The well-dressed, well-heeled Indian is being wooed in innovative ways by multi-brand luxury attire and accessory stores launched by Indian fashion designers.
A Euromonitor International report released in 2015 predicted that India’s luxury market would grow by 86 per cent in constant value terms by the end of 2018, comparing favourably with China, Malaysia and Indonesia (which are likely to grow by 74 per cent, 62 per cent and 59 per cent respectively).
Another recent study released by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) and Yes Bank said rising income and aspirations could drive consumer spending in India to grow four times (to approximately US$4.2 trillion) by 2017. The report also estimates that India’s luxury market will grow from US$14 billion to US$18 billion by 2017, with fashion, automobiles and fine dining being the fastest growing segments of the sector.
These figures are impressive but it must also be acknowledged that this growth comes from a low base: India has 17.5 per cent of the world’s population, but is responsible for only 1 to 2 per cent of the global luxury market.
Discounts, loyalty programmes, luxury education, personalised services: No clear growth strategy has remained consistently successful for any luxury retailer in India. So, while they attempt to consolidate and grow, it is the turn of the individual designer to carve a share for himself from this luxury fashion retail pie.
While the luxury attire business may seem to be one that could only thrive with personal touch, with polished staff gliding over plush carpets in exquisitely designed stores, several mainstream Indian designers are hoping to increase their businesses by increasing their presence in front of the buyers.
Seeing is selling – that seems to be the mantra that is leading designers not to lead closeted businesses for select audiences, but to make their fashion available to everyone. What better way to do this than establish your own brand.
Harmeet Bajaj, a veteran fashion industry expert and insider says, “Today it takes a lot more than creative talent to be a success. You have to be good at organisation, management and public relations skills—an individual who is also a brand is the way forward.”
“It is imperative to keep your ears open to what the market says. Yes, creativity is important, but you can’t eat it,” says ace fashion designer Manish Malhotra. Malhotra’s global clientele includes several Indian billionaire wives, and his popularity has reached Hong Kong and Taiwan too.
Malhotra makes sure his sales staff go through intensive on-the-floor training, understanding how the clothes are made and he is personally present to cater to his more high-profile clients.
Eye On The Market
One of the most critical factors determining the success of designers’ retail chains in India is the ability to gauge trends in consumer purchase decisions.
The Indian fashion consumer is undergoing an evolution and is rapidly adapting to international fashion statements. Increasing disposable incomes, exposure to international events and fashion icons, and rising confidence levels are driving the changes in the consumer purchase behaviour.
Today, Indian fashion consumers can tell the difference between unbranded and branded apparel. They are able to decode the messages communicated by different brands on different occasions.
While basic textiles and footwear continue to be a part of the consumer’s basket, the demand for high-end fashion clothing and fashion accessories has increased substantially in recent years.
Although, the fashion consumer is willing to spend more on clothing and accessories of choice, the consciousness of value received for the money spent has increased manifold. The weak economic outlook and higher inflation rates have also contributed to this heightened value consciousness. There is a distinct differentiation between pre-2008 and post-2008 India.
Even while long-term faith in the growth and consumption story of India stays intact, the short-term scenario appears bleak. The fear of job loss, stagnation of personal income, increased spending on food, etc. have a profound impact on the purchasing behaviour of consumers. The consumer is inclined towards value and affordability, but, at the same time, there is an inherent need for a fashionable look.
The distinct trends in the macroeconomic scenario, the favourable demographic dividend, retail specific policies, and consumer buying behaviour, have triggered a transformation in the fashion retail market which is also reflected in the changes undergone by the Indian retail industry.
Designer Suneet Varma believes in keeping pace with the changing times. One of the few designers who is not fashion-week-friendly, he says, “That is simply because I do not have a ready-to-wear line.”
Though he did launch Le Spice, a ready-to-wear line that had over 30 point-of-sale, around seven years ago, he did not “have the guts to continue both couture and ready-to-wear” after his spanking new and investment-heavy 3,000 sq.ft. Le Spice ready-to-wear store on 2 Mehrauli-Gurgaon (MG) Road had to be shut down because the mall housing it was bulldozed.
Varma has now turned into an entrepreneur and is bringing Armani Junior, a subsidiary of international luxury fashion label Giorgio Armani, to India. The Delhi-based designer has opened a private firm, Unique Eye Luxury Apparel Pvt. Ltd., along with a few partners and has signed a three-store deal with the label.
“I have bagged the Indian franchisee for Armani Junior. I wanted to do something in luxury but I was sure it had nothing to do with shoes and bags. Then I zeroed in for children’s wear, as it is a niche segment and there is tremendous scope in this area,” he says.
“I have been in this business for 25 years and I have good knowledge about the retail space in the country. The idea is to think a little bit ahead and be creative about your business. For me, creativity goes beyond making creative saris or dresses. Yes, there is different fun in this, but one has to be creative enough with the business ideas as well to grow in this field,” he adds.
Identity is Success
Success in India could lead to an international footprint, as designer Manish Arora has proven. Arora has 75 stores worldwide, including one in Paris – something that he agrees, he had never planned on.
“I never thought I’d have my own store in Paris. Or my own home. Or even a French label. All I wanted to do was my best. The good part about me is that I’ve never been scared. When I did London Fashion Week in 2005, there were no stylists or PR agencies for designers in India. But I like to jump into things without thinking. We have five Indian by Manish Arora stores in India and we sell from all the major online stores. Manish Arora Paris is not sold in India. I also have a store in Bangkok’s Emporium mall,” he says.
Another fashion designer who’s flying high is Masaba Gupta. A 2009 graduate of Mumbai’s SNDT Women’s University, where she studied Apparel Manufacture and Design, Masaba learnt the ropes early and hit the ground running. She launched her self titled label Masaba as soon as she graduated, debuting as part of Lakme Fashion Week’s Gen Next show for up-an-coming designers.
Since her debut, Gupta has won awards including the 2012 L’Oreal Paris Femina Award for Best Emerging Designer and PETA India’s Most Talented Designer of 2013. And after a stint at Satya Paul, Masaba is happiest being on her own.” In India, fashion is not taken seriously either as an art or as business. In the clutter of what is fashion, the idea is to keep my own identity. The only way to do that is if you are a brand. My clothes are known as a Masaba saree or a Masaba skirt,” she says.
Manish Arora agrees with the magical ‘identity’ word and says, “I don’t understand this Rs 100 crore business. Fashion is about building a brand and an identity. I look at the newspapers in India and everyone’s clothes look alike. But my friends’ kids can recognise my clothes. I must be doing something right that the Manish Arora Paris label is increasing by 20 per cent every year.”
The Road Ahead
Consumers will continue to evolve and demand novelty, value, and experience in fashion. It is thus inevitable that designer who hope to go big must have a chain of their brand. They ought to re-examine their operations and change in tandem with the evolving consumers. It is important to work towards reducing product turnaround time and improving supply chain, sourcing, and merchandising strategies to leverage this opportunity.
While there is a long way to go before globally recognised and awarded Indian designers also have a global retail chain presence, Rahul Mishra agrees that designers may have to walk the extra mile to collect more gold from the other end of the rainbow.
“There is this quote by Mahatma Gandhi that I particularly love, ‘Recall the face of the poorest you have ever seen – and ask yourself if your contemplating will be of any use to them’. I live by this. You must do the best you can. So ‘Made in India’ must be taken to the next level by us as designers collectively,” says Mishra.