Local brands ride PM wagon

Updated: May 18, 2020, 16:24 IST | Aastha Atray Banan | Mumbai

As PM Modi urges wary Indians to use desi products instead of international goods (read Chinese), homegrown brands aim to ride the wave

A digital influencer wears Kraus jeans, a Mumbai-based denim brand for women
A digital influencer wears Kraus jeans, a Mumbai-based denim brand for women

Last week, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a bid to revive the economy, announced the war cry "Vocal for Local", Instagram was flooded with posts by homegrown brands keen to remind us that they exist. Using the hashtags #Vocalforlocal, #madeinindia, and #supportlocal, indie brands hopped on to the bandwagon to woo potential buyers, who after being hit by the Coronavirus are not just hesitant to step out, but also wary of consuming anything imported.

Some marketing campaigns have already started taking the say-no-to-made-in-China tangent. And soon, we may find ourselves looking for Indian manufacturers of products that were once solely foreign made, or those we shopped for when travelling.

Manan Gandhi of Bombay Perfumery, who is inspired by Indian chai and kali mirch, says his fragrances are just as nuanced as the next best foreign scent
Manan Gandhi of Bombay Perfumery, who is inspired by Indian chai and kali mirch, says his fragrances are just as nuanced as the next best foreign scent 

Established in 2016, Mumbai-based Bombay Perfumery is an indigenous perfume maker, with a bottling company in Vapi. Its founder Manan Gandhi claims that their made-in-India perfume will offer the same experience as a Rs 10,000 Armani bottle. "There are very few perfume making firms in India, and we are giving due credit to Indian ingredients like jasmine, which has been used in global perfumes for years," says Gandhi. With a starting price of Rs 4,000, for a 100-ml bottle, the perfumes come in a range spanning local spices including black pepper and cardamom.

As Aneesh Bhasin, co-founder of the three-year-old SVAMI, India's only homegrown tonic water, says, it has become "cooler to buy local in the past five years", but he hopes the PM's thrust will make the practice trickle down to all sections of consumers. However, it's not always easier on the pocket to buy local. An 300 ml of SVAMI costs Rs 88 while an equal quantity of Schweppes would cost about R38. But, SVAMI is 50 per cent less in sugar.

In a 2017 survey by LocalCircles, a community social media platform, it was revealed that about 52 per cent Indians preferred made-in-India products over Chinese ones on the quality marker. Yet, 83 per cent said they bought Chinese products, since they were the cheapest options in the market.

But, that's not always the case, as the founders of Kraus Jeans will tell you. The denim brand, with a starting price of Rs 999, is owned by Atmaram Punjabi and his family. The business started from a modest shop in the Kalbadevi market, and now has manufacturing units across Mumbai. Their marketing campaign, which could now be considered ahead-of-its-time, has largely been about the Indian woman and body type being the #krausgirl. "We are the highest selling women's denim brand in the country. We understand the Indian body type. Our digital campaign was around the message of Indian women being #krausgirls. This new messaging is only going to help us," Punjabi believes.

And it's not just denim. A whole array of buys that we once associated strictly with travel abroad are now available in India, and at top notch quality. Gourmet cheese, mead and designer lingerie are all being made in India, and proudly too.

Prateeksh Mehra, founder of Mumbai-based artisanal cheese brand Spotted Cow Fromagerie, says that Indians should buy local gourmet cheese not because they don’t have an option but because it’s truly of international standard
Prateeksh Mehra, founder of Mumbai-based artisanal cheese brand Spotted Cow Fromagerie, says that Indians should buy local gourmet cheese not because they don’t have an option but because it’s truly of international standard 

Prateeksh Mehra, founder and cheese maker at Spotted Cow Fromagerie, hopes now that the buyer at high-end supermarkets and online, will opt for Indian cheese, which he makes French style. The brand's workshop in Mira Road has the tagline "frightfully close to French cheese" to avoid indignation by the discerning shopper. "No matter how many exhibitions or farmer's markets they visit and see what's on offer here, people still think international cheese is better. But, some of it is not just cheaper, but also as good. They should buy it not because they don't have an option, but because it's actually good," says Mehra, who has named his Brie, BomBrie, to stress on the brand's local identity.

