Designer-cum-entrepreneur Anita Dongre has achieved a corporate name for herself with her brand AND Design India Pvt Ltd and she justifies sponsorship for designer labels. "Yes, designers need to tie up with corporate/business partners so that the partner can look after all the other aspects of running the fashion business and designers can concentrate on the creativity," Dongre said. Along with Dongre, a few others like Satya Paul and Ritu Kumar have tasted success by retailing their brands in India, but others are still at a nascent stage in retail. Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week, Lakme Fashion Week, Van Heusen India Mens Week and HDIL India Couture Week are some of the leading fashion weeks which have corporate backup. And now designers also want the same support. Raymond, Reebok and Adidas were associated with designer brands in the past, but their collaboration didn't last long. In 2003, watchmaker Titan roped in designer Rohit Bal to create a range of luxury watches and Bombay Dyeing roped in Sabyasachi Mukherjee to design an exclusive signature line of bed sheets and towels in 2007.
However, the association was just for a few years compared to international collaborations where partnerships between corporates and designers is a long term affair. Adidas' association with British designer Stella McCartney for a range of sportswear, Puma's tie-up with late Alexander McQueen for a special line and British retailer Debenhams' special range with a host of designers are some examples. "There have been an increasing number of collaborations between corporates and designers in India, but unfortunately most corporates consider these as short term arrangements and this needs to change," said designer Ashish Soni. "Internationally, not only are fashion weeks backed by corporate houses but also many leading designers are supported by big giants. However, in India, corporate backing is just restricted to fashion weeks and this needs attention, so that designers also get the chance to spread wings to different metros with the support of corporate houses.
In 2010, sportswear and apparel maker Adidas signed a five-year strategic partnership with designer duo Shantanu and Nikhil to launch the S&N Adidas line and the designer says this gave a sudden exposure to the brand. "We wanted a brand association which would give us scale and accessibility and this is what the Adidas association brought to us. Corporate backing does help in a brand's growth," said Nikhil Mehra of Shantanu and Nikhil. Indian designers' creativity is outstanding, says Vinod Kaul, former director of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), but when it comes to brand promotion, they lack back-up.
"The success of designer wear in the West is designers coming together with corporates. However, Indian designers today don't have the knowledge and expertise to market their products. They are good in designing and conceptualising but it has to be taken forward by a company to establish the brand name. It has happened in a small way in India but needs mushroom in a big way," said Kaul. Designer Rahul Mishra agrees. "A designer brings out the philosophy of the creation and if they have to increase the reach of the brand, it has to happen in a bigger way...Most Indian designers can't invest themselves to make their brand a global name and here comes the need of corporate sponsorship," he added. But what do corporates want when they collaborate with designer labels? "Today's market is suffering from a syndrome of sameness where all the products offered to customers look very similar. Under such conditions brands may use co-branding with designers as a strategic option to build a stronger image in the market," Harkirat Singh, managing director, Woodland, said.
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