After studying law I vectored towards journalism by accident and it's the only job I've done since. It's a job that has taken me on a private jet to Jaisalmer - where I wrote India's first feature on fractional ownership of business jets - to the badlands of west UP where India's sugar economy is inextricably now tied to politics. I'm a big fan of new business models and crafty entrepreneurs. Fortunately for me, there are plenty of those in Asia at the moment.
Havaianas has been studied as a textbook case on transforming a mass brand into an aspirational one. The Brazilian brand sells 250 million pairs of slippers a year. As it enters the Indian market through a tie-up with Ramesh Tainwala’s Shoezone Lifestyle LLP, Roberto Funari, CEO of Alpargatas SA, which owns the brand, speaks to Forbes India about their plans. Excerpts:
Q. Why did it take so long for Havaianas to enter India? We had a tie-up with the AP Group as a distributor for India, but there is only so much you can do with a distributor. As part of our global expansion, we’ve identified India as a key focus market, along with China, Europe and the US. Over the next few years, we want to have 1,500 points of sales in the top 20 cities in India and be a multi-channel brand. We also foresee that ecommerce will be our fastest growing channel and will be investing $20 million.
Q. How are Indian consumers different from global ones? Indians are fairly sophisticated and well-travelled. The use of slippers is different, depending on where you are using them and so you need to have different types of products. We need to have a full range. We don’t aim to go mass market. The next generation consumer, in the 18 to 34 age group, is our core consumer… they want to have different brands, and a mix and match. The main point is not about cost price, but about comfort, price and quality.
Q. Are you looking to make in India? We have three manufacturing sites in Brazil, employing 15,000 people. We also concentrate our social responsibility programmes along those sites, particularly by supporting educational initiatives. We don’t envisage moving manufacturing anywhere else in the world. One of the core strengths of the brand is the ‘Made in Brazil’ tag. It is the most iconic Brazilian brand after, say, Pele.
Q. How has Havaianas scaled up globally? Our largest market is Brazil, where we sell 210 million pairs a year in a country with a population of 210 million; 73 percent of Brazilians buy a Havaianas [product] every year. They have an average of three to four pairs. In our other markets, we sell 40 million pairs. Our addressable market in India is worth $600 million, with 200 million pairs sold annually.