Do Indian designers need multiple fashion weeks?
Is the celebrity in the front row of a fashion trade event bigger,or the client buying the garments? Even a newcomer in the circuit knows that the former is a fabulous advertisement to bring in the latter. But,what do you do when there are over seven fashion weeks in a calendar year,promising a generous presence of both? How does one decide which one to participate in?
Faced with the prospect of participating in the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (WIFW) and the Van Heusen Mens Fashion Week in Delhi,the Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai (LFW),the Bangalore Fashion Week,the India Couture Week,the Goa Resort Week and the India Kids Fashion Week in Mumbai,designer Rahul Mishra did a simple math: he decided to go for the weeks that got him the maximum business,the WIFW and the maximum publicity,the LFW. I am an entertainer,but when I am going for a fashion week,I am also a businessman. I have to sell my collections,ensure that my infrastructure can meet the demands of my clients and take care of my tailors. If I am paying close to Rs 4 lakh to participate in a solo show at an event like the WIFW,I need to ensure that my sales figures touch at least Rs 40-50 lakh to more than break even, says the Mumbai-based Mishra,whose collection at the recent WIFW were sold out even before his show.
Mishras figures are far from an exaggeration. So far,the WIFW is the most successful business forum for designers,while LFW provides a great grooming ground,particularly for upcoming designers,with initiatives like the talent box (where young designers host capsule shows). For every fashion week collection displayed on the ramp at these events,the designer has to work out about 70-80 looks. About 20-30 looks are sent for editorials (magazine shoots and promotions); out of the remaining 50 looks,about 20-25 make it to the ramp,ensuring an expense of about Rs 10-11 lakh. Trunk shows are easier compared to these,where one is spared the elaborate paraphernalia of organising a lavish show. So does one need so many fashion weeks?
Young designer Kallol Datta,whose no fuss lines have won him a chance to showcase at the Mercedes Fashion Week in Berlin this year,says for those fresh off the starting block,participating in more than one week is not a sound idea. As a stakeholder,I would expect some benefit out of a week. Theres no point in partaking in poorly conceived events. For a new designer,it takes about two to three seasons to recover the costs. Why would I compound my expenses and put my production under stress?
Of course,a fashion week means different things to different people. For newcomers like Shashank Raj and Prajwal Badwe,the LFW came as a wonderful platform to showcase their talent last season,for those already established like Mishra,it serves to draw in newer clients from different markets. But for bigger names like Rohit Bal and Manish Arora,with established markets in India and abroad,its more of a branding exercise,designed to showcase their star status.
Pradeep Hirani,owner of the Kimaya and the Ayamik chain of boutique stores in India and the Middle east,says an umbrella trade event like a fashion week is essential in bringing together retailers,manufactures,designers and even,corporates on a single platform. About 50 per cent of my business in India happens during fashion weeks,as it acts like a catalyst for designers to put forward their best. But he is not altogether dismissive of the numerous fashion weeks that have sprung up. One needs to look at the broader picture. After cricket and Bollywood,fashion is Indias obsession. It has given birth to a lot of ancillary industries bloggers,event organisers,fashion schools and magazines. These are serious and non-serious business modules on their own. It will take some time for the churn to happen,but perhaps,not all of it is without reason, he says.
Theres some truth in what Hirani says. Since 2001,when India organised its first fashion week,the industry has grown exponentially. As many as 138 designers participated in the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week,over 80 at the Lakme Fashion Week. According to a report released by industry body Assocham last month,titled Trends in Indian Designer Wear Industry,the fashion industry in India is growing at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 40 per cent and is currently worth Rs 720 crore. It is expected to cross the Rs 11,000 crore mark by 2020. In such circumstances,organisers say its best to push forward with as many weeks to spread fashion awareness and generate sales.
Until the economic slowdown in 2009,the focus of these weeks was on garnering foreign buyers. But niche international boutiques like Maria Luisa and MC2 are now infrequent visitors,representatives of Harrods,Neiman Marcus or Anthropologie come rarely and seldom pick up five looks per designer. The wedding market,or couture,remains the money spinner and the spotlight is firmly on the domestic buyer. Lakme Fashion Week now models their two events as summer/resort and autumn/winter,a distinct departure from the international module of spring-summer and autumn-winter. International fashion weeks generally present collections intended for delivery to retailers four to six months after being shown. In India,fashion retailers request delivery within 30-60 days,shortening the production cycle. Hence our strategic change, says Anjana Sharma,director,fashion,IMG-Reliance,co-organiser of LFW.
Niche regional markets too are now keen to play the field,a reason why proposals for fashion weeks in Jaipur and Chandigarh have come up. Feroz Khan,part of the Bangalore Fashion Week advisory board,says their last edition in February generated business worth Rs 6 crore,from a pool of about 70 buyers,mostly from the south,a decent turnover for an event in only its third year. We dont focus on big names. We bring in international designers from the neighbouring countries,whose designs can sell here and promote new talents,many of whom are specific to south India. But for a trade event to be successful,its essential to have some big names. So we invite designers like Rocky S and Ritu Beri to showcase at our event, he says.
Interestingly,the Bangalore Fashion Week,like the Goa Resort Week and the now defunct Kolkata Fashion Week,take care of expenses of established designers who participate. Every little detail,from the transport to the ramp to models and their makeup is looked after. There should be some incentive for a well-known designer to participate in a fledgling event. Otherwise,theres no reason why they would want to be a part of our event. The test is in how much business we can provide them with for them to come back to us, says Khan.
Designer Anupamaa Dayal,who participated in the inaugural Goa Resort Week earlier this year,says,such opportunities give them the option of tapping into markets that they havent explored previously,but with no risks. I took two of my regular buyers with me and came away with a general idea of what the market needs are. But one cannot keep doing it for publicity or market analysis. One needs a sustained business initiative, she says.
Paid participation is also the reason why the quality of collections often suffers. Many designers showcase the same collection at more than one fashion event because proliferation means that much less time to organise fresh collections. No matter how efficient technology gets,travelling across seven fashion weeks still takes time. Why would you want to attend an event only to negotiate something that you have already seen in Delhi or Mumbai?, says Kiran Rao of the Chennai-based fashion boutique Amethyst.
Sunil Sethi,president,Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI),Indias apex fashion body and the organiser of the WIFW,the India Couture Week and the Van Heusen Mens Fashion Week has the last word. So long as there are sponsors there wont be a dearth of fashion weeks,but the margin of success is debatable. Our couture week is targeted at the NRI market and is more of a branding exercise. Our most successful enterprise is the WIFW. I cant get the same number of buyers for the other weeks,so I cannot imagine organising niche events like a resort or a kids week, he says.