Becoming Global the Indian Way

Countless international brands look towards India for inspiration and design. So what's hampering India's growth on the global scenario? We try to understand and provide some solutions

By: Soumya Jain

Posted on: January 15, 2013

Countless international brands look towards India for inspiration and design. So what’s hampering India’s growth on the global scenario? We try to understand and provide some solutions.

Don a grandiose Manav Gangwani gown and you’ll feel like you have stepped onto the red carpet. Adorn your dining area with a well-crafted silver piece from Ravissant and it instantly brings a shine to your home. The clean-cut bandhgala from Raghavendra Rathore won’t make you even look at the many international brands now adopting the Nehru collar as their own.

Luxury expert, Mr Gaurav Bhatia, affirms this fact. “True luxury is borne out of heritage, tradition and art. India alone with its rich history, inimitable savoir-faire and quintessential beauty makes for our products and, therefore brands, to be unique,” he says. 

The why
But then why are Indian luxury brands not as popular and revered as Christian Louboutin, Giorgio Armani or Bottega Veneta globally? We certainly have a good product quality, no doubt about that. Our inherent love and respect for all things Indian reflects into our creations, thus making them most unique. Mr Prateek Jain, founder and designer of Klove, an Indian brand making home décor products with blown glass, also advocates Indian traditions through his work. “Gautam [his partner] and I are of Indian origin, rooted in Indian culture and this seeps into everything we design and produce. A large chunk of our designs are based on elements from Indian culture, we use a lot of Indian motifs and crafts for our products,” Mr Jain says.

As Melanie Puddick and Priya Menon mentioned in the book – The Luxury Market in India: Maharajas to Masses – a successful luxury brand is about one part product and two parts brand. Indian brands have the product and a beautiful brand story to tell. According to Mr Bhatia, the problem is as complex as wearing a nine-yard sari. “Merely tapping into Indian heritage, mysticism and royalty does not make a brand successful internationally. Indian brands have thought ‘inward’ for too long. They must be made relevant in their product promise, with an astute marketing plan – accessibility, packaging, advertising – the whole 360-degree – to appeal to the global consumer spoiled for choices.  Also they have not been backed by the right kind of push from the government or private investors,” he said.

Indeed! Apart from the few lucky ones like Hidesign and Forest Essentials, who have attracted quite a bit of investment and interest from global luxury conglomerates, the rest are left to scale up on their own, which obviously takes a lot of time, considering the non-encouraging ambiance that entrepreneurs have to face in India.

Mr Dilip Kapur of Hidesign, during the India Luxury Summit 2012 had said, “We [Indian brands] are a long way from getting our back-end right. As long as our back-end is not right, we cannot come up globally.” Mr Jain echoes the same thought, and running a luxury brand himself, explains some of the major problems that brands face while organizing their back-end and logistics. “In order to survive competition, one important factor is setting up local manufacturing units to cut down on avoidable overheads like freight and custom costs. For products that are essentially based on Indian crafts, the abundance of resources like raw material and skilled cost-effective labour, are difficult to replicate overseas, and therefore the overheads of foolproof packaging, freight, customs, etc are unavoidable,” he says.

Adding to the woes
Even though we make stunning heritage, quality products, the ‘Made in India’ tag does not have the same respectability and demand as a ‘Made in France’ or ‘Made in Italy’. Internationally, the scene is quite dismal. Despite being known for our crafts like Pashmina shawls, Ayurveda and ethnic jewellery, there is a limited perception of Indian brands abroad. Shoppers internationally have at times been exposed to the wrong kind of Indian products which gives them a half-baked perception of the country. Relating his experience from his days in New York, Mr Bhatia, says, “In New York, one of the largest global luxury and lifestyle markets in the world, to get something ‘made in India’ with a stamp of luxe was almost impossible, aside from some jewellery made by French and American designers in Jaipur, available at Barneys and a few shawls at Bergdorf Goodman. It was a handful of foreigners that had tapped into luxe markets such as Jaipur and created enviable but small brands. Apart from this, all one saw was kitsch and crude handicrafts. A trip to New Jersey (which has a large Indian population) meant being exposed to garish Indian fashion and jewellery of a decade before! As an Indian exposed to so much more, it was quite saddening.”

And it’s not just internationally. The upwardly mobile young Indian, who wants everything foreign, often mistakes Indian products to be low quality. Mr Jain notices this trend quite astutely – “Quite unfortunately, we have a sad bias towards imported products, and we tend to look down upon products produced in our own land.” On the contrary, Mr Jain has only observed positive response to his creations and for other Indian brands internationally. “India is looked upon as a source of good-quality, dependable yet cost-effective products combined with a huge variety of indigenous crafts and designs that are unique and appealing to a global consumer base,” he says.

The silver lining
All is not dreary though. Tata’s acquisition, and good management, of Jaguar has made the world sit up and notice, and also dispel myths about the Indian way of working. Some Indian brands have broken the ice and made sure that they are appreciated. For me it’s Manish Arora and Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla. Both the brands, with their opposing design philosophies, have conquered the fashionable world charmingly. Klove already has an international presence, facilitated by their participation in international shows like Maison & Objet, to make their offerings available to new buyers from all over the world. Mr Bhatia counts quite a few brands in his list that have made it globally. “Gem Palace is a true Indian luxury. The Kasliwal family needs to take a silent bow for mixing the heritage of Jaipur with international edge. Other boutique brands I like include Kama [Ayurveda], Janavi and Neeru Kumar. The Taj Palaces and Vilas properties of The Oberoi are slowly spelling ‘India Luxe’ internationally,” he said. 

Complexities and tribulations abound. But as long as Indian brands are confident of their product, consistency and quality, the rest of the battles shouldn’t be too difficult. Mr Jain recommends clever brand positioning, PR and using digital media to increase awareness and goodwill as some ways to move forward. And summarizing in a few lines is Mr Karan Ahluwalia, Group Executive VP and Country Head, Media, Entertainment, Fine Arts, Luxury & Sports banking at Yes Bank Ltd – “Scale, quality, discipline, consistent innovation and marketing are some of the key ingredients Indian brands need to adopt, and hone-in, to become ‘global Indian brands’. While a fine tuning of regulatory policy is required to provide a more conducive business environment, the 'Made in India' tag has inherent strengths and a rich legacy which can be strategically positioned to sell ethnic and indigenous luxury brands across the globe.”

Time to chin up and take charge India!

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