Professor Ashok Som began by explaining about the luxury industry, then the India & China markets, finishing with a comparative analysis of the two: What is luxury? It is wholly defined by the consumer. Hence, its definition is constantly changing. However, just to cite a few examples of widely accepted ‘luxury’ brands – Prada, Chanel and Louis Vuitton. The core values associated with such luxury brands are rarity and excellence. In terms of positioning, luxury brands tend to be inaccessible and niche with their customers being the exclusive elite.
The Indian luxury market is growing quickly. 60% of India’s wealthy live in its eight major cities. Of these, one million top consumers could be classified as ‘luxury’. The Indian luxury market could be classified into 3 segments – Old wealthy, emerging wealthy and novae rich. The problem of foreign luxury branded items in India is that the Indian market is not educated about these brands, and hence do not perceive them particularly highly.
In China, 1.6 million people would be considered “wealthy”. By 2015 this segment is predicted to grow to four million. The wealthy Chinese are a globally unique segment – they are 20 years younger than the USA market, they are more educated and are mostly self-employed.
Comparing India and China, it seems China has a more mature luxury market, India’s is still very young. China is more liberal than India in doing business.
A person and an idea are connected.
What is it that companies can do for these markets to create value and create wealth for themselves?
It’s all about relationships.
And what Reliance did in the partnership with Steven Spielberg is to establish a virtual studio in Hollywood.
Modernising there, not Westernising.
Thanks so much for coming to Cambridge and sharing all of your insights with us.
Oh, it’s my pleasure.
So Manish, how have you differentiated yourself so that you’ve been able to take your brand and your designs international?
The idea was to take India the way it is and twist it and modernise it, and take it to international level, to West because that’s what they understand. They will not probably understand me if I go to UK, or to France, or to anywhere else outside of India with a collection of clothing, which is very India.
It’s a very thin line of taking out things which are ethnic but still keeping the techniques and making it into a way that it can be understood by our people in the West. And that’s what I tried to do.
So are you finding that the international brands are learning from you, from your style?
When they come to India to work, they try to take the embroidery part of it, but they don’t be very creative in it. Because also, the price is a big factor because they come to agents, and then agent comes to another agent. And then finally it goes to a factory where they get made. So it’s far more expensive than me doing it directly in my office with the embroiderers. You know? So I have that advantage.
So I don’t think they would want to learn anything from me. But yes, I know for a fact that my clothes, my photographs of my clothes have been taken as references for many big brands for embroideries. I also know that because– a very close friend of mine, he’s in the same business, who is Italian. And he works in India. He does embroideries for all the major brands. And he’s got many times references of my clothes as example of embroidery.
You’ve collaborated with several international brands– Reebok, Swatch, MAC. How did these relationships evolve?
Reebok happened by chance. This was the first collaboration. And when I did that, I realised the potential of collaborating because I was, at the same time, looking at getting out of India and showing my work in London. And I realised that, as an individual, it’s very difficult to make people aware of me.
So what I realised was a good idea was to tie up with these companies, like, for example, what a Swatch can do for me, I can’t do for myself. I can’t have probably TV commercials on MTV worldwide on my own. I will never be able to afford it, I think.
My show videos, if you search on YouTube, there will be about– let’s see, about 200 links or 200 videos. But when I do my shows on MAC, there will be about 2,000. So that’s the kind of difference I realised. And that’s what I tried to do with these brands.
And even the new collaboration with Nivea, which is just coming out in a month or so, that even goes to about 5 and 1/2 million people. And that is just the product. Then after that, there will be reactions on internet. There will be YouTube, and there will be press. I could not have done that just by myself.
Do you think these international brands are looking for more Indian designers? Are they ready for additional collaboration? Or do you think they’ll keep the focus pretty limited?
You know, I think they look for collaborations. If they identify the person to have the right association with the brand. Swatch found me. They saw an article on me in Le Monde, which is a French newspaper. So also, your style has to match the product you collaborate with.
And at the moment, I could say that Indian designers are very ethnic, very Indian. So what will happen is that these brands will not like to associate with them because these guys would be limited only to India, whereas in my case, there’s an advantage of my style being understood by people, not just in India, but people all over the world. And that’s what worked for me.
Brilliant. Thank you, Manish.
– Thanks a lot. Pleasure.
May 2009, Cambridge
Innovation in India and China