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Sep, 02 2014

Czarinas of fashion franchising

The apparel industry is witnessing the rise of more and more women. With ladies at the helm of affairs in many companies, we set out to know the reason behind this latest phenomenon.

Is it that women understand day to day trends better or are more tactful or have a better customer connect? Let's tell you what makes these females the “czarinas” of fashion franchising.

From “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world” to “the hand that rocks the cradle can rock the boardroom”… women have come a long way.

While the former means that women nurture the most powerful men when they are helpless babies and so rule the world indirectly; the latter tells us how women have been able to come to the forefront and take charge directly.

Be it any arena, they have been showing their potential and breaking the glass ceiling. The apparel industry, for one seems to be the latest stage where women are taking up the reins and running a successful show.

They are young, modern and rearing to go. Keeping pace with the world, they are taking their business places with unconventional ideas and the passionate drive to carve a niche for themselves.

“The new generation of Indian women has triumphed over pessimistic thought process and has proved itself beyond doubt in the cumbersome world of entrepreneurship. Women's zeal and quench for success, combined with the enthusiasm to walk the extra mile have broken all myths about their congenital restrictions that were supposed to be key roadblocks in their path of success,” says the young gun Sanya Dhir, Brand Director, Diva'ni.

Sanya, who grew up around the family business with nearly 50 year old legacy, started working at Karol Bagh Saree House or KBSH under the guidance of her father after five years of luxury market experience both nationally and globally.

Realising that Indian craftsmanship-the hallmark of Indian fashion was dwindling, Sanya understood  that the winning mantra lay in bringing back the old craftsmanship in a modern avatar. Thus, Diva'ni was launched, where the focus was on cult fashion- 'sensibilities' of Indian cinema combined with the rich heritage of Indian craftsmanship and the result was a collection that was global, but also reflected the ethos of Indian traditions.

India's first cinema-inspired ethnic wear label, Diva'ni comes from collaboration of KBSH Private Limited and Yash Raj Films and brings out the diva in every woman.

The brand has recently started franchising and has two outlets (Delhi and Mumbai) at present.

It aims to expand its retail network to Chandigarh, Jaipur, Kolkata and Hyderabad, and also Canada, Dubai, London and Singapore. There are plans to launch a men's wear range and accessories too.

Another scion creating ripples is Asheeta Chhabra, Head - Business Development, Chhabra Triple Five Fashions Pvt. Ltd. The genesis of Chhabra 555 dates back to more than half a century. In 2005, taking cue from the changing credit scenario and the domestic retail growth story, Chhabra 555 took a strategic decision to shelve wholesale operations and step into the retail segment in a big way. Soon people started approaching for dealerships in various parts of the country and in 2010, the brand reached the figure of 55 plus stores across the country.

Hailing from a family that's been in the apparel business since 1954, Asheeta had a rich legacy and family name to live with to, when she started out. The journey wasn't easy in the beginning.

“My organisation is largely male dominated, with approximately 90 per cent of the workforce coming from this category. This ensured that I was not automatically included “in the circle”. It was tougher for the staff to be able to open up to me easily.

Many people also felt that they could take me for-granted, as they assumed that I would not be very involved in the business nor be very detail oriented about the operations,” recollects Asheeta.

“The biggest challenge for me in this scenario was building my credibility through a period of sustained dedication towards my work and resultant quick wins. I had to make the existing stalwarts in the organisation give due consideration to my opinions  not because I was the boss' daughter, but because my opinions made logical sense.”

Asheeta's extra efforts and persistence paid off. “Slowly, many of them started to feel more at ease in confiding in me, as they felt that I would be more considerate. The feminine aspects actually helped me assimilate what was transpiring beneath the surface, rather than just being colored by the apparent scenario.”

The fact that she had to earn their respect ensured that her employees would stick by her side in the future and value her opinions.

While Asheeta had to live up to an established name in the industry, Varsha Bhawnani, Managing Director, Vinegar had to create one. Varsha began her journey in 2005, as she laid the foundation for Vinegar exports with a seed capital of Rs 5 lakh, five sewing machines and seven employees/associates. It was her dream to set up a high-street brand which will be globally present. Being an exporter to various international brands for six years, she had a fair understanding of how the big brands worked. Varsha took off to Spain to associate with designers there to conceptualise and create a stylish brand and thus, Vinegar was born- crazy, imaginative and arguably radical in style and design; unconventional and modern in every way.

Currently Vinegar has three stores (in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Indore). It will soon open stores in Delhi, Chandigarh and later in the tier II cities in the next few years. Varsha is also targeting markets like Singapore, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Vinegar is already present through shop-in-shop across Europe, Russia and Australia.

Doing well for herself, Varsha doesn't believe that “business'' is a men's domain. “I believe in equality and so have never felt an advantage or disadvantage of being a woman in the retail business. Creating a big brand requires strong supplier base, especially when it comes to supplying fabric or distributing your merchandise to your stores across the country. If you know the trick, you will be able to pull it off successfully- your gender is not the deciding factor,” she quips.

Varsha adds that being a woman rather helped her succeed in her business. “The best part of being a woman in the fashion retail business is my target audience. As the brand is directed towards women, it definitely helps when I ideate on the lines what would excite me as a woman from any brand if I were a customer.”

But do women have a better fashion connect? When we put this question up, we got a big resounding yes from all the ladies.

“Absolutely! Being a woman as well as my aesthetic inclination towards fashion is a plus point in this sector. Vinegar celebrates every woman, her independence, her boldness, her fashion essence,” says Varsha.

Sanya agrees saying, “As a woman you understand fashion and trends better-especially when you are catering to women. Also, you can gauge the needs of the consumers easily as you can put yourself in their shoes.”

“Being a woman, I feel a strong connection between fashion and me. I won't say I have a niche in the same but the ins and outs of the fashion industry can be understood in a better way by a woman as compared to a man,” asserts Asheeta.

So do these women led brands give any priority to women franchisees or have any special programmes running for them? The house is still divided on this one. While Chhabra 555 and Diva'ni do not have any such programmes, Vinegar says it does give preference to women franchisees. It claims most of its franchisees are women or men whose wives are actively involved in business operations.

It wouldn't be wrong to say that women in the apparel industry have been able to convert their challenges into opportunities and have made the best of them. These women envisage a bigger and meatier role for their gender in the coming years as they see their kind being involved in almost all the industry processes. And there's no stopping a woman full of passion and determination! As they say, “a man has his will, but a woman has her way!”



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