The collaboration between Swedish clothing giant H&M and Indian fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee was all in the news recently and is a case study in brand building using the power of social media communication.
For H&M, this partnership is a continuation of years of high-end collaborations that started with Karl Lagerfeld in 2004, and with others like Alexander Wang, Diane von Furstenberg, Stella McCartney and even with pop stars such as Madonna and Kylie Minogue.
With an Indian fashion designer - this was a first. For Sabyasachi Mukherjee also it is a first with a high-street retailer. He has collaborated successfully before with French Shoe Designer Christian Louboutin and New York-based luxury department store, Bergdorf Goodman.
As is the case with such high-profile collaborations, the retailer is sometimes not able to keep pace. Along with the launch announcement comes huge traffic to the e-stores, and they are not able to keep up with the demand, crashing or coming offline altogether.
This is exactly what happened when Sabyasachi x H&M was announced. The internet went into a tizzy and the website almost crashed with the collections nearly sold out.
Whatever the critics may say but the boho-chic vibe of the collection got people attention right away. The sell-out says that it was a successful collaboration, and the marketing was spot-on.
In the long term, the success and longevity of this collaboration will be for the time to tell. In terms of the Sabyasachi brand and online consumer engagement, it is already a significant coup that other fashion brands should take note of.
For companies that are striving to build relationships with their consumers and intend to expand their reach geographically as well to a bigger socio-economic class, the social media impact of this collaboration is worth studying.
H&M sells a saree, Sabyasachi deepens his appeal
It is clear that Sabyasachi has dedicated a lot of attention to online interactions with consumers and is aware that online interaction with consumers can increase the position of the brand in the market. #SabyasachiSaree is a trend that never goes out of fashion in India.
This, he has used to an advantage. It is for the first time that H&M have had a saree in their collection. Being the second largest clothing retailer in the world, it is present in 74 countries with over 5,000 stores under the various company brands, and the saree has never before featured as fast fashion. Imagine, if the trend takes off, this would be what saree enthusiasts only dream of.
Although it was widely trolled for its ordinariness, the saree sold out in the blink of an eye. "I hope it sparks a cross-cultural exchange and a sense of wonderment to discover and embrace what modern Indian design has to offer," Sabyasachi said. Printed with images of old Calcutta, the saree's pallu design served up the romance and nostalgia for which Sabyasachi is known.
It is a credit to Sabya, the king of Indian bridal wear, whose sarees are worn by top Indian actresses and celebrities and remain widely out of reach for the common woman, that he made this possible.
Still expensive at Rs 10,000, the saree being part of his H&M collection of 70 items (which includes accessories) is a statement.
His bridalwear is one of the most coveted by Indian brides as his aesthetic of gorgeous rich textiles, chintz, floral and bold prints where a tribute to Indian heritage is visible. Despite the synthetic and viscose fabric in the high-street collection for H&M, he has not veered away from his own legacy and oeuvre.
He communicates directly
Communication plays a vital role in brand building on social media. Norms of information sharing and communication flows (J Mohr, 2013) on social media can convince consumers of fashion and luxury goods to purchase when even the wealthy cut back, and when sales are declining at retail stores.
Unlike many reticent designers, Sabyasachi Mukherjee speaks directly to his followers. He is his own brand and that has been carefully represented in his online presence.
The 4.7 million followers of Sabyasachi's official Instagram account see him in the recent reels about the H&M collection.
The messaging is on point and the androgynous symbolism is subtle and poignant. You see Sabya emerging from the pool and posing laughingly with his models for the H&M collection, almost making him as accessible as the collection itself.
To top that, he released a 'from me to you' message after the debacle of the website crash and collection selling out. He made this about #makeinIndia.
He said: For the longest time, my pet peeve was that globally we were considered a manufacturing country. I always wanted to break that glass ceiling, but on my own terms and in my own way. Where Designed in India, would stand strong alongside, Made in India. There is a market-ready for every single one of us, there is only one secret to unlock it - just be yourself. Whoever you are. Shamelessly."
The fact that he uses the 'Bengal Tiger' as his logo and 'big-sized' models for his shoots, Sabyasachi Mukherjee connects immediately with his audience.
The very popular show he did called 'Band Baja Baarat', had many re-runs, where a few lucky girls were dressed up for their wedding day by Sabyasachi himself. That was not just clever marketing, making him the most desirable trousseau designer in India, but also made him more humane.
His interactions with the people, the brides, their parents and attention to detail - where he comes in for the final 'Chunri' touch to finish the ensemble, made him look like a genuinely nice guy. This is an image that he has curated carefully and maintained painstakingly.
Sabyasachi's strategy is a testament that social media gives an opportunity to reach consumers in active communication and to engage via content that is regularly updated and draws the attention of his followers.
Online engagement needs regular frequency, a two-way engagement and a clear strategy. Done right, it does improve loyalty and trust in the brand.
(Vineeta Dwivedi teaches Communication at Bhavan's SPJIMR (S P Jain Institute of Management and Research). Views are personal.)
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