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Oct, 01 2008

Sporting leather luxury

Way back in the late seventies, Dilip Kapur, Founder & President of Hidesign, was instrumental in lending the sophistication of luxury to the unorganised leather market of India for the first time. Today, with the bond forged with fashion giant Louis Vuit

TFW: What actually motivated you to explore the domain of entrepreneurship?

Dilip Kapur (DK): After completing my PhD in International Affairs, I worked in a leather manufacturing unit in the US. It was during a nine-month period at a leather house called Poor Richards in Denver that I was initiated into the art of leather craft. At Denver, my passion for leather grew, so I decided to come back to India to set up my own business.

The brand Hidesign was born in Pondicherry in the year 1978 as a one man artisan. I began handcrafting leather bags, jackets and accessories for exporting.

TFW: How has this retail journey been, starting from scratch and then reaching such heights?

DK: I started this journey of crafting with an order of seven bags from a friend. Then as luck would have it, a German friend offered to model for my bags. This move clicked and I got an order for 1,400 bags. Since then there has been no looking back. With increasing demand from the international market, I decided to set up a manufacturing unit in Pondicherry.

Today, Hidesign is a Rs 100 crore company with exclusive stores not only in India but also in at least 21 countries. We have three design centres – UK, Milan and India. The brand also finds a home on the shelves of premium retailers in India like Shoppers` Stop, The Taj Khazana Boutiques, The Bombay Store, Lifestyle, Westside, etc. with a clear vision to forge relationships with other such quality points of sale. Internationally, it is retailed across the world from Australia through East and West Asia, Europe, Scandinavia, Africa and the Americas. The Brand is also available at premium retail stores like John Lewis, House of Fraser, Magasin Du Nord, Selfridges and others.

TFW: What were the challenges that you faced in the initial stage of your business and how did you overcome them? What were the high and low points of your venture?

DK: In India, when we started the process of brand building, the market was not defined at all. There were no brands that existed except local brands which I would call quasi-brands. Our biggest challenge was to differentiate ourselves from these stores and create a brand salience amongst our target markets. We also fought against the plagiarism of our styles and the price differential between these products and ours. Positioned as a premium brand, it took time for the customers to understand the quality and design that Hidesign offered and we have since been fortunate to have a very loyal customer base following our brand.

TFW: Your tie-up with Louis Vuitton is a landmark. How is this tie-up helping you in brand positioning?

DK: With regard to our tie-up with Louis Vuitton, the important thing to remember is that the brands are very different and they stay separate. There is a mutual aid agreement, hereby the real thing is that we are helping Louis Vuitton to set up in India and we will be using their 150 years of experience in technically improving our product quality and helping us grow internationally. They have provided us with expertise and experience on how we can continue to keep alive the intrinsic spirit of the brand and similarly, we have been sharing with our knowledge on the same.

TFW: What skill-sets, according to you, are required to become an entrepreneur? Is it necessary to acquire any kind of formal training for the business you are doing?

DK: It is important to figure out which part of the leather business the person wants to get associated with. Leather offers many different opportunities. At the outset, the product focus should be clear. What would the person like to associate with - ladies bags, office bags, leather garments, leather furniture, shoes, etc? Once this is clear, based on where the person sees opportunity, it would depend on whether the person would like to get into production or trading and also whether he/she would like to be a licenced marketing company for an existing brand or create a brand. The market is still very nascent and opportunities exist at every level. The critical issue is to have a very clear business plan based on sound market feedback before venturing into any specific area.

TFW: How would you ensure that the products from Hidesign are environment-friendly and long-lasting?

DK: Hidesign has extensively researched the centuries-old tradition of vegetable tanning in pits and wooden drums. Vegetable tanning has for centuries been one with nature, in the sense that it has co-existed with thriving agriculture and densely populated communities, and above all it is eco-friendly and economical. However, tanneries prefer chrome.

Leather at Hidesign is nurtured and nourished with natural oils, fats and waxes. As a result, the leathers have rich texture, suppleness and a luxurious feel.

TFW: What is the rate of growth that Hidesign has so far registered in the market?

DK: The growth of Hidesign is approximately 10-30 per cent, varying in different markets.

TFW: You are also serving the hospitality sector. What are your future plans about the expansion of the boutique hotels you had started in and around 2005?

DK: Hidesign already has 2 very successful designer hotels. We are working on a third luxury beach resort near Pondicherry.

TFW: What is your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

DK: Be original, work hard but make sure you do something that will inspire you to give it everything you have.

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