A new age of fashion dawns for the urban Indian woman

Nivedita Jayaram Pawar

She broke into the fashion scene at a time when it was ruled by tailored garments. Her brand of smart, ready-to-wear garments appealed to the young, urban woman of modern India, looking for an alternative to pricey designer wear and cheap, mass produced products. A clever blend of creativity and financial acumen has seen Mumbai's Anita Dongre quickly ride the fashion wave and emerge as one of the fastest-growing fashion brands in the country.

Her company clocked revenues of Rs 275 crore in 2012-13 and is aiming at Rs 350 crore in 2014. But this is just the beginning, believes the 50-year-old entrepreneur, who recently made a foray in Mauritius.

Excerpts from an interview:

You started Anita Dongre (AND) Designs in 1999, with a 300-sq-ft shop in Mumbai's first mall, Crossroads. How has the brand evolved since its inception? What were some of the major breakthroughs?

AND currently has 41 exclusive stores and going strong with an increasing presence in multi-brand outlets as well. We make sure the collection keeps up with current trends in style, design and colour so that the modern, urban woman (and now man - AND Men) never runs out of options.

From two sewing machines in your bedroom to becoming one of the fastest-growing Indian fashion brands... what were some of the challenges in the early days? How did you deal with them?

After seeing my passion for fashion, my father finally offered me a small loan to kick-start my business. I started AND in 1998 at a time when women used to get their outfits tailored. The challenge was, and continues to be, the need for innovation in design and style as well as making sure it doesn't burn a hole in the consumer's pocket. Also, it is imperative to stay tuned to their demands.

You launched another brand, Global Desi, in 2007. Why did you branch out?

With Global Desi, I wanted to create something that spelt boho chic. A line of garments that's Indian in essence yet international in appeal. At Global Desi, we employ distinctive block prints, Indian motifs and embellishments on contemporary tops and kurtas that can be whimsically matched with churidars, patiala, leggings and even shorts.

What is the retail presence of the two brands today?

We stand at 41 AND stores, 54 Global Desi stores and 9 Anita Dongre stores in the country. This year, we also opened stores in new cities like Kochi, Vadodara and Guwahati and went international with the first Global Desi store in Mauritius.

Most retailers are now looking at Tier 3 and 4 cities for growth. What potential do you see in these cities?

There is huge potential in these markets. Thanks to social media and digital penetration in the smallest of Indian cities, the consumer is more aware and fashion conscious. Ease of shopping via e-commerce adds to accessibility of fashion and lifestyle products. We currently do not have a store presence in Tier 3 & 4 markets but, to gauge the potential in these markets, we rely on our e-commerce site as well as other shopping portals that retail AND.

Are you involved with the brand on a daily basis?

I am not a numbers person at all and focus on the creative aspect of the business. I am happiest spending my day in the factory, either designing or putting final touches to a design or seeing a beautiful design to completion. I let my sisters and my brother run the business end of things.

A country of a billion-plus and we still don't have a Versace or a Zara to our credit.

Established fashion houses like Versace and Zara have been around since the 1970s whereas the Indian retail and fashion industry is still nascent. Give us time and we will scale greater heights!

What's your vision for AND?

When I started AND, my vision was to dress the modern Indian woman in simple yet elegant silhouettes that were not only fashionable but affordable. I wanted AND to be every Indian woman's wardrobe's 'go-to fashion piece' for any occasion. Why just India? I would love to dress women all over the world in AND and Global Desi!

How has the current economic scenario impacted the fashion industry? At what rate is your company growing?

Both AND and Global Desi are affordable brands, and hence not really impacted by price sensitivity in the market. As far as wedding wear goes, it's an important part of our lives and Indians go all out during wedding functions. The wedding wear industry is almost recession-proof. By the end of financial year 2014, we expect to have revenues of Rs 350 crore, with 125 exclusive brand outlets.

What's the biggest impediment to the growth of fashion in India?

We have a giant pool of talent but lack infrastructure. Space is the biggest constraint. There aren't enough malls or specific luxury fashion high streets. We need more retail avenues.

You are in the bridge-to-luxury segment, which is highly competitive with international brands like Zara and Vero Moda. How do you deal with competition?

Competition is always healthy and I feel there is a market for everyone. Your product, design aesthetics and sensibilities, pricing and accessibility contribute to the growth and popularity of your brand. We have all defined our USP and stand for a certain core value, which sets us apart from each other.

What are your expansion plans? Are you looking at category expansion?

AND and Global Desi are currently retailed 50 per cent from multi-brand outlets and 50 per cent from exclusive brand outlets, and we plan to continue in the same fashion. We are looking at opening one to two exclusive brand outlets per month, and be present in the big malls throughout the country. We plan to open another 10-12 stores (AND & Global Desi) by FY 2014. We recently opened two new Global Desi stores in New Delhi, and four stores (2 Global Desi and 2 AND) in Hyderabad in December 2013.

We also recently introduced a line of footwear and bespoke jadau jewellery. I wanted to create modern jewellery that could be versatile, not a piece that only comes out of your safe for a wedding.

You recently launched your first store outside India, in Mauritius. What are your overseas plans?

We intend to explore other international markets for both Global Desi & AND in 2014. I would love to have a store for each of my brands across all fashion destinations in the world, like New York, Paris, London, Dubai, etc.

You went beyond garments to design a limited edition for Godrej Interio. What was that like? And are you looking at more collaborations like that?

Collaborations draw upon the strengths of each party and go a long way towards establishing credibility for the brands involved. Also, you need to have a macro, long-term approach for a collaboration to build itself into a brand name. For Global Desi, we partnered with Birla Cellulose - a global brand under the Aditya Birla Group - in 2013, where we used their fabric from the Pulp and Fibre Business of the Aditya Birla Group.