Why did it take a global pandemic for Indian fashion designers to realise that having their own retail website is a must in today’s world?
We’re in 2020. So it strikes me as strange that a majority of India’s fashion designers did not have their own e-commerce websites till the realities of the Covid-19 pandemic brought that point home. Many still don’t.
A report by the Indian Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) says that India’s e-commerce market is expected to grow from $38.5 billion in 2017 to $200 billion by 2026. Even the most traditional touch-and-feel retailers, our high-end jewellers, took to e-commerce years ago. But it is only in the past six months that we’ve seen designer websites pop up one after another. Finally.
From established names like JJ Valaya, Gaurav Gupta, and Amit Aggarwal to upcoming ones like Kshitij Jalori and Qbik, many have taken this time to launch their e-com platforms. Rishab Mehra, Founder of Growify, a company that provides end-to-end e-commerce solutions, counts over 15 fashion labels, big and small — from Namrata Joshipura to Rabani & Rakha, Keerthi Kadire to Nikita Mahisalkar — who’ve worked with his firm to launch their websites since the lockdown. He has 10 more in the works. But what held them back so far?
JJ Valaya’s Chevron collection
A virtual translation
The answer may lie in the simple problem of perception. “Most designers who came to us sought to translate their real-life experiences online,” says Mehra. “But brand-centric websites are often optimised for the desktop or laptop, while the majority of traffic now comes from mobile devices.” A website dedicated to replicating a brand ‘experience’ is rarely successful at achieving conversions — tech-speak for selling. There is just too much storytelling involved; retail tends to take a back seat. Besides, a website needs constant investment — targeted digital ads and promotions to reach and build the intended audience and analytics that need constant crunching to widen the reach.
Back in 1994, JJ Valaya was the first Indian designer to launch a simple website to introduce his brand to the world. It lay fallow in that avatar till he started working on his comeback collection (he’d taken a two-year sabbatical in 2017) which he showed in September 2019. “Our plans for the revamped site were on since then, and the pandemic made having a global touch-point all the more important,” he says.
On August 27, valaya.com went live once again with a renewed focus on e-commerce and an online ‘couture’ experience of customising the ‘Ika’ jacket. “Since then, it has been a journey of revelations,” says the couturier, adding that it has allowed him to dress brides from Nairobi and Sri Lanka in the past few weeks alone. “And this is when we haven’t even started advertising.”
A design from Kshitij Jalori
A week later, Instagram was flooded with congratulatory posts from top Bollywood celebrities, stylists, and influencers from across the world, celebrating the launch of gauravguptastudio.com. This Insta-storm overloaded Gaurav Gupta’s new site on day one itself. “It also got us about 200 new orders within a week,” adds the designer. The smart thing he did was to announce immediate online discounts going up to 70%. This ensured traffic and conversions.
In return, the back-end team got a cache of invaluable data on which to base their next moves. While he admits that the initial rush of demand has plateaued — “which was expected” — the website is helping his five stores across the country by allowing interested customers to choose their preferences. They book appointments and visit the nearest store to buy the actual garments.
For upcoming designer Kshitij Jalori, whose website went live on September 30, it was all about making his online retail experience as seamless as possible. “I wanted to cut out the clutter and focus on the clothes,” he says. Mehra says that young labels have the advantage of not needing to live up to brand expectations. “They can continue adding various services according to their specific learnings,” he offers.
In the end, it is a mix of three things that makes for a success story. According to Mehra: an easy, retail-oriented interface; solid social media outreach and advertising; and pricing that works for your product online.
While launching a website in itself guarantees nothing even at the best of times, it should by now be evident that having one is as essential as sewing labels onto the garments they produce. It takes an initial investment of ₹2 to 5 lakhs to start a website, on average (designers and developers are loath to share exact figures, though). And going by the recent bloom of website launches, it seems like an investment worth the name. Ongoing launches also shows that our designers aren’t sitting idle; that the business of selling clothes, on which millions depend for their livelihoods, will continue to thrive in the times to come.