Friday, June 29, 2012

Da Milano & Hidesign: Bagging a luxury niche

International luxury brands, which were earlier the possession of the travelling elite, now have presence across high streets malls and shopping locales in India. However, among the Diors, Chanels, two Indian brands, Hidesign and Da Milano have managed to carve out their niche place in the luxury handbags market.

Contrary to popular belief, both Hidesign and Da Milano are home grown brands.

Redefining luxury
Notwithstanding the deluge of international luxury bags, both these Indian brands have continued with the same brand values that they started out with; to create products using the country’s strong heritage of craftsmanship.

                                                                        Sahil Malik, Managing Director, Da Milano

Hidesign differentiates itself on its design sensibilities, contemporary styling, clean silhouettes, and the use of vegetable tanned leathers, which add to its positioning as a handcrafted, eco-friendly and natural brand.

Da Milano too, prides on its uniquely Indian appeal. According to Da Milano, it is the quality of its products, made from Italian hide which is the foremost differentiating aspect. While both of them score over the several unbranded players that throng this premium segment of handbags which lies between the upscale designer bags like LVMH, Gucci, and the like, and the affordable brands, there is a difference in the respective styles of the two.

Anuj Lalwani, a fashion designer and stylist, who has styled this year’s spring summer collection for Da Milano, feels while both the brands stand apart from the crowd with their detailed craftsmanship, Hidesign has more classic designs and basic colours like browns, blacks, and beiges, which would appeal to mature women, and Da Milano, with a splash of bold colours like neons, along with zippers and chains, is a young and trendy brand.

Both position themselves as affordable luxury, targeting age groups upwards of 25 years, with Da Milano priced from Rs 5,500 upwards to Rs 15,500 for ladies bags and Hidesign’s leather bags for women in the range of Rs 1,995 to Rs 8,895. 

Saurabh Uboweja, Director, Brands of Desire

 However, with changing lifestyles, and a shift in target demographics away from very affluent customers, the customer base of luxury goods has expanded significantly.

Therefore, to tap into the growing Indian luxury market, which is second only to China, Hidesign recently expanded itself into the luxury category with its new sub-brand  ‘Alberto Ciaschini, Handcrafted by Hidesign’, priced between Rs 8,000 to Rs 25,000.

Home turf and beyond
While both brands stand for premium luxury with almost similar prices, they have been following different distribution strategies.

Hidesign started out as an export-oriented company with sole focus on the international arena but over the years has achieved a balance between the international and domestic market. According to the brand, their foray into Indian retail in 2000 was a complete game-changer and has resulted in a shift of its consumer profile. India, contributing 65 per cent of its global sales, has 70 exclusive boutique stores with five of them being franchised outlets.

Da Milano has focused extensively within India since the start, and with 32 exclusive boutiques across the country, it is planning to further expand its international operations and open stores in Dubai and Singapore next year. At present, 40-50 per cent of its revenue comes from global exports.

Interestingly, airport retail is also a lucrative area of growth for both brands and their strategic expansion efforts are significantly concentrated at airport retail in both domestic and international realm.

                                                               Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder CEO, brand-comm
Saurabh Uboweja, Director, Brands of Desire, a strategic brand consulting and design company, believes airport retail to be a brand’s gateway to an international customer base as it allows the brand to test consumer’s taste without being physically present in those countries. “It is a bit like real-time market research. A positive response will encourage the brand to setup stores in new international locations,” he says.

Uboweja goes on to explain that such brands, particularly in the leather accessories market have been created and built on international aspirations rather than homegrown ideas. “While their major market is the domestic Indian market, the brand appeal has been characteristically Italian.,” he adds.

According to Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder CEO, brand-comm, Indian brands have struggled to succeed globally. “International operations are influenced by factors like price points, expensive advertising, and promotions, and the only way Indian brands can beat these odds is by offering a stylish and uniquely Indian product,” he says.

He also points out the problem of brand recognition. “The initial acceptance of these brands would only come from Indian origin people, who have heard of the brand or purchased it in India,” he adds.

Besides eyeing the global market, Hidesign and Da Milano are also making inroads into the less penetrated towns and cities in India which present a viable growth opportunity.

Hidesign ventured into smaller cities around 2-3 years back and has presence in places like Assam, Aurangabad, Jaipur, Mysore, Mangalore, among others. According to the brand, judging from the sales on its website from Tier II & III cities, it is clear that there is a growing demand for its products. “It is essential that we go to the customer, rather than expect the customer to visit us in the metropolitans. Judging from the sales on our website, from Tier II and III cities, it is clear that there is a growing demand for our products,” says Dilip Kapur, President of Hidesign.

Da Milano has also been pursuing aggressive expansion strategies and is looking at opening around 12-13 stores this year in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Kolkata, Chennai, Ludhiana, Amritsar, and Ahmedabad.

However, don’t the varied store locations of these brands, from high streets and malls to lesser known locales somehow dilute their exclusivity?

Sahil Malik, Managing Director, Da Milano disagrees. “Da Milano is very selective when it comes to location. We are present in the best of locations be it the high streets or malls. Even the high streets that we target are the fashion hubs for the city and similarly for the malls. Wherever the boutique is, we target only the niche audience of that particular area,” he says.

The Indian connect
According to Sridhar, price is a major constraint for international luxury brands in India, and home grown brands like Hidesign and Da Milano score ahead on this front. “International brands touch a small proportion of people with their high prices. However, if these statement brands launch different offerings for the Indian market, like the denim brand, Levi’s has done with Denizen, then they will pose tough competition to these Indian brands,” he says.

Dilip Kapur, President and Founder, Hidesign

Sridhar also points out the rising trend of fake brands in India, which affects the margins of these international luxury brands.

No celeb baggage
In terms of their communication and marketing strategies, both brands focus heavily on the print media to drive sales, and advertise in print publications, fashion magazines, and newspapers.

Interestingly, another commonality between the two brands is the absence of a face to endorse their products.

According to Malik from Da Milano, the brand speaks for itself. “The customer service is par excellence to that of a luxury brand experience. Our customers are our brand ambassadors,” he says.

For Hidesign too, the emotional bonding and identification with the brand needs to be direct and not through an ambassador. Though, it also adds that if ever a brand endorser is brought in, it would be an international face owing to the brand’s international persona.

Sreedhar feels that the luxury bags category hasn’t quite matured as yet. “The need of the hour is to establish the category, increase the size of the market, and it is too soon to prop up a celebrity,” he opines.

According to Uboweja, these brands leverage peer networking in high net circles, and it is these high profile socialites who act as brand ambassadors, without any formal tag and encourage others to try the brands.

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