Bet on pret
In a country whirling between festivals and weddings, pret has emerged fashion's stepchild. Why is a man in Bengaluru then hedging his bets on designer ready-to-wear that's out-and-proud made in India?
K Radharaman might be well known in Bengaluru's textile heritage circles given that he helms a 600-year-old handloom fabrics business, but it wasn't until actor Deepika Padukone wore a Kanjeevaram with the Gandaberunda (a two-headed bird) motif for her Konkani wedding ceremony from his Advaya label, that he hit headlines. Interestingly, his latest project that's drawing attention has little to do with bridalwear.
K Radharaman is taking a chance on prêt, at a time when most designers and retailers prefer to play it safe with occasion wear. His latest Angadi Heritage multi-designer outpost makes gracious space for ready-to-wear ensembles for men and women. But, he won't break the link with his past. The 38-year-old with an engineering degree from Cornell, hopes to continue to patronise handwoven textiles by offering platform to the designers to retail their ready-to-wear capsule collections imagined from India's weaving repertoire. He says he wants to offer the customer made-in-India everyday-luxury garments, and inculcate the habit of shopping for affordable designerwear. It's the only chance he says, stockists and design minds like him have to capture the millennial's attention.
India's apparel market will be worth $59.3 billion by 2022, making it the sixth largest in the world. That's comparable to UK's $65 billion and Germany's $63.1 billion, according to data from McKinsey's FashionScope. That about 600 million Indians are under 25 years, means that retailers must adopt an inclusive attitude if they wish to make a young Indian their customer for life.
About 75 per cent of the garments K Radharaman stocks are by guest designers, including Rajesh Pratap Singh, Anavila Misra, Gaurav Jai Gupta, Rimzim Dadu, 11.11/Eleven Eleven and Neeru Kumar, with the rest by in-house label. Dadu is known for her provocative innovations in warp and weft, especially the theatrical leather cord sarees. "Over a period of time, people began to associate my brand with crazy, metallic pieces. But as designer, I'm interested in light and easy everyday pieces. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to scale up [the prêt business]," she says. At Angadi Heritage, K Radharaman has got Dadu to stock simple, smart shirts and dresses in cotton and Chanderi, sporting her signature 3D appliqué work. These are priced at Rs 12,000 upwards. Dadu says she is able to manage this because K Radharaman doesn't hanker after a higher markdown.
"The effort should be to make fashion democratic, and not overprice the product," he says, explaining how he is able to maintain a price point that's getting rarer to find. If the retailer chooses not to do this, designers have no choice but to mark up their own maximum retail prices.
The designers making outfits for men see his point about representation. New Delhi-based Suket Dhir argues that men are far more accepting of ready-to-wear, making gentlemen's prêt a huge untapped market in India. "By connecting Indian textiles to menswear, he [K Radharaman] has started a duologue around the India proud sentiment while giving menswear its credit," says Dhir, whose range of shirts and kurtas in cotton, cotton silk and linen silk are priced at Rs 7,650 onwards.
Earlier this year, couturier Varun Bahl told mid-day on the sidelines of Lakmé Fashion Week, "I want to reach out to a wider audience, which couture can't manage". He was speaking about the launch of his prêt label for women, priced at Rs 5,000 upwards, where he offered premium fabric and embroidery at an attractive price point. That he chose to do this after being a couturier for 15 years, says something. "The response [to our prêt line] has been very good, encouraging us to take the category seriously. We plan to launch standalone stores in various cities dedicated to ready-to-wear collections," Bahl informs.
Varun Behl, line shown at Lakme in January 2019. Pic/ Getty Images
The other thorn in the flesh of ready-to-wear is the "on-consignment transaction", which most believe is leaving young designers and artisans handicapped. When a designer's work is taken on and displayed at a store without outright payment, and a transaction is complete only once it sells, it leaves the creator at the mercy of demand. K Radharaman says, retailers must show a bit more courage and prudence. "For years, we, for instance, have studied the Bengaluru market, which makes us confident to do business on the outright purchase model.
It has to be a win-all for the designers, retailers and craftsmen if the market is to expand collectively."
Before designers decide to explore the notion of "ready-to-wear", they have to first define the category clearly, insists industry expert Sabina Chopra, followed by resolving key questions: do you have a proper production set-up to boost quantities that would allow you to lower your prices? Do you understand the Indian shopper well?
Suket Dhir, India's first recipient of the International Woolmark prize, Suket Dhir's collection of menswear is unapologetically Indian without making it obvious. Pic/ Getty Images
The point of ready-to-wear is to walk into a store, pick up a design of your choice and size, pay and leave. Chopra adds, "I am XS size, and most of the times I am told, 'we'll order it for you'.
The space is a bit messy right now, but it won't be long before the India's organised retail industry smartens up."
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