In business, 25 years is an age, they say. I know what they mean. Especially when I look back to the summer of 1992, when a journey that was to take several rapid twists and turns over the next two decades and more, began in New Delhi.
Back in the early ‘90s, I used to be coordinator for several fashion stores’ advertising campaigns and creatives. During those assignments, I would typically end up having long conversations with the retailers themselves. And each encounter left me impressed, but also wanting more. Each of these retail and fashion brands and their promoters – from Ravi Nanda of the posh Heritage store in South Extension to the mega family outlet Big Jo’s Deepak Bhargava to Shapes’ Ashwini Anand, from Chunmun’s Sharad Suri to Numero Uno’s Narinder Singh – was an innovator. Each entrepreneur – from Hemant Jain of Killer Jeans to Prasad Pabrekar of Spykar, Sanjay Dhanuka of Sumangal, the late Haribhai of Moustache, Jitubhai of Jade Blue, Rahul Mehta of UFO Jeans – had such a rich hands-on understanding of consumer behaviour, of store design, of navigation, sourcing, cost management, you name it. But these insights were scattered, unrecorded. And just like it is today, no retailer had
all the pieces. They were all operating in silos – with small, but crucial, gaps in their exposure. If only they had a way to access each other’s intelligence!
I was sure a business magazine that assembled all this intelligence together – along with inputs from specialists in fashion creation, marketing and retailing – would have tremendous relevance in a market where fashion consumption was about to explode! And so, in May of 1992, IMAGES was born.
It wasn’t easy, I can tell you that. We printed 3,000 copies of the first edition of IMAGES, funded by the sale of my motorcycle (a Hero Honda Sleek, a gift from my mother on my previous birthday). I was sorry to see the bike go, but I was more excited about the potential start of retail intelligence in India.
I think we set the tone in the very first issue itself, with visual spreads on fashion forecasting and trend analysis by Rajiv Goyal, and an industry article on Fashion Sourcing by Anchal Jain, who wrote: “The only way a multibrand, multi-product retailer can provide the ‘right choice’ to the customer is by being fashion-literate himself.” The insights were sharp and remain relevant to this day. Sample this from Heritage founder, the great Ravi Nanda: “Rather than being a follower of consumer demands, it is better to mold tastes by setting trends.”
There were over 24 advertisements in that debut issue itself. How did I get them? I think none of the brands I pitched to refused simply because the idea itself was too radical! They were clearly very curious as to what was being created here and were carried away with my passion and conviction of the idea!
The lovely ‘Santoor girl’ Priya Kakkar graced the cover of IMAGES’ first ever product, and the then-Minister of State for Textiles Shri Ashok Gehlot, kindly sent a congratulatory note,which was published in the magazine.
From a time when product durability was king to now, when ‘fashion’ has taken over ‘product’, India’s fashion consumption story is a epic tale. As I look back, I feel overwhelmed, and filled with a sense of wonder, that IMAGES has been not just a cataloguer, but also a catalyst in many ways, in promoting the knowledge and the intelligence that drives retail today.
Because, in the years that followed, IMAGES’ world expanded fast — from fashion retail as a subject to Retail as a universe. My own understanding was shaped, enriched by some incredible visionaries and pioneers, including B S Nagesh (who launched the first Shoppers Stop store in Andheri the same year as our story began); Kishore Biyani, the game-changer of mass retail; Madura Garments’ Vikram Rao; Siyaram Silk Mills’ Ramesh Poddar; Tata Group’s Simone Tata; Landmark Group’s Renuka Jagtiani and Raza Beig; Anuj Puri (then at Chesterton Meghraj and until recently, JLL India head); Krish Iyer (then at Piramyd Retail and now the head of Walmart in India) and many other amazing leaders who have each played a role in modern Indian retail’s creation.
For me, along the way, there have also been many losses and misses in this 25-year-old pursuit of passion. (In a related note, have you seen The Pursuit of Happyness? Watch it!) But then, the word passion is derived from a Latin word meaning ‘to suffer’. If you have a genuine passion for something, you will also suffer for it. If you’re lucky enough to find a passion that consumes your every living breath, you must also be prepared to let go of some things that you don’t want to lose.
Has the journey been worth it? Well . . .