For more than 12 years, Anita Dongre had been supplying Indian wear she had designed to high street shops in Mumbai, like the ones along Linking Road, one of the city’s shopping hubs. But when she decided to label her creations, she was bluntly rejected. “Kaun khareedega yeh, madam? Isme embroidery nahin hai! [Who will buy this, madam? There is no embroidery on it!],” was what she was told.
In the 1990s, although heavily embroidered Indian wear did good business at boutiques, they were not what young urban women were really wearing. Dongre had travelled abroad extensively, and had seen changing trends. Her friends, too, encouraged her to design clothes that they would be able to wear themselves. “[The boutiques] didn’t have the vision; I could see things changing around me,” says Dongre. She gives the example of a white linen shirt. “Every woman wanted that,” she says.
Hence, despite raking in money from selling the regular stuff, the rejection made her realise it was time to turn entrepreneur. Not only did Dongre decide to persevere with her own line of clothes, she decided to retail them herself. Anita Dongre (AND) Designs was started in 1999, with a 300-sq-ft shop in Mumbai’s first mall, Crossroads. Thirteen years later, AND (the Western wear label), Global Desi (its ethnic counterpart), Anita Dongre iinter-pret and Anita Dongre Timeless now occupy 85 stores.
The four are slated to do a combined business of Rs 253 crore, with an EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) of Rs 41 crore and a PAT (profit after tax) of Rs 30 crore in 2012-13. The growth in revenue is expected to be 128 percent from 2010-11, and growth in EBITDA of almost 183 percent. Dongre is headed to becoming the largest, most profitable and fastest growing Indian designer.
“The one key reason why designers in India haven’t been able to scale up is because they lack a CEO, or business head, who can manage their creativity and make it commercially viable,” says Arun Gupta, president, Future Ventures, which owns a 22.86 percent stake in AND Designs. There might be a lot of other designers who’re more creative than Dongre, but not everyone has the potent combination of creativity and the right commercial perspective.
At the heart of AND’s success at scaling up is a model that takes a leaf out of famed retailer Zara’s book: Products positioned between designer wear that costs the moon, and mass market stuff that is cheap, but commonplace. This space is defined as the ‘bridge to luxury’.
Worldwide, at one end of the spectrum, there are marquee brands such as Louis Vuitton, Armani, Bulgari, Gucci and Burberry that are synonymous with luxury, and at the other end there are unbranded, cheap, mass-marketed clothes. In the middle is the bridge-to-luxury, which a customer crosses, before graduating to high-end luxury.