CEO, Future Lifestyle Fashion, Rachna Aggarwal Sirdeshmukh is an MBA from IIM, Ahmedabad. She started her career with Coats Viyella Plc. During her stint at the iconic Madura Garments, she worked on Van Heusen and then launched Allen Solly in 1993, where she was instrumental in introducing the revolutionary ‘Friday Dressing’ concept to the country. In 1999 Rachna, along with her colleagues, promoted a VC funded brand-marketing company, Indus-League Clothing Limited (ILCL). In 2005, the company was acquired by the Future Group, and Rachna subsequently took over as the CEO. She continues to lead the brand business of Future Lifestyle Fashions and her brand portfolio includes diverse apparel brands such as Scullers, Indigo Nation, Jealous 21, Bare, Rig, UMM, John Miller, Urban Yoga, Urbana, Lombard, Privilege Club, Mother Earth, Giovani and Converse.
Working in the Fashion Industry is Exciting
I joined the fashion industry in the bygone days when sales staff stood behind counters and opened shirt boxes for men to select from! And, even though the world has changed since then, every day is still a new day in fashion! It is this excitement that keeps me here. The fashion industry is as much about trend and data analysis, as about gut and instinct. It is about exciting the young girl with the latest in fashion as much as about improving the core white shirt for the corporate executive. It is as much about conversations between fabric and colour, as about EBITDA and ROCE. In fact, all that chaos and creativity does is that they make for just another day in paradise for me! Personally, I consider myself lucky to be involved with a portfolio of brands as rich and diverse as Scullers, Jealous 21, Converse, Indigo Nation, Rig, Giovani, etc., wherein each has a unique attitude and brand experience to offer.
Paradigm Shift From a Seller to Buyer Led Market
The fashion market is changing and changing very fast. The consumer is now at the centre of the whirlpool – it’s her interaction with different brands and her experiences that define how we operate and how business is being done. Her world is her screen and all the information she consumes flows on this screen. Her No. 1 source of information of what’s in fashion is Instagram.
She doesn’t understand offline and online…it’s all one simple continuum for her. Information is available instantly at her fingertips, and as such, the 9 to 10-month supply chain the fashion industry worked with is no longer a viable option. Getting orders in advance and then producing is no longer a safe option. Working with two seasons in the year is no longer viable. Fashion as a business has to work with speed and imagination. To be able to quickly pick up trends, to identify top sellers and reproduce, to identify slow movers in weeks and solve to liquidate, to sell looks and experiences seamlessly.
Technology is Changing the Business
Technology is available to both of us as well as to our customers. It is helping us to move the needle significantly on business metrics as well as enabling great consumer connect. It is empowering us by throwing up data and analytics for quick decision making by connecting us to the customers, vendors and partners seamlessly, by allowing us to reach out to our fans in cost effective ways on social media and to participate in conversations. On the other side, it is empowering our customers by making so much more information available to them, allowing them to compare and even get peer inputs.
The Changing Fashion Consumer
Technology has placed the power in the customers’ hands with Internet-enabled smartphones and tablets. In today’s technology-driven markets, the customer is extremely aware of the global fashion market. She sees how the world is dressing every day. She is more exposed to the latest trends in fashion. How she thinks visually and processes images is an amazing change. Overall, be it price, new products, trends and processes, I find today’s customer to be more fashion-savvy, tech-savvy, more deeply involved and connected at every level, and much more impatient too.
The Changing Fashion Product
I went for a friend’s 50th birthday party recently and 80 per cent of women present were wearing dresses in bright colours and prints, off shoulders and cold shoulders, Grecian silhouettes and bell sleeves, minis and maxis! Isn’t this a sea change from 20 years ago when the fashion industry primarily sold men’s shirts and we all experimented with shades of whites, blues and blacks, and the only visual decision to take was the thickness of and the distance between the stripes?
‘Make in India’ Vision for the Fashion Industry
In India, we do have the raw materials, fibres, weaving, processing, garmenting, as well as the creativity, the technology, etc. We now need to stitch them all together, scale up from the current fragmented state by creating the right infrastructure
and environment to make the vision happen. The Government has, in fact, identified India’s garment and textile industry as one of the 25 sectors in which we are capable of becoming world leaders. We also need to recreate and build on our rich history of textiles and our natural advantage of cotton production, of the silk route, and of the handlooms. The awesome opportunity is that fashion is one of those industries that allows us to preserve our culture and heritage, truly celebrating the colours and textures of India.
Driving Growth: Accelerators and Decelerators
I feel that the accelerating factors for growth in the fashion industry are:
– Right priced product the first time
– Omnichannel and seamless flow of experience across both physical and virtual worlds
– Creating the right economic environment for capital inflow
The roadblocks are:
– Cost of customer servicing (occupancy cost/ last mile delivery)
– Fragmented value chain
– Frequent policy/ tax regime changes, etc.
Where the Profits in Fashion Will Now Come From
The profits in our business will come by using data to minimise lost sales and maximise full sell through velocity. And, by creating innovative and flexible supply chains.
Why Being Green Does and Will Matter A Lot
Today’s consumer is becoming more and more concerned about sustainability. Organic/ green and environment friendly fashion does create empathy and connect with a growing circle of customers. The textile industry is one of the biggest pollutants of our rivers and there is a dire need to develop sustainable processes. Several labels are taking an initiative to end waste. There are so many things we need to support. Our brand, Mother Earth, is a grass-roots development brand where production happens with women self-help groups. They are supported with design inputs and market access by us resulting in grass root socio economic impact, and, also in preserving centuries old art and craft.