Smaller cities too have style conscious buyers, says designer Ritu Kumar
Fashion is thinking smaller and farther. And the grand dame of Indian fashion is showing the way. With about 45 years in fashion, fishing out prints and fashioning a textile sensibility, Ritu Kumar often had to knock open doors and find the way ahead. Age hasn’t slackened the veteran as she explores and understands new markets. Testimony to it is a two-day exhibition of her collection at Kozhikode—a first for a designer of her stature in this city.
Ritu, with stores across the country and stocked around the world, has been stepping out of the comforts of the metros lately. She has recently opened stores in Ludhiana, Chandigarh, Pune, Ghatkopar, Amritsar, Kochi, Jalandhar and Jaipur. Shaking off elite, urban fetishes, her clothes are reaching out to affluence away from metropolises. “Definitely, we have been planning and expanding our line in the smaller centres,” she says over the telephone from Delhi.
Experience is Ritu’s forte and her tale a document on Indian fashion in its beginning. Ethnic prints are her signature. As son Amrish Kumar joined her for the pret brand ‘Label’, vintage art adapted to sit well on casual, western cuts. “Fashion today is so different from what it was 40 years ago. In 1968, there was no retail in India. I started my first shop as I did not know where to put up my few hand-blocked saris. Willy-nilly, this has become a multiple store enterprise. It has been quite a journey,” she says.
When technology dictates and the Internet shows the way, Ritu believes it is dated to think only of big cities. “The smaller and the bigger cities have become similar. People are well-aware; the Internet and the media have made a huge difference. The barriers between a big and small city are gone. One can do fashion in a small city too,” she says. Ritu says especially the youngsters in smaller places have a keen fashion sensibility and shows no difference when compared to their counterparts in big cities. Ritu dared to venture out to distant cities in the past two-three years. “After I opened shop in Ludhiana and Jalandhar, I realised there is literally no difference in the buying pattern. The aspiration is to spend money on things they like, clothes that have a nice feel about them, especially an Indian designer wear,” says Ritu.
After a store in Kochi, Ritu is testing waters with the exhibition at Kozhikode. A study of the customers at the Kochi outlet prompted the managers to understand the Kozhikode market better.
Though the designer will not be in the city for the exhibition, the aim is to figure out if Ritu Kumar will sell well in the city. “Slowly, we do want to open a store there,” she says. The exhibition will bring in a melee of Ritu Kumar products — pieces from her a classic collection, bridal wear, a smattering of the ‘Label’, an assortment of bags and scarves. The thrust will be on the bridal with about 150 pieces of heavily-worked lehengas, saris and salwar kameez coming to town. The bridal wear is priced above Rs 12,000, while clothes with classic prints on silk and crepe are priced between Rs 10,000 and Rs 11,500. The lowest priced garment at the exhibition would be the cotton kurtis for Rs 2,000. As Ritu tries to reach out, she says, “Even when I started out, I did not want my clothes to cost the earth which only a few can afford. I want to reach out to people with similar sensibility. Both the ‘Label’ and the classic line have been received well,” says Ritu. The line may have evolved, but the signature has stayed. “The Indian strength is the craft. Hand-block prints and painting, kalamkari—have stayed with the line. Our signature is tradition and the younger ‘Label’ buyers react to them as well.”
Ritu Kumar has become an enterprise with an ensemble talent. The lady, meanwhile, is gearing up for a show in the city where it all began—Kolkata. “It is called ‘Panchavastra’ –our journey through the crafts,” she says.