The country's fashion industry is in the pink of health, if fashion weeks are any indication. The men's fashion week in early September was the latest in an industry calendar studded with city-specific events, couture weeks, and two big biannual events - Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week and Lakme Fashion Week. What sets these apart from fashion weeks in London, Milan or Paris is how they are financed: through corporate sponsorship.
This has created a peculiarly Indian ecosystem that nurtures not only designers and their labels, but also other lifestyle brands. "The biggest high-profile events in India are cricket, Bollywood and fashion," says Rathi Vinay Jha, Founder-Director of the National Institute of Fashion Technology, or NIFT. "Be it watches, whisky or cars, a fashion event helps you get the right publicity."
The Indian designer wear market is pegged at Rs 750-800 crore and is growing at the rate of 25%
Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week is the biggest trade platform, with over 130 designers and 40 fashion shows per season
Lakme Fashion Week, Couture Week, Men's Fashion Week, and Bangalore Fashion Week are other highlights on the industry calendar
The number of buyers and designers is rising, but quality issues, and the lack of foreign buyers and a corporate structure for designers remain challenges
At last year's Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai, car maker Skoda showed off its Yeti model. This year, Himalayan, a mineral water company, sponsored designer Wendell Rodricks' show of an organic line. "Internationally, most fashion weeks are not sponsored," says Sumeet Nair, former Executive Director of the Fashion Design Council of India, or FDCI, and the driving force behind the first Lakme India Fashion Week in 2000. "Designers pay for everything - ramp, models, make-up, music and choreography. Indian designers cannot pay so much."
Thanks to sponsorship, the participation fee for designers is subsidised. Nair says designers showcasing their work in Paris could spend between Rs 70 lakh and Rs 1 crore for a show. "Here, they could pay between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 7 lakh." Designers have also benefited in terms of brand-building and, of course, that stock-in-trade of fashion weeks worldwide - connecting with buyers. Lakme Fashion Week's winter festive edition in August had more than 91 designers and 200 buyers - a far cry from 2000, when there were just 28 designers. And it is not even the biggest event: Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week, which also has summer and winter editions every year, has 40 shows every season, featuring more than 130 designers.
Finishing touches: Backstage at Lakme Fashion Week
"My sales have risen 40 per cent every season," says model-turneddesigner and Lakme Fashion Week participant Vijay Balhara. "Sales were Rs 15 lakh at the summer edition. I'm expecting a 100 per cent jump after the winter edition." Pradip Hirani, owner of fashion retail chain Kimaya says: "Our orders at such events are increasing by 25 to 30 per cent year on year."
Even new names get noticed. London's tony Square boutique bought goods worth »20,000 from designers Sougat Paul, Nimish Shah and Raman Vij at Lakme Fashion Week this season. But experts caution against making too much of foreign buyers. Sharad Mehra, Senior Vice President, Fashion and Apparel Operations at consulting firm Technopak, says international orders comprise only 20 per cent of business for Indian designers.Online fashion shopping catches up
Wendell Rodricks' Himalayan-inspired collection
Nair concedes that sponsorship leads to trade-offs such as displaying sponsors' brands in the background. But, he says, this is acceptable, given that a fashion week could cost between Rs 2 crore and Rs 8 crore to organise. The biggest expenses are the venue, which may go up to Rs 2.5 crore, and the model fee, which could vary between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 7 lakh per show. Sponsorship is the main revenue stream for organisers, he says.
Brands such as Lakme and Wills Lifestyle benefit immensely thanks to celebrity turnouts. There's constant brand recall: Deepika Govind
For sponsors, fashion weeks are brand-building platforms. Bangalorebased designer Deepika Govind points out that brands such as Lakme and Wills Lifestyle have benefited immensely through such tie-ups. "They get exposure thanks to celebrity turnouts," she says. "There's constant brand recall." For instance, Wills Lifestyle, which became the title sponsor of India Fashion Week in 2006, launched the Wills Signature range in that year. Lakme launches a new line every six months, and unveils it at Lakme Fashion Week.
Because of its association with a men's fashion week, Van Heusen is perceived as a brand that brings fashion to the workplace: Ajay Ramachandran
Others are catching on. Two years ago, Aditya Birla Nuvo's Van Heusen apparel brand partnered with FDCI to launch India's first men's fashion week. Ajay Ramachandran, Chief Operating Officer, Van Heusen India, says that because of the tie-up, his brand is seen as one that brings fashion to the workplace.
The recently concluded Lakme Fashion Week had 11 associate sponsors. "Unless art and commerce meet, fashion cannot mean business," says Chandrashekhar Pitre, Senior Director, Marketing, at DHL Express, one of the sponsors.
An important development is the coverage of our event by Indian-language and regional media: Atul Chand Head, ITC Lifestyle
More sponsors means bigger budgets. Atul Chand, Divisional Chief Executive of ITC's Lifestyle Retailing Division, says expenditure has increased 20 per cent over the past year. "Our event is covered by regional and Indian-language media," he adds. Designer Tarun Tahiliani, who has his own couture week for bridal wear, says fashion weeks are still evolving, and need to be more designcentric.
Govind adds: "We must have a quality barrier and benchmarking in place for admitting designers. Currently, it's more about sponsors and their visibility."