Actor Akshay Kumar and Maniish Mandhana (sitting) opened their first flagship store for an athleisure wear label, Force IX at Linking Road in Bandra, Mumbai, on April 26.
For seven years, Akshay Kumar secretly harboured a dream—to start a clothing brand. The actor reveals that he had even got some outfits designed, but shelved the idea as he was not pleased with the results. So, when textiles veteran Maniish Mandhana approached him to collaborate for an athleisure wear label, Force IX, the 55-year-old did not think twice. After a soft launch in January, the brand opened its first flagship store at Linking Road in Bandra, Mumbai, on April 26.
“Force IX is much more than a clothing brand. I would say it is an extension of me which will bring my journey of over three decades to you. Each and every aspect is engineered with emotion,” Kumar tells Forbes India.
Mandhana, joint MD, Mandhana Industries, and co-founder of Force IX’s parent company, 9 AM Ventures Private Limited, describes the 1,800 sq ft outlet as the first step of a long journey. “This is the stepping stone… opening a store is about showcasing yourself in the best possible way. It’s important to start well,” he says.
Kumar, whose father was an Army officer, says the brand’s name is inspired by his love for the armed forces. The number IX, he adds, signifies warrior. “My way of wearing clothes has been inspired by the Army. I love to wear athleisure clothing because, for me, comfort tops everything. I wanted to bring the ‘cool style’ of foreign brands to India. Hence, I decided to foray into the world of fashion with Force IX, a brand that offers a range of athleisure wear and much more that’s totally made in India,” says Kumar, adding that he’s been personally involved in everything—the label’s name, collection, categories—from the beginning.
The actor says the brand has collaborated with Bharat Ke Veer, and that for every product sold, Rs9 will go to the trust created by the ministry of home affairs to support the families of martyrs. Besides, there will be discounts for those from the armed forces.
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It helped that Kumar found a hands-on partner in Mandhana for the venture. Mandhana, too, was only glad to find a lot of ‘synergy’ with the actor from the day he met him. “Akshay is calm, he’s got Zen-like energy and great values… for me, that counts a lot. And, of course, he’s so fit and dresses well… he can carry off any fashion with a lot of flair,” says Mandhana, about the reasons for joining hands with the artiste.
Opening a store is a logical decision, the duo insists, although the pandemic brought about a digital shift. “Showcasing the collection becomes important. The world is also slowly moving towards phygital,” says Kumar.
Concurs Mandhana. “People who are inclined towards fashion want to touch and feel the clothes. Brands are opening stores left, right and centre (post the pandemic). Retail is back in many ways, especially in fashion,” he says.
The co-founders say there are plans to open 12 to 14 Force IX stores by the end of the year, with the next two in Surat and Bengaluru. Mandhana reveals that once the brand establishes itself, they will add categories related to lifestyle—watches, fragrances, sunglasses, footwear, luggage and other accessories. “It’s a gender-neutral brand now. Going forward, we will also venture into children’s and women’s wear,” says Mandhana, who has been in the textiles business for over three decades and interacted with top global brands as an exporter.
Describing the collection—T-shirts start at Rs999 and the most expensive winter jacket can be bought for under Rs10,000—as affordable fashion and fashion for all, Mandhana says despite competition, there’s room for all to grow in the sector. “All brands have their own USP. For us, what we are doing is important, and how happy our customers are with the design, fit and quality,” he says. “The world is eyeing India… every foreign brand is establishing itself here. But there’s a still a huge gap.”
Actors such as Salman Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Shahid Kapoor and Anushka Sharma, among others, have launched clothing brands in the past. Is it a lucrative business to get into? “I certainly hope so,” says Kumar with a smile. “Clothes are a safe bet as a category. However, whether the brand is successful or not depends on various factors. As a sector, though, there’s room for everything.”