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

Book lovers were hardcore. The whole ‘I-have-to-buy-from-bookshops-because-I-love-the-smell-of-lots-of-new-books’ variety. Most of them go Flipkarting now, past principles forgotten as if they never existed. When it comes to e-retail in fashion in India though, it is mostly the Dark Ages. In the whole gamut of fashion designers, most of whom have their official websites and busy Facebook pages with their share of daily ‘shares’ and ‘likes’, those with their own e-commerce websites are few. (Some are under-construction.) While there are some labels, like Ritu Kumar, Shivan & Narresh, and Anju Modi, who do sell online, many would rather supply to multi-label e-commerce portals, say Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop, and many still remain in brick-and-mortar stores.

Agreed, buying a dress 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 could be held responsible for the reluctance that designers feel in 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’s not as easy as it looks; it needs a lot of planning, you need human resource, there is capital required. 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 focuses on that…”

The designer will be starting e-retail operations for his label soon. “We’ve been thinking about it for almost a year now, because we want to consolidate, in a way. We get a lot of business online, through emails. We always have, because our outreach is a little more overseas — that’s the product nature. It works for me, so I can see a business opportunity in that… We’re not available everywhere, we’re slightly exclusive. And we need a better environment to present our work, so we need to do it ourselves. I also don’t want to be on every site. So it’s a mixed bag.” Many, he feels, are adopting a wait-and-watch policy. “A lot of people are happy just selling. They’re smart businessmen, they’ll do it when the market is completely mature. And the bigger chunk of people who do it is for Western wear. Online is great for accessories — if you’re doing scarves and jewellery. But 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 to be able to supply them. No point in going there if you don’t have stocks and shipping personnel who can then follow up on the orders that you get. So 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 like Lecoanet Hemant and Shivan & Narresh on capsule collections designed by the latter. “The idea behind the Fashion Freedom Project was to give consumers access to high fashion at reasonable prices, because it’s a direct-to-consumer platform. And we’ve seen that a lot of our loyal customers have shown an affinity towards these collaborations,” 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 their own e-retail site. Commenting on the collaboration with Freecultr, Narresh Kukreja of Shivan & Narresh recalls, “For us that came at a point before we launched our own online portal. For us it was a good market teaser. The Freecultr line addressed a younger audience, 16 to 24, while Shivan & Narresh attracts a clientele in the age bracket of, say, 28 to 40. It was a positioning at a different price bracket and age bracket, and it was interesting to see what kind of response the brand generated.”

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, focus 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. The fact that you can buy something that can be standardised in sizes allows you to take a step forward in online retail as a fashion designer. I think that really is the key to how you can address and really make fashion available to tier-II and III towns and cities, which are doing amazingly well when it comes to fashion.”

Designer Hemant Sagar of Lecoanet Hemant, which also collaborated with Freecultr, sees people’s reluctance as a problem of meeting demand. “The core of the problem is, in fact, their 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,” he says, adding that their second line for Freecultr is in the works. “We’ve also opened our own jeans shop in Khan Market. This is all parallel, trying to figure out what the future market has for Lecoanet Hemant casual wear in India. Here it’s a very basic online market, and I wish more people were doing this in India. People think that they make a lot of money if they sell a lehenga for Rs.2 lakhs, but they don’t realise that they could be making crores with jeans.”

The magnitude of the inputs that running an e-business involves has worked well for a platform like 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, exciting labels like Shift by Nimish Shah, to name a few.

“At that time there was no other website that was offering true 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. Only to set it up and get the whole system going takes a lot of effort. You need a lot of good people to do it for you and manage it for you. Promoting it and getting people on the website is a whole different challenge… I do everything. I do the setup, the promotion, the handling, the marketing. They don’t have to do much — they just have to supply me the clothes, basically.”

11:11 by Celldsgn is slated to commence worldwide e-retail operations too. Designer Smita Singh, co-founder of the label, ponders, “It’s taken long because we want to do it the right way, because we believe it is the best way for a brand to reach an ever-growing international audience. It just makes sense; we get so many enquiries on the Facebook page and orders as well, where people order from look books on the Facebook page. We’re just making it easier for them and ourselves. Better (to) invest in a strong online retailing platform than to have a solo show at a fashion week, if you ask me!”

SHALINI SHAH

People think that they make a lot of money if they sell a lehenga for 2 lakhs, but they don’t realise that they could be making crores with jeans

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