Indian luxury brands: Can they attract global interest?
As geopolitics undergoes a tremendous shift, India matures as a developing economy and the Indian identity finds new admirers, perhaps the time is now right to dig deep into our cultural landscape, evolve our storytelling and assert our rightful position as a tastemaker and influencer
When the undisputed king of Indian couture, Sabhyasachi, opened his first store in Manhattan’s Tony West Village in a heritage structure on Christopher street this month on 16 October , it served as a watershed moment for India’s latent and untapped potential to build truly global luxury brands.
After carefully testing the global market through collections at Bergdorf, showings at New York Fashion Week and collaborations with Christian Loubotin and H&M and growing his global clientele with both Indian and Western bridal wear, accessories and jewelry, the time was right to take the story of Indian heritage to the world in an unapologetic way.
Why only few Indian brands have a global presence
But, why is Sabhyasachi one of the handful of Indian brands who have managed to create a global presence. Why didn’t this happen sooner and why is his overseas presence limited to the USA when the market for luxury is also substantial in Europe, Japan and China? Why has a non-couture brand that is not intrinsically tied to the Indian diaspora not managed to create the same fanfare?
The answer isn’t a simple one. Despite being a key supplier to the world’s most storied luxury brands–from diamonds that adorn Harry Winston jewels and essential oils that are blended into Estee Lauder’s cosmetics and Chanel’s fragrances to intricate textiles and craft that enable couture houses in France and Italy to remain unrivaled, India has remained in the wings. We have deferred the credit for our incredible natural resources, cultural capital and craftsmanship to European and South African holding companies who are notoriously secretive about their supply chain.
What can Indian brands do
So what can Indian brands do to earn their rightful place in the global luxury market not just as the most exciting emerging consumer market but also as a powerhouse of made-in-India luxury brands that are consumed by people in the US, Europe, Japan, Middle East and beyond?
For starters, we can take a cue from one of our other globally acclaimed brands–Taj Hotels and Resorts. Through a 100 year plus legacy, Taj has perfected hospitality and luxury travel in a way that is astonishing. Its relentless focus on customer service goes much beyond the minimum requirements of the sector to become a new benchmark and a hallmark of “Tajness.” This emphasis on customer service is something that more Indian companies need to strive for because it is a luxury non-negotiable.
It remains one of the biggest inadequacies of Indian consumer brands thanks to poor infrastructure, lack of service standardization protocols, and a cavalier attitude towards rules and regulations. This explains why global brands who have entered the Indian market with the help of reliance brands or Aditya Birla Group are finding it difficult to find store staff who can uphold their global standards.
The other challenge is the disproportionate capital needed and the longevity of vision needed to build the next LVMH. Luxury brands are a multi-decade endeavor at the minimum with most of the top brands boasting a heritage of over 100 years. Think of it as a slowly simmering roast of product development, disruptive aesthetics, highly sophisticated brand building, artful storytelling, and omni channel presence.
All of this requires an enormous amount of capital, which remains elusive because most investors and brand owners today are looking at a 5-10 year horizon for brand maturity and exponential growth. Luxury, by its very nature, cannot compete with SAAS level growth or D2C timelines. Arguably, only India’s mature business houses can foot the bill and maintain the stamina needed to build the next LVMH.
And last but perhaps most importantly, luxury brand building requires a shift in mindsets not just among brand owners but among consumers. Traditionally, luxury has been associated with Europe thanks to a long period of historical dominance both politically and culturally. The narrative of European refinement has been so internalized by the world that even though India has arguably a far longer, richer and more diverse heritage, we hesitate to truly claim it and tell the story of India to the world.
As geopolitics undergoes a tremendous shift, India matures as a developing economy and the Indian identity finds new admirers, perhaps the time is now right to dig deep into our cultural landscape, evolve our storytelling and assert our rightful position as a tastemaker and influencer.
The good news is that the train appears to have left the station. Good Earth’s Anita Lal has launched a distinctly Indian luxury perfume brand—Lilanur Perfumes— for global consumers bypassing India entirely by retailing only at Bergdorf in the US. Meanwhile Estee Lauder has set up an incubator for Indian beauty startups seeing the potential to discover the next global skincare brand while its partner Nykka is finalizing partnerships to expand its footprint in GCC markets.
Luxury skincare brand Forest Essentials will open 12 stores in the UK in the near future after realizing that 30% of its online sales emerge from there. Vahdam Teas is increasing its overseas presence rapidly, with distribution channels in the US and Europe.
With 42% of Indian startups admitting they have global expansion ambitions in a recent survey, Indian luxury brands have a promising future.
Radhika Butala is the founder and strategy lead at The Better Collective
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