Despite the proliferation of e-retail in most aspects of life, fashion in India seems largely restricted to brick-and-mortar.

Agreed, buying a dress online is more complicated than buying a book; a book jacket doesn’t have to fit you! But it’s a whole range of factors, from manufacturing capacity and demands of the online platform to deliveries that are responsible for the reluctance of designers embracing e-retail despite the opportunities the latter might open.

Textile designer Gaurav Jai Gupta of label Akaaro mulls, “You need a different department to set it up. It needs a lot of planning, you need human resource, capital. Retailing from multi-label websites is the same as retailing from a multi-label designer store and not opening your own store — you cut down on overheads. Also, 80 per cent of Indian fashion is in Indian wear. I’m not sure the age group that makes up this space is very comfortable shopping online. There is, of course, an NRI population, which focusses on that…”

Reasons aplenty

The designer will be starting e-retail operations for his label soon. “We’re slightly exclusive. And we need a better environment to present our work, so we need to do it ourselves.” Many, he feels, are adopting a wait-and-watch policy. “A lot of people are happy just selling. They’re smart businessmen. For high-end portals you need a very good strategy.” Also, he adds, the turnaround time has to be shorter online — a new collection in a month or two as opposed to biannually.

Designer Ritu Kumar says, “To do that you need to have a very professional backup system, where you have products ready, have stocks and shipping personnel who can follow up on the orders. Maybe a lot of designers don’t want to be bothered with that.”

Web-only clothing retailer Freecultr, as part of its ‘Fashion Freedom Project’, has collaborated with designer labels such as Lecoanet Hemant and Shivan & Narresh on capsule collections designed by the latter. Says Sandeep Singh, CEO of Freecultr. “Designers have been pretty receptive to the idea, because e-commerce is the future of retailing.”

Last month, Shivan & Narresh launched its own e-retail site. On the collaboration with Freecultr, Narresh Kukreja of Shivan & Narresh recalls, “It came before we launched our own portal; it was a good market teaser.”

Ask him why there are so few designers selling online, and Kukreja says, “Most address a bridal or a very occasion-specific demand as labels. However we, or I would say the next generation of Indian designers, focussses on a lifestyle. For example, we are a holiday-wear brand. Somebody buying a Shivan & Narresh is buying it for a holiday or a honeymoon, so it needn’t require a person to walk into my studio to place an order.”

Designer Hemant Sagar of Lecoanet Hemant, which also collaborated with Freecultr, says, “The core of the problem is, in fact, manufacturing. We design it ourselves, manufacture it ourselves, and our whole idea of commerce is proper merchandise and not making one lehenga for one client. So it’s a choice of the type of clothes you want to make. Casual, of course, means industrial and big volume. It also means a lot of maintenance and logistics, which most people are not equipped for.”

The magnitude of the inputs that running an e-business involves has worked well for a platform such as Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop. The portal started by stylist Pernia Qureshi, within just a year of starting operations, has on board labels ranging from Rohit Bal, Sabyasachi and Manish Malhotra to newer ones such as Shift by Nimish Shah.

“Back then, there was no other website offering designer high fashion online. I knew there was a space in the market for it,” says Pernia. “Designers find it inconvenient to have their own e-retail site, because it takes a lot of work. With this, they don’t have to do much; they just have to supply me the clothes.”

11:11 by Celldsgn is slated to commence worldwide e-retail operations too. Designer Smita Singh, co-founder of the label, says, “It just makes sense; we get so many enquiries. We’re just making it easier for them and ourselves. It’s better to invest in a strong online retailing platform than have a solo show at a fashion week, if you ask me!”