Friday, January 22, 2010

Designers explore tier-II towns as orders dry up in west

Small towns and emerging markets are fast-replacing Paris and New York as the hotspots for Indian fashion designers such as Anamika Khanna, Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Rajesh Pratap Singh.

With the western world still struggling to come out of its worst recession in several decades, the fashion fraternity is now venturing into small cities and towns in India with cheaper offerings and targeting newer markets in Latin America and Asia. Many designers have opted out of international fashion weeks that charge exorbitant entry fees to focus funds towards what they see as emerging markets outside the big five cities. Anamika withdrew from the European market this year, though she continues to retail in Kuwait and Dubai. “It was a case of growing too big too fast in Europe,” the Kolkata-based designer said.

Rajesh Pratap Singh said he explored better opportunities in new markets such as Latin America last year after facing a lot of order cancellations over the past two seasons. Manish Arora, who operates through a subsidiary in Europe, found new stockists across Bahrain, Singapore and Italy and cut prices by 10-12 %.

But the real hip story is India. Sabyasachi Mukherjee is doing shows in cities such as Chandigarh and Nagpur and has launched an ethno-pret (ready-towear ) line that plays in a lower price band of Rs 5,000-15 ,000. The strategy helped his business expand 65% this year to Rs 22 crore. “The middle class is getting more affluent and it would be foolish not to capitalise on this growing market. I intend to launch a sub brand in a lower price category that will exponentially increase my audience by next year,” he said.

Mumbai-based Krishna Mehta is also overwhelmed by the demand in smaller cities such as Kochi, Vijayawada, Baroda and Rajkot where she entered this year with products priced 25% lower than her retail prices a year ago. She said that the label’s turnover has multiplied thrice in one year and production capacity almost quadrupled. “Organised designer retail in India is ready for a scale game for the first time,” said Delhi-based designer Raghavendra Rathore.

The likes of Mukherjee and Manish Arora now plan to attract venture capital investors by the end of the year to fund expansion. One reason behind the domestic designers’ sudden penchant for cheaper offerings is the fear of foreign brands. “In order to compete with foreign brands, we have brought down the average price bracket of Manish Arora’s western wear to Rs 10, 000-20 ,000 from above Rs 20,000 earlier,” said Deepak Bhagwani, director of Three Clothing Company, which owns the label.

Besides extending into accessories, jewellery and home textiles, Indian designers are increasingly seeing business through design collaborations in India.

While Mukherjee has tied up with real estate developer Samira Habitat to design five luxury villas in Alibaug, Rajesh Pratap Singh has several multiplex interior projects in the pipeline. Manish Arora has launched a crockery collection with home accessories chain Good Earth in addition to his sub-brand Fish Fry that was licensed to Reebok just as Aki Narula is collaborating with sports lifestyle brand PUMA. Rajesh Pratap Singh also plans to add sev

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