Perseverance, pride in India's culture and the passion to do something different, here's what makes Sabyasachi the bran...
- On Business Insider’s Global Trends Festival, Fashion Designer
Sabyasachispoke about the future of fashion, how brands can help Indians feel proud of their culture, and what luxury means in India.
- He also shared why consumers continue to buy expensive clothes from a luxury brand in a price-sensitive market like India.
Sabya, as he is popularly known, bootstrapped his business with a small capital of Rs 12,000, which was borrowed from his sister and today, his company has an annual turnover of $11 million. His journey is a testament to the fact that successful businesses are built on the pillars of perseverance and perspective.
He was quick to realise that money isn't the only important thing when it comes to building a successful brand. Sabya shared, “Gone are the days when you could create a luxury brand just by the virtue of money. If that would have been the case, I would not have been a successful businessman at all because I started my own business with a capital of Rs 12,000. What I realised very early on was that to build a successful luxurious brand, you need to have a little bit of a cultural stand and a unique voice. At the end of the day, people need to look up to you.”
Sabya climbed his way to the top on his own. He fought with his father, who wanted to see him become an engineer, to join National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). His father also denied to fund his studies, so he sold his books to buy an application form for NIFT and got in. It was his determination and passion for fashion and craftsmanship that pushed him to do better and pull all-nighters.
It was also this outsider perspective that helped Sabya envision a brand that offered both luxury and dignity.
He said, “At one point in Kolkata, I saw a lot of luxury, exuberance and lavishness, and I also saw poverty and restraint. But what they both had in common was dignity. One of the reasons why I have been able to build a luxury brand is because I am detached. I look at luxury from an outsider perspective. For me, luxury is everything to do with refinement, restraint, dignity and value. So, to build a brand that is successful, it is important to have perspective.”
Sabya turned the tide in his favour and built a niche, luxurious brand in a hyper-price-sensitive market. But what does luxury really mean to Sabya?
“Luxury cannot be created from the point of subjugation. It needs to be created from a point of cultural relevance. In fashion, the ability to express yourself and to stand for who you are, is the definition of luxury,” answered Sabya.
Bringing pride back for Indian culture
Indian fashion practices, which have traditionally been influenced by cultural habits, have witnessed a gradual transition and have begun to align themselves to global trends. With this, Indians have adapted both, the colonial language and the fashion sense. Traditional wear is often remembered for festivals and celebratory occasions. So, with brand Sabyasachi, Sabya’s aim was also to instil national pride in our culture and its roots.
Explaining why luxury is a reflection of one’s cultural identity, he said, “When I started my business in India, I realised that a lot of Indians were not proud of their cultural heritage. We had been colonised for a very long time and there was a colonial hangover that was expressed in Indian clothes. So, luxury is about self expression, comfort and about coming home to who you really are. In fashion, luxury is about your cultural identity, which is best expressed in India through exquisite craftsmanship.”
Sabya, who is also surprisingly slightly colour-blind, is known for his perfection. He is seen as a businessman whose focus is on customers. Everytime he works on a collection, he trusts his intuition. Before the final draft reaches the edit table, he sits with an editing scissor and asks himself, “Why is it that the customer will buy this product?” The final draft is sent to the edit table once he feels confident about his design and has trust in its uniqueness.
“I have always been guided by the two principles that the Indian customers are looking for: a sense of longevity and investment in products which can be very transient. With COVID, this sense has amplified because people want to buy things that are luxurious but they want the option to use it everyday,” said Sabya.
Sabya also keeps the environment in mind while working on his products and wants to put a pause on fast-fashion trends.
“At Sabyasachi, we do the exact opposite of fast fashion. We do the same kind of clothes over and over again because I want people to buy things that are timeless and give them a certain sense of identity. Similarly, when I do ready-to-wear, I would actually do classic products that people can use again and again. You see the harms of fast fashion because everything goes into landfills. Today you have to be conscious about how your business is creating carbon footprints and I would never do any kind of business that could harm the planet. I’d like to create a product that people have a relationship with. I would not want to create a product that they would discard seasonally, that’s not in my DNA.”
However, Sabyasachi is an expensive brand that not everyone can afford. Sabya was once asked by Bollywood Actor Boman Irani in a television show if his ‘brand has customers or just fans’. But Sabya believes that its quality and value supersedes its expense.
He said, “Why is it that the customer comes back to you again and again? It is because expense and value are two different parameters. As a customer, when I buy something I don’t look at the price, I look at the value the product offers. I want my customers to feel the same way. I want to offer them the best thing, irrespective of the price and I don’t want them to feel cheated that they have paid more than the value being offered.”
If Indian consumers do want value products, why aren’t there many brands in the luxury landscape?
Explaining the reason behind this gap, Sabya said, “The reason why India doesn’t have too many luxury brands is because everybody gets too corporatised. When you are working as a corporate, you are just doing a job. When you own a business, it is your little child and you want it to grow and do better everyday. For those who want to build a luxury brand, everyday is a battle -- not with anyone else but yourself -- you lead through inspired leadership and you just want to strive to make things better. What is perfect for everyone else might be imperfect for you and you have to be open-minded and need that humility to make something wonderful, better."
Brands of the future
Post COVID, Sabya thinks that the world needs to celebrate exuberance a lot more because our time in this world is finite.
So, as customers become more cautious about where they put their money, brands need to offer an authentic experience and beautiful story-telling. And while they are at it, brands that help community as well, will become the brands of the future.