Following the footsteps of Zara, fashion designer Anita Dongre started out designing affordable fashion clothing before expanding into the premium segment. She’s now gearing up to go international
If there’s one striking difference between high-end luxury designers such as Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Manish Arora, and a bridge-to-luxury designer such as Anita Dongre, it is that the latter refused to lean on Bollywood to build her brand. But, ask her if avoiding such a crucial link to success has created a pitfall in her growth chart and she promptly says, “No,” and adds, “In fact, success lies in taking a unique approach to meet your customers’ needs, values and expectations. The key is to constantly innovate and evolve with the changing times.”
Coined by Fortune India as one of the 50 most powerful women in business (in November 2013), Dongre has come a long way since launching her first 300-sq.ft boutique (for this, she started production in the balcony of her house) at Crossroads mall in Mumbai. Today, her company, AND Designs India Ltd. (ADIL), has six labels under it; AND, which was launched in 1999 and retails western wear; Global Desi, launched in 2007 and retails ethnic wear; Iinterpret, which hosts a line of everyday clothing; Timeless, the bridal-wear brand, Anita Dongre Men, and Grassroots, the organic fashion apparel brand. In fact, last year, ADIL also forayed into the jewellery business, with the launch of PinkCity, which hosts a line of Jadau gold jewellery for men and women.
ADIL currently has 116 exclusive brand outlets across India, with 46 AND stores, 61 Global Desi stores and nine Anita Dongre stores. The company also retails AND and Global Desi designs through various multi-brand outlets such as Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Central, Kapsons and Pantaloons. While in 2013, it launched AND and Global Desi in cities like Vadodara, Guwahati and Kochi, this year, it plans to open four exclusive brand outlets per month and enhance its presence in the big malls throughout the country.
Inking the right partnership
In 2008, when ADIL was clocking an annual turnover of Rs. 10 crore, Kishore Biyani-backed Future Ventures picked up a 28 per cent stake in the company. Last year, in November 2013, it sold its 22.86 per cent stake to the global private equity fund, General Atlantic, for Rs. 150 crore to Rs. 200 crore. ADIL plans to capitalise on this deal by entering markets abroad. “My vision to go global with my brands took shape last year, when we opened the first Global Desi store in Mauritius. This year, we plan to launch a second store in Mauritius by December 2014, and foray into UAE, and other South-East Asian markets,” she indicates.
Dongre attributes the successful scale-up of her business to adopting a model similar to that of Zara’s, the Spanish clothing and accessories brand. Such brands close the gap between mass market brands and high-end brands such as Gucci and Armani, and act as a bridge to luxury. “We took a leaf out of Zara’s business model and followed a reverse policy, where we started out by creating affordable products and later moved to the premium segment,” explains Dongre. For instance, while AND and Global Desi fall into a priceline of Rs. 699 to Rs. 3,999, Iinterpret and Timeless start at Rs. 3,999 and go as high as Rs. 25,000.
Nurturing a passion
Dongre recalls that she was passionate about fashion from a very young age. “My mother was a skilled artist and my father manufactured children’s clothes. When I saw them create some beautiful fabrics, I got inspired and decided to pursue a career in this field,” she says. Dongre went on to study design at SNDT College and roped in her sister, Meena Sehra, to start small with supplying outfits to boutiques. Eventually, by 1999, she launched her label, AND. Today, while the financial aspects of the business is managed by her younger brother and CEO of AND, Mukesh Sawlani, her sister, Sehra, handles production and Dongre takes the lead as a creative head. “The initial years were tough, because I didn’t have a place to work from and had to constantly move. Money was a huge problem as well. But, as business grew, things began to fall in place,” she says.
Behind the scenes
At ADIL, the process of conceptualising the entire look and feel of each brand, for a new season, is done almost a year in advance. Typically, it involves creating prints, designs, the look and fabric, to name a few. Once the range is created, the entire game plan is worked out, where the team decides the quantity to book per region. Then, production takes about five to six months, following which distribution and retail takes another month. “Strategies depend upon the region we are targeting. Certain collections are pushed forward earlier, keeping the festivals in mind. For example, north gets a different collection during winter while Kolkata gets a different collection during Durga Puja,” explains Dongre.
As a cautionary note, she indicates that today consumers are well aware and influenced by international brands, and their expectations are constantly evolving. Thus, it becomes imperative for brands to innovate, evolve and be in tune with the latest trends. “That being said, you should also remember to stay true to your brand’s signature aesthetics,” she says.
The company has laid out a comprehensive people and selection strategy to recruit designers. “We recruit people who have a proven success record, are forward thinking, and who will fit into the moulds of our brand ambassadors,” states Dongre. Typically, through a series of performance management systems, the company identifies high potential individuals and provides them with individual development growth plans to take up bigger roles and challenges.
Keeping pace with the industry
Over the last 15 years, despite restrictions in FDI, the fashion retail industry has grown dynamically and several international brands have made in-roads into the country, the only downside being, shortage in the availability of quality retail space. “India is a growing market. Despite the industry being crowded with many players, competition is very healthy. In fact, it motivates you to work harder and perform better,” notes Dongre. With government policies becoming more favourable, emerging technologies facilitating operations, and with the rise in disposable income and awareness among consumers, Dongre believes the future of the Indian fashion retail industry looks quite promising.
AND Designs India Ltd. (ADIL)
Founder: Anita Dongre
Investors: General Atlantic
Product Line: AND, Global Desi, Iinterpret, Timeless, Anita Dongre Men, Grassroots, PinkCity
Priceline: Rs. 699 to Rs. 25,000
Store presence: 116 exclusive brand outlets across India, with 46 AND stores, 61 Global Desi stores and nine Anita Dongre stores
Setup second international store in Mauritius by December 2014
Foray into the UAE and other South-East Asian countries
Launch four exclusive brand outlets per month and enhance presence in the big malls across India