Known for its diversity, rich culture, vibrant colours, handwoven and handloom fabrics, and exquisite hand work, India has claimed a spot for itself as a global leader when it comes to luxury hand embroidery and bridal couture.
Earlier, the ease of availability and procurement of fabric from India was not well recognized owing to the offerings from other countries, but now people have begun to take notice of the many advantages India offers as a hub.
Apparel Online met up with 5 international buyers, each a successful and highly regarded player within the industry, on their sourcing trip to Lakmé Fashion Week Winter Festive 2017 that incubates the finest design talent in India.
What ensued was a thought provoking dialogue that sheds light on the increasingly booming business of luxury fashion buying from India, the sudden spike of interest in Indian fashion abroad, and also, the challenges faced by buyers while sourcing from here.
The product offering that India-based designers present, resonates well with international buyers who are now increasingly looking at India for sourcing their products.
“When you walk into a Spanish designer’s boutique, you can expect to run into a lot of variety in terms of their offering you a beautiful dress, an amazing shirt, a concept trouser with an interesting silhouette… The variety offered is good but not as good as, or as wide as India. India has a good mix of East and West.” Atinirmal G. Pagarani, Vesimi, Dubai
For instance, there is a huge demand for Indian fabrics such as cotton, which is light and airy, in the Middle-eastern and Gulf area, owing to the region’s hot and dry climatic conditions. Indian temperatures being similar to these countries, deem India as the preferred fashion destination for retail buyers based there.
Furthermore, the shared cultures across our geographical barriers flow into the clothing preferences of these clients as well, increasing the room for acceptance and relatability for Indian garments.
“Indian designers make high quality garments with a technical skill that India is famous for. We feel that the workers here are like artists; they are very careful to bring out artistic details.” Mohammad Al Masri, Montania, Kuwait
Because of a large Hindu and Muslim population prevalent in USA and UK, the clientele there is more responsive to a fusion between the East and the West which many emerging Indian designers excel at. A key factor that comes into play here is that, most of these clients belong to the working-class mass market who believe in financing their own weddings rather than borrowing money from their parents, as has the custom been in India.
For such clients, the pricing offered by the Indian luxury retail segment is befitting.
Another market segment that emerges out of these countries is a focused group of people who prefer sustainable and indigenous fabrics. Designers such as Anita Dongre and Prabal Gurung are popular for their implementation of such hand woven fabric and traditional textiles among this sector, while the millennials prefer going for Akai and Eka.
“An international store like Anthropology also offers Indian references in its collections. The hand woven and hand embroidered details is what brings India to the market there.” Sonya Suri, Urban Panache, California
Over the years, Indian designers have evolved in terms of their design aesthetics and presentation. Lookbooks are at par with international standards and compliances, with attention to details such as layouts, catalogue shoots, fabric swatches and color coding for each design.
Buyers were noticed applauding designers on their level of professionalism, on-time deliveries and after sale service and at the same time, laying emphasis on the approachability of these creatives.
Timing (in accordance with the festive season) and periodic deliveries, are the main factors that determine which fashion and trade events buyers attend for sourcing their products.
Most buyers prefer the buying pattern at Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) in India, which usually takes place in the third week of August. Due to its schedule coinciding well with dawn of the festive season (September to December), this time frame is extremely suitable.
LFW’s schedule enables buyers to receive stock within 1-2 months post the event, which is an ideal production time for the festive season abroad. This period signals the onset of shopping for Diwali, Christmas and Wedding seasons.
Diwali shopping is more focused on ethnic wear while Christmas shopping tilts towards trends in silhouettes, such as crop tops and skirts which are a fast-seller owing to their versatility.
Since UK already boasts of many reputable designers offering pret, separates and resort wear, it is no wonder that buyers based in that region prefer attending LFW and India Couture Week as opposed to AIFW.
LFW’s GenNext platform introduces new talent every year, which is a section that buyers look forward to for its innovation and pricing, whereas AIFW is more popular among countries that opt for resort wear as it involves a time frame of up to 6 months for delivery.
“Apart from fashion weeks at Bombay and Delhi, we source from Karachi- and Lahore-based designers in the South Asian sector and might also divulge into the Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi market in the future. We also source from a few European designers and are looking to expand our product offering.” Nasrah Hussain Mukhtar, Collage, Dubai
Today, buyers are more aware and educated owing to social media and television and it is easier to ascertain what trends and silhouettes would performing well. This makes them aim for innovation to make their product stand out in this competitive market.
Indian designers target a high-end luxury fashion market and the pricing is achieved keeping similar clients in mind. Owing to increased price sensitivity, buyers feel that designers should be more flexible in their pricing.
Often buyers are subjected to unprofessionalism on the part of amateur designers who cite excuses like, the fabric getting over or providing a different colour than that what was ordered. Because of such occurrences, buyers have established a proper channel and vetting system to check the quality of the products ahead of deliveries and a constant dialogue between merchandising teams is maintained.
“I always see how friendly and approachable designer is and if I can build a relationship with them. There have been incidences wherein a designer has been very nice but the merchandiser has an attitude, so I walked out; because at the end of the day, it is the merchandiser who you are going to deal with.” Nasrah Hussain Mukhtar Collage, Dubai
Majority of buyers face difficulties in terms of sizes and cuts offered by Indian designers.
Depending on the season, buyers generally ask for changes in colour combinations, lengths, sleeves and lining, so it is easier to sell to targeted audiences. London, for instance, is cold all year round so the buying tends to exclude sleeveless garments. Also, if a certain designer gears more towards the Islamic population, designers are required to make alterations in terms of longer blouses, covered sleeves and higher necklines.
“We generally pick around 15-18 garments from a designer to make a whole collection because eventually, it needs to look like a rack whether it is online or in-store. We need to build a complete story around the designer which can’t be conveyed in 8 pieces.” Aashni & Co., UK, Aashni Shah
To address sizing, there is a need for a proper sizing guideline which designers and buyers alike have been working upon to achieve.
Modest fashion is an emerging theme among Muslim consumers who are increasingly becoming more receptive to global trends such as off-shoulder silhouettes and crop tops. This fusion of the conventional with the unconventional is giving rise to a lot of variety that is invoking acceptance from the multi-national crowd as well.
Slight transformations in designs on the part of designers will go a long way towards opening doors to a wider audience for the Indian luxury fashion segment and designers are increasingly paying attention to this fact.
Overseas business forms a larger chunk of revenue for designers, keeping in mind which labels have started focusing on versatile silhouettes that would have plenty of takers. If pricing is met with qualitative demand, India has a profitable opportunity to claim its position as one of the top luxury retail destinations worldwide.