March 27, 2009 / 4:58 AM / in 9 years

For global India designer, home is where the money is

MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - Sabyasachi Mukherjee, one of India’s best-known fashion designers at home and abroad, has a few words of advice for others seeking to make their name internationally: forget global, stay local.

Mukherjee, who has shown collections at several fashion events in Europe and the United States, dresses top Bollywood actors and the elite of Indian society.

He is due to display his latest fall/winter collection on Friday, the opening day of one of Mumbai’s biggest fashion event, the Lakme Fashion Week, which features 73 designers and over a hundred buyers.

Fashion experts and buyers peg Mukherjee as one of the few Indian designers who can make it big abroad, but he told Reuters he’s happier sticking to expanding his business at home.

Q: How important is the international market for you?

A: ”With the way the world economy is going right now, this is not the time for Indian designers to step out. It is more the time to step it up within their country. International brands are going to swoop down on slightly secure economies and because they are suffering to a large extent in the West.

Somewhere down the line there will be a lot of internal thinking and people will realize they are better off at home. India is internalizing, and I think people are going to start upholding the Indian tradition very strongly. That’s why my plan for the next few years is to concentrate and extend my business within this country.”

Q: If that is the case what kind of importance would you give any international business that came your way?

A: “For me, international business is not about getting a good store. If you are serious about it, you need to have serious commitment as well. Right now, rather than doing a little bit of India and a little bit of international, I’d rather do a whole lot in India. Start very strong in this country and build a brand that becomes so irresistible to Westerners that they come and take a bite out of it.”

Q: You spoke about commitment. What else do you think it will take for an Indian designer to make it internationally?

A: “It takes a lot of creative planning, also a very strong understanding of their market, which I don’t think any of us have. If you want to design for people out there, you need to live out there. Design can’t happen in isolation.”

Q: Is it easier to cater to Indians as compared to international clients or buyers?

A: ”Absolutely. Abroad, if you get half a page in The New York Times once a year, it’s considered great press. Compare that with India, where fashion is featured almost everyday in mainstream papers. And the younger designers in India are growing really fast. So if you get up and leave for greener pastures, they might not be as green as you think they are.

Q: What about spending power in India?

A: “To tell you the truth, you make much more money in India. If these are the guys who are buying your clothes, why should you go to Europe and the U.S.? Why not start servicing the Asian market? By that I mean the Far East, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent where people’s purse strings are much more looser. They are easier customers, they have much more sensitivity.”

Q: What’s your experience been selling to Western clients?

A: ”I find that idea about Indian fabrics and designs are warped. You show them a fully embroidered fabric, and they will say “oh, that’s a beautiful print.” They don’t really understand. In terms of return policy, exchange, alterations, it’s much easier for buyers to strike a deal with designers closer home.

Today, budgets have been slashed in half. I was in New York, and so many retailers came up to me and said, ”It’s a brilliant collection, would love to have it in the store, but sorry, can’t afford it.“ That’s the problem Indian designers need to understand. Its only logical that you don’t step out now.”

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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