Business Today

Woman With Design

The creative mind behind the House of Anita Dongre is changing lives of traditional artisans.
twitter-logo Sarika Malhotra        Print Edition: September 27, 2015
Cosmopolitan canvas: Anita Dongre has been promoting Indian art on the global stage
Cosmopolitan canvas: Anita Dongre has been promoting Indian art on the global stage (Photo: Mandar Deodhar)

It's a long cherished dream coming true," says Anita Dongre, adding that Grassroot, which was launched in August 2015, is a culmination of everything that she stands for, lived by and believes in: earth-, eco- and animal-friendly. Dongre says among all her creations, Grassroot is the closest to her heart. "I always wanted to do something with traditional Indian crafts which are so real, earthy and rich. I wanted to restore the handicraft and heirloom tradition of India, and it is just that."

Fiscal 2014/15 was also about growth and consolidation. She renamed her company, AND Designs India, to House of Anita Dongre. The move, she says, was in line with her expansion strategy: "With this, we have bundled all corporate functions, fashion verticals and group brands - AND, Global Desi and Anita Dongre - under one roof. It helped in consolidating operations across all brands, encompassing design, production, merchandising and marketing, and will provide seamless integration, greater efficiencies and improved control over systems and processes."

House of Anita Dongre comprises over 2,500 employees, with 650 points of sale across 60 cities, including 150 exclusive brand outlets. The year also saw Dongre foraying big time into the international market with a flagship store in Mauritius in November 2014 and the launch of retailing jewellery brand PINKCITY in Dubai from February this year.

No wonder, private equity fund General Atlantic, which took a minority stake in the company in 2013, is bullish. Sandeep Naik, Managing Director and Head of India for General Atlantic, says that Dongre is focused on creating fashion that's exclusive, yet attainable, and not made for a select few. "Anita and her team are passionate and ambitious and have a mission to create a global fashion house. The organisation's values of customer-first, ownership, creativity, and agility hold them in good stead," says Naik, adding: "Despite her busy schedule, she makes time to personally read through almost all customer feedback and complaints, and how they were handled by her organisation."

Elaborating on Grassroot, Dongre says that the craft industry is dying every day. "The need of the hour is to have fashion houses, like ours, partner artisans and help sustain their longstanding work. We, as a fashion house, back the artisans with a design platform to showcase their work, ensuring it is a win-win partnership for both of us. Our design teams travel to villages along with NGOs to study their crafts and create a contemporary design language with global appeal." Grassroot is working with twelve crafts and eight weaves, including Banaras, Ikat, Khadi, Bhagalpur Silk, Chikankari, Block Prints, Bandhani and Warli paintings. It is partnering closely with NGOs and artisans across Gujarat, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. For example, Grassroot has joined hands with SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre to ensure100 days employment to women artisans from four Gujarat villages. Payment for each piece is evaluated by the NGO depending on the number of hours put in and the complexity of the design. The final product is competitively priced to create more demand and, thereby, making the model sustainable.

artisans to showcase their work... and help in creating a contemporary design language with global appeal"

In 2013/14, And Design India had clocked revenues of Rs 216 crore. But, what has made Dongre click, while most designers seem to have lost the plot when it comes to commerce and scaling up? Says B.S. Nagesh, founder, Trust for Retailers and Retail Associates of India: "Most designers make what they want to make, but she designs keeping the consumer in mind. The other thing that works is the fact that she has kept the business and designing aspects demarcated. The team led by Mukesh Sawlani is handling the business, while designing and creative part is all hers. This is a great combination at work."

For now, AND contributes about 48 per cent to the company's overall sales, and Dongre is planning to go big on ecommerce and establish its presence in Tier-III cities. "Grassroot will give the much-needed dignity that our weavers so deserve, ensure fair wages and, above all, ensure our handloom and cultural legacy continues," Dongre signs off.

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