Say you’re young, funky, fashion-forward and want an outfit by Masaba Gupta. But you’re living on a pittance that passes as a first salary. What do you do? Well, you could buy an outfit by Masaba Gupta. Only, the label would read Masaba Lite, because this is the designer’s recently launched affordable second brand, more high street than haute couture.
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Gupta is one of several young designers who have taken a look at the market and figured out that there’s a vacuum that needs to be filled. Haute couture is all very well and has its takers, but what the market is yearning for is prêt. Affordable prêt, that is. This revelation hit 25-year-old Gupta when three college girls walked into her Mumbai store one day, having pooled all their savings to buy a single saree that they would share.
"I realised these girls were my target group in terms of age and I should cater to them," she says. "Since I also wanted to expand my line and make my designs more accessible to a wider audience, I launched Masaba Lite, priced between `300 and `7,000."
Gupta’s decision to launch a second, more mass line was a brave one. She could have taken the tried and tested route to better financial prospects by launching a fail-proof bridal line, but that’s not what she wants to do. Her target group is youthful, so Masaba Lite, with fun separates, night wear and accessories, is more appropriate.
Munkee See Munkee Doo, Huemn and Quirkbox all have second lines too, and Yogesh Chaudhary will launch his own mass line next season. None of these brands is more than a few seasons old, yet each one is confident of success in this new market.
Huemn, a four-year-old label started by Lucknow poet Pranav Mishra and Bangalore cartoonist Shyma Shetty, is known for experimenting with patterns. With elegantly quirky designs, its fans include actresses Deepika Padukone and Neha Dhupia. But a label cannot survive on actresses alone, so about six months ago, Huemn launched a more pared-down line called Hue.“I see prêt becoming big business in India,” says Mishra. “It’s a market boom waiting to happen.”
That’s because young designers tend to create funky, experimental clothing, which young buyers love. “They’re keen to buy Indian designers, provided they’re offered great designs at good quality, priced to fit their budgets, below Rs15,000,” says Anita Dongre, one of India’s most commercially successful designers with an estimated turnover of Rs250 crores thanks to her labels AND and Global Desi.
Dot com retail
One of the major reasons for young designers taking the high street route is the online push. With websites like Jabong and Myntra looking at fashion in a serious way, young designers have seen the opportunities.
Jabong’s CEO Arun Chandra Mohan believes young designers are making a sensible decision in starting these second lines because the online market needs them. “Prêt is more popular online, and price points need to be slightly lower than they are for brick and mortar stores,” he says.
Both Jabong and Myntra are in talks with designers to launch second lines. “Retail sites are able to take on production which really means you look at a big growth plan,” says Gupta.
Though Masaba Lite is a capsule collection at the moment, Gupta hopes her second line will become a standalone business alongside her own signature line, Masaba Gupta. "It’s like how Marc Jacobs has Marc by Marc Jacobs," she says. "It is a great starting point for younger buyers who begin by buying the second line and eventually move up to the main line."
Delhi-based designer Arjun Saluja thinks the same way. His seven-year-old label Rishta is known for conceptual designs that involve fine fabrics, with prices ranging from Rs15,000 to Rs70,000. But he recently launched his diffusion line, Essentials, that will retail between Rs7,500 and Rs28,000.
"The idea was to tap into the everyday market," Saluja says. "As a concept brand, we need to widen our horizons, so a diffusion line made sense." With lifestyle stores like Ensemble, Atosa, Neel Sutra and Evoluzione already placing orders, Saluja is hopeful that Essentials, with its dhoti pants, pathani tunics, shalwar pants, bushirts and sarees, will work.
All this is great news for the customer, says Akshita Sekhri, former fashion journalist and now business development consultant to young designer labels such as Yogesh Chaudhary. "I think senior designers existed at a time when there was little or no presence of online retail and hence are hesitant to put any eggs in that basket," she says. "Younger designers are much more trusting of the online emergence."
It’s all very exciting, but going mass is harder than it looks. Because so much needs to be taken care of, including marketing and production. Also, setting up a high street line is inadvisable unless the main line is already established. New York’s poster boy of diffusion fashion, Marc Jacobs, launched his second line after almost 15 years in fashion. Perhaps there’s a lesson there.
Sujata Assomull Sippy has been a fashion commentator for almost two decades
From HT Brunch, September 21
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