The fashion-challenged men of Chennai city started getting a little more stylish when the brothers Hanif and Suhail Sattar started a humble tailoring unit in the late ‘80s. With a better understanding of the clothes and fashion market in the city, they decided to start their own brand and Genesis was born in 1992, which went on to become one of the most recognised names in menswear in the city. With the enormous success of Genesis, the Sattar brothers started Hasbro Clothing in 2001, which gave us brands Genesis, Basics 029 and Probase and is now one of the most recognisable brands in India.
“We started with just one store in 1992, called Genesis and at the time we had no big plans of expansion or franchising, we thought we would maybe open two stores,” explain the brothers who now have 50 Basics Life stores not just in the country but also in Colombo and Maldives and the brand is retailed through more than 600 multi-brand outlets. They also have accessories like belts, ties and handkerchiefs and are looking at including socks, shoes and innerwear to their name.
If anything you do is not led by passion, then there is no point in doing it. What you do should not be led by commercial spreadsheets,” states Suhail Sattar
Understanding men’s fashion
At a time when the suburbs were seeing women’s fashion burgeoning, Hanif and Suhail knew it was menswear that the market needed. Explains Suhail, “Men are more brand conscious than women, although women indulge in much more than men, you will never find a woman buy a shoe for example, which she will wear for the rest of the year, they change trends every few months. Men on the other hand will spend a lot on quality and will invest in something, which will last long.”
Fashion in general, and men’s clothing in particular, is something that both of them are very passionate about and it was a combination of things that keeps their focus on menswear. “While starting a woman’s brand has been in the back of our minds for years, it is in the radar, but not just yet.”
Over the years the learning curve has only increased. “The one thing that has kept us going all these years is that we have learnt to unlearn everything. What works one year, will not hold good couple of years down the line.” Whether it’s trends, fashion or people everything keeps changing and to be on top of things they need to change with the times as well.
While Chennai is often seen as conservative as compared to the other metros and Chennai men are not often looked upon as style icons, Hanif and Suhail are quick to defend it. “In all fairness to Chennai and Chennai men, fashion is weather-bound and that is the biggest disadvantage we in Chennai face. We cannot experiment with too many layers or materials or kinds of clothes as the weather simply doesn’t permit it.” But they agree that there has been a sea change in the fashion scene in Chennai over the years, with both men and women becoming more aware of styles and trends.
Whether it’s the young and trendy or older and formal, the casual teen or the corporate honcho, the Basics Life brands have something for everyone. And what has held them in good stead has been their consistently good designs and quality. Explains Hanif, “Design has been our biggest strength, and we have a dedicated design team that works only on design. We closely follow the trends around the world.”
“We also use the Internet to track international trends. Initially we would follow trends, but trends take around 12 months to implement, but now we are ahead of the curve and understand what’s going to work and set our own trends,” he adds.
The fashion and retail industry is not just about the glitz and glamour, but is a cohesive market that needs to function efficiently. By the time a collection hits the market it has gone through a rigorous process and only a quality product that is viable all around, in terms of design, sales, marketing will make its way to the racks. “Being aware of the market is just one small aspect of getting a collection out. The sampling process itself is very expensive and most ideas get shot down then, fatality is very high,” says Hanif adding, “Fashion is all about foresight, even if one of our seasons fail, we won’t be able to go forward, if we miss the bus on one, then it’s going to have a cascading effect.” Despite their evident success and the uber cool quality of their clothes they insist that “it has been pins and needles all along.”
Brothers in business
“Running a business with anyone is a challenge but it definitely helps when the responsibility is shared,” say the brothers, whose camaraderie is evident. While it certainly helps to know the person you’re doing business with, it is still a professional relationship and what is essential is a business based on trust and compatibility.
With a new collection hitting the stores every three months, the brothers’ love for their business sits proudly on the shelves for everyone to see, “If anything you do is not led by passion, then there is no point in doing it. What you do should not be led by commercial spreadsheets,” states Suhail.
While they have just opened their 50th store Hanif and Suhail are looking at opening at least another 25 stores this year and maintain that hereon they are only looking upward and forward. “We don’t want to go back to the growing pains stage, this is not rocket science, just good, consistent work and passion is what is required. How many people would like to do what we are doing, make money doing what you love,” says Hanif.