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A style statement with an eye on the future
Deccan Herald - 18 Mar 2009

Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (WIFW) will be held between March 18 and 23 in New Delhi.

In its 7th edition, the event is all set to showcase leading designers like Manish Malhotra, Rohit Bal, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Rohit Gandhi, Rahul Khanna, etc apart from 24 newcomers. It will have prestigious brands like Chivas, Audi, Hewlett Packard, Fiama Di Wills, Fedex and so on associated with the event, and ITC limited is doing the title sponsorship. Atul Chand, Divisional Chief Executive, ITC Lifestyle retailing business division, spoke to Praveen Donthi of Deccan Herald about the event.

What’s the need for such a fashion show in these times of recession?

We have just extended our association with the Wills Lifestyle Fashion Week for three years. That’s investment. It’s not only about today, but if you have a strong brand, it’s also about tomorrow. Instead of cutting and chopping everything, we want to be proactive. Even if it is a downturn, so to say, still we have grown 20 per cent. There are strategies you have even in a downturn.

What are the highlights of this edition of WIFW?

Through each event, WIFW continues to set new standards and helps its members achieve global benchmarks. The latest edition is represented by some of the best and the most sought after designers. Over 24 designers would be showcasing their collections for the first time. It will see participation of 13 commercial partners and 103 designers who would bring business and fashion on a common platform. The designers comprise of established and emerging names from across the country who would market Indian Fashion to domestic and international buyers, fashion enthusiasts and other industry stakeholders.

Isn’t the recession affecting your marketing spends?

Its just a slowdown. Not every brand gets affected equally. Stronger ones will always survive better. Rentals in the market are actually coming down. Thirty to 40 per cent reduction in rentals have happened. So profitability and gross margins remain intact. Input costs are that much less. Less sales are happening but the expenses are also less. We were going at 25 per cent in the first six months of the year; we will close the year at 20 per cent.

How important is title sponsorship of WIFW in your scheme of things?

When we entered lifestyle retailing in 2001, the market was large and fragmented. We wanted to create a very strong brand image and our sponsorship of the India fashion week is part of that continuum of creating a very strong brand. That is the epicentre of our prime strategy. All the things we try and do, happen around this particular event.

But Fashion Weeks don’t cater to the needs of the market. Wearability is often a problem...

We are not only sponsoring the fashion week but we are also getting the designers to design collections to sell in our stores. We are collaborating with designers asking them to design collections to be sold through our retail stores under our ramp to rack initiative. We are reaching out to consumers with an offer of special occasion wear.

What’s the inspiration behind your ramp-to-rack initiative?

Designer wear has always had the problem of availability, affordability and wearability. We tied up with the designers to address these issues. It’s going to be premium rather than ordinary stuff but is going to be far more affordable than designer clothes. Premium but affordable, glamourous but wearable. It will enhance the accessibility of designer wear across the country and celebrate the event with our customers.

When will Indian fashion retail see an upturn?

In October-December the sentiment was sluggish but January-March things were better. Spring-summer orders have been strong and positive. Close to October, during the festive season, the positive sentiment will be more prominent. In six months time, things should get better.

Any plans up your sleeve to beat the recession?

We are shortening the duration of our products from three months to two months. We will change our collections every two months. It’s possible to win in a downturn. Not everybody is equally strong. The consumers of the weaker brands could be targeted. If you are able to understand and satisfy them in a downturn, then they will be with you when times change and things get better.


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