, we have products which you can compare with premium denim brands.”
Singh feels creating recognition for a brand in a country like India is one of the major challenges. India has so many well known brands that are generic and also look very similar. Convincing a customer to go for a brand new product is a major challenge. Although Mavango provides global cuts, fabrics and trends, the taste and trends of the Indian consumers varies tremendously. Explains Singh, “Today, for instance, stretch denim is available in the market but the options are limited when it comes to menswear. There can be more varieties in cotton, more rugged denim with beautiful washes. Ideadlly, we cannot ignore the Indian consumers for whom we are making the compromises.”
Singh has been noticing the constant challenges that come in terms of timing and coordination in the supply chain. According to them, coming out with a new quality of denim fabric sourced from Turkey for the consumers in India is not challenging for them. He adds, “We deal with the best companies like Arvind Mills and Raymond, for which we have the best supply chain. We try to work on a model which is more mobile. We have
started with four collections in a year now we offer eight collections in a year and very soon plan to come out with 12 collections in a year. The fast collection would depend on the season, like the festivals and the weather conditions. We have already started planning on our collection for the year 2016 at the moment, though it is a challenge to forecast fashion so much in advance, but in this industry, if you do not give the right product at the right time, then you are out.”
Singh noticed that Indian consumers, especially men, like denim with stretch. People in India are hooked to fast fashion. Though he does not find India a very rich market, even then the awareness of fashion is pretty high in the country. The apparel that hit the shelves in the West reach India a lot faster than it used to be. He noticed that among the youth, there are customers who like to wear smart casual with a touch of ethnic fashion in it. The youth in India often mix smart casual with clubwear, but he feels that the market will mature soon where people will be able to mark and segregate different fashion categories. Men in India, according to him, have become very experimentative and at the same time tend to remain conservative. The overall understanding of fabric in India is that it has to remain stiff and well fi tted. People have not yet begun to wear specific clothes for different seasons.
Chatwal does not plan to market Mavango pan India but is looking at specific regions or even cities. The brand will be advertised through print media and online channels. While giving credit to Images Multimedia for supporting them in the initial days, he says, “When we launched Mavango, we got a good platform with Images Multimedia in Mumbai, India.” He further adds, “We plan on using effective online media to reach out to our customers and more public platforms. Most of the MBOs have a direct one-to-one relationship with its customers. MBOs also have a good knowledge of the kind of customers who visit their stores. Some MBOs provide us with a SIS format and also help us design a good SIS experience.”
Singh has set his target of 45 percent year-on-year growth through different channels like retail shelves, online as well as technology platforms that help to push the brand globally. The brand has also plans to expand their product line and further expand to other countries like the US and Australia. The home entrepreneur programme model, which is a popular concept in the West, is something that Singh feels will work well with the Indian audience. Here, a home entrepreneur will be able to purchase stock for 20 percent discount, which they can then spread and sell among their network. “I am sure in India, with the economy booming and a majority of the youth facing unemployment at this time, a model like this would be a very interesting thing that we could do for the country. There are certain things that we need to give back to the country and this way we are trying to strategise India. It is all about trying to empower smaller cities that understand fashion. Unfortunately, these cities have limitations for developing bigger shops.”