The Tailor and Circus campaign focuses on the Indian body type
The Tailor and Circus campaign focuses on the Indian body type 

Abhishek Elango, the creative director of the Tamil Nadu-based innerwear brand Tailor and Circus, says they found themselves being tagged on Instagram as soon as the PM's address ended. "We are already seeing a lot of traction. Our positioning has always been based around the representation of brown people and the Indian body type, and our products have the breathability India needs," he says of the lingerie that is manufactured in Tiruppur, adding, "The India story is a big part of our branding, and we will continue to go down that road, especially now."

Moonshine Meadery is a Pune-based brand that has used local vendors from day one of their operations, say co-founders Rohan Rehani and Nitin Vishwas
Moonshine Meadery is a Pune-based brand that has used local vendors from day one of their operations, say co-founders Rohan Rehani and Nitin Vishwas 

Pune-based Moonshine Meadery is on the same path. Over an email, co-founders Rohan Rehani and Nitin Vishwas discuss their branding strategy: "Since inception, and long before VocalForLocal became a hashtag, we've been a 100 per cent local brand, making our meads using the finest local ingredients. We're glad that the sentiment to use local is gaining attraction as this will bring the spotlight on independent, local brands like ours. While the entire beverage industry is now pledging to source from within India through local vendors, we've been doing this right from day one. But, as the PM said, maybe we'll be more vocal about it now and not just at 8 pm."

Arjun Shah
Arjun Shah

Celebrating all that is Indian is not a good move just for brands, but for marketing companies too that are welcoming the current mood of getting India back on track. CEO of marketing firm Shark & Ink, Arjun Shah, says, "In India, consumers have been drawn to imported brands. We've not trusted our own industries, businesses and entrepreneurs to deliver at par with western competitors. But this move is going to bolster our local supply chains, promote welfare, create jobs and, above all, give the country some hope for the future. Brand marketing has already changed. In the past 48 hours, we've seen domestic brands right from Dabur to Spicejet to Metro Shoes, unanimously echo and promote the PM's message in their communication."

BBH India, which works with both Indian clients like Marico, along with international names like Uber, feels that in a lot of categories, being an Indian brand was seen as a drawback. "In categories like technology and auto, the messaging is not likely to make a dent. As an extreme example, you're not likely to pick a Maruti over a Maserati. But, if you're buying say, a food product, your decision could change. There are categories where, over the years, a lot of A-grade Indian brands have emerged. What's interesting is that it will make buying local an image marker—a signal to yourself and others that you are, somehow, through a small act, participating in something larger," says Arvind Krishnan, MD, BBH India.

Arvind Krishnan
Arvind Krishnan

The cry for local might also be good from the health stand point.

In a study published by the Oxford Academic, which traces the connection between industrialisation and health, author Simon Szreter, says, "Two of the oldest, most well-established relationships between economic activity, or trade, and population health are recognised to be mediated through the epidemiological implications of, firstly, regular social interaction between populations previously not exposed to each other's disease ecology, and, secondly, the increasingly dense permanent settlement of populations, which occurs in the form of towns occupying nodal or strategic points in trading networks. Both of these relationships have always been understood to be negative, in terms of the health of the populations exposed." It would then seem that smaller set-ups, like those of homegrown brands, could avoid leading to the spread of new viruses.

Tirthankar Patnaik
Tirthankar Patnaik

But, will this help the economy? Tirthankar Patnaik, PhD, and Chief Economist at the NSE, says, that the answer cannot be a simple yes or no since many variables are involved. "In 1991, as liberalisation began, the whole idea was to export, and policy was tuned to support exports. In the last several years, many economies have become inward-looking. The original aim of the government's Make in India plan has been to increase India's manufacturing share of the GDP from 15 per cent to 25 per cent by 2022. Make in India applies not just to domestic players, but also international players that operate here. In this context, this isn't a black and white rejection of globalisation, but a call to domestic manufacturing. Further, many supply chains are global as well, as services or raw materials could be getting imported. So, we must be clear that this is not a call for insularity or autarky as economists refer to it [economic independence]," he says.

Asked if the buy local message is a contradiction to the urge to increase FDI in India, he disagrees. "With over US$320bn of FDI into the country since the 1990s, international companies based in India pay taxes, and provide employment. If their shares are listed, then gains also accrue to domestic shareholders. In other words, they contribute to the economy as well. This should be seen as an idea to consider domestic manufacturing, consumption and being self-reliant. It's not about shunning global brands, but supporting local."

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