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‘The best way to manage brands is to get out of their way’: Vishak Kumar of ABFRL at IFF 2023

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Vishak Kumar, CEO, Madura Fashion and Lifestyle (ABFRL) discussed the secrets behind running profitable brands, consumption patterns and his take on India’s growth story in a fireside chat with Rajat Wahi, Partner and Head, Consumer and Retail Sectors, Deloitte Consulting at India Fashion Forum 2023

Bengaluru: The best way to manage multiple brands and allow them to grow is to get out of the way and let each brand take its own growth path, according to Vishak Kumar, chief executive officer of Madura Fashion and Lifestyle.

“We are in the business of brands, and we have a strong portfolio, we have always been. They all are profitable and generate their own cash,” he said sharing his success mantras in a fireside chat with Rajat Wahi, Partner and Head, Consumer and Retail Sectors, Deloitte Consulting at the India Fashion Forum (IFF) 2023.

Kumar is credited with taking Aditya Birla Fashion Retail Ltd. (ABFRL) to the next level. The company was formed after consolidating the branded apparel businesses of Aditya Birla Group comprising ABNL’s Madura Fashion division and ABNL’s subsidiaries – Pantaloons Fashion and Retail (PFRL) and Madura Fashion & Lifestyle (MFL) in May 2015.

As on 31 March 2022, ABFRL had a revenue of Rs. 8,136 crore. and spanned a retail space of 9.2 million sq. ft. It has a repertoire of leading brands such as Louis Philippe, Van Heusen, Allen Solly, Peter England, Ralph Lauren, Hackett London, Simon Carter, Ted Baker, Fred Perry, Forever 21 and American Eagle among others.

Often these brands are seen housed next to each other in malls and yet they do well.

 “Each of these brands has its own strong plans and ambitions. So, for us, how we work is to set the basic ground rules on how overall operations must be managed, after that it’s up to the brands to do what’s appropriate,” he shared.  “We have two functions, which are common, sourcing of products and real estate. Otherwise, the CEOs of the brands run their businesses independently.”

On Consumption

He said consumption is back to pre-pandemic levels, thanks to strong Indian weddings. “There is a celebration of life and people are doing that quite consciously. There is also a greater awareness of sustainability,” Kumar said.

Speaking about changing trends, he said that athleisure had picked up during the pandemic but has now tapered down as consumers have started spending more on formal as work from the office has resumed over the months. “People are dressing up again. Strong and opulent weddings are back,” he said. Another big change he highlighted was in data analytics and Artificial Intelligence.

On India’s potential

“The average Indian per capita apparel consumption is one-twelfth of that of average Americans, one-sixth of what Chinese consume and one-third of the global average. We have 3x to catch up,” he said adding that there is really a huge consumption story that is yet to play out.

“There is an opportunity for all of us. To that extent that’s not a zero-sum game. Growth is coming from across all cities, including tier 4 and 5. Today consumers are updated and internet penetration is high. Putting aside momentary fluctuation, there is a huge story which is going to be played out and it’s going to be India’s story,” he elaborated.

Speaking about other macro issues such as the environment Kumar said, “If you have got to save the planet or slow down or prevent global warming, eliminate the use of fossil fuel.” He asserted that it’s a collective responsibility. “In our industry, fossil fuel is primarily used in the mills. Our answer is to buy clothes that last longer. For instance, an average brand lasts ten washes, and Louis Philippe can last sixty washes. Because the energy required in making a good shirt and bad shirt is the same.”

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