Close On Heels

Quite like Indian fashion today. Full of promise. Mostly unrealised.
Ramp Up: The Business Of Indian Fashion
By Hindol Sengupta
Pearson Pages: 256; Rs. 1,999
Hindol Sengupta sets out to do an Earth is Flat-esque Thomas Friedman on fashion. And half succeeds.

Sengupta’s research is backed by an almost endearing earnestness and a chatty tone that mimicks Friedman accurately, flatteringly well! Thus we have the Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj report on Indian high streets that establishes the absence of Indian high fashion on the premier streets of Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai, Calcutta and Delhi, which are taken over by retail giants a la Adidas, Levi’s, Reebok, Benetton, Bata, Pepe Jeans, Woodland, Raymonds—not to mention food and beverage chains like Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and Barista. And our fashion brands scramble to get a foot into the Emporios and Kemps Corner outlets where they account for a pathetic single figure percentage of the $828 billion, and growing, Indian lifestyle industry projected to be worth $2,594 billion by 2010.

There’s more. This time from the global AC Nielsen survey that tells us 35 per cent Indians covet designer brands and 73 per cent of them feel these are overpriced. Also that most of these customers are buying into foreign brands. Sengupta quotes from a 2007 Merrill Lynch world wealth report that establishes India as being one of the four countries worldwide with the largest percentage increase in high net worth individuals. More significantly, luxury is one segment that does not register recessionary stress: One of the world’s leading luxury brands, LVHM’s June 2008 figures report an unprecedented increase of business at international award-winning jeweller Viren Bhagat’s only-by-appointment shop.

There’s the unmistakeable Friedman flourish with which Sengupta cross-connects USPs of Sula, the wine brand, and contemporary Indian art and draws the apt conclusion: differentiation, a strong brand identity and an Indian signature creates the magic that accounts for the success of both wine and art.

Sengupta is also rightly dismissive of Indian designers’ old whine about the industry being "nascent", arguing the fraternity has never enjoyed better retail/monetary support. Unlike the western fashion industries that started a century back and struggled to establish themselves in a tough, non-globalised environment with no fiscal/retail muscle.

But after having argued his case so strongly, Sengupta proceeds to lose it. He poses tough, searching questions to designers and accepts press release bilge for answers. Focused intelligent analysis and research gives way to inexplicable, unquestioning acceptance of designer non sequiturs! Sample this: Bal asserts his turnover is Rs 45-50 crore and projects it at Rs 250 crore in two years. How he expects to achieve this remains unquestioned. As is his waffle about why he does not advertise ("Why should I? We get enough free press..." he famously said once). IPO listings? Raising Rs 50 crore? How does he propose to go about doing that? Why is there no pret line worth the name? Why are the big bucks still coming from making Dolly Aunty’s daughter’s wedding lehenga? What is the Bal fashion statement that translates into volumes on the streets? Sengupta, willing to wound but fearing to strike, is content to ask and not be answered.

This book on fashion is quite like Indian fashion today. Full of promise. Mostly unrealised.

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