Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

The consumer is out there and willing to shop: Anita Dongre

Designer Anita Dongre on opening a huge store in Hyderabad, and why the focus should be on designing for women who will buy clothes and not just for the ramp

Published: Dec 22, 2020 01:44:36 PM IST
Updated: Mar 17, 2021 04:51:59 PM IST

The consumer is out there and willing to shop: Anita Dongre

In 2020, a few Indian fashion designers shut shop, a few others downsized their collections and a few others moved online. Anita Dongre, the founder of House of Anita Dongre, which shelters AND (western wear), Global Desi (boho-chic brand inspired by the folk tales of India), her signature label ANITA DONGRE (couture brand), Anita Dongre Grassroot, (a sustainable and luxury pret label) and Pink City (handcrafted jadau fine jewellery), opened a three-floor, 4,000-sq-feet store in Hyderabad.

The store was supposed to be launched in March but was postponed in the lockdown and was then opened in time for the festive and wedding season.

Dongre tells Forbes India what made her open a brick-and-mortar store in Hyderabad and why Indian designers must focus on designing for real women, the ones who walk into designers’ stores, and not just for the fashion ramp.

What kind of potential do you see in the Hyderabad market in this economic slowdown?
The store in Hyderabad was scheduled to open in March but when the lockdown was announced our plans were delayed. Some weddings in the first few months were postponed as well. But 2020 has been a year of intimate, meaningful weddings, and the tradition of creating memories hasn’t been slowed down by the pandemic. Bridal wear continues to be important to couples celebrating their love. Other than the lockdown months, when our design and production headquarters was closed, we have been busy. If anything, there has been a greater demand for the timeless occasion wear we create. The store in Hyderabad was particularly important in this time because our brides and grooms could no longer fly into Mumbai for their selections and fittings. The reception of the Hyderabad store has been overwhelming. We’re ensuring that all safety protocols are met and we’re receiving clients by appointment.

How would you evaluate 2020 for your business?
2020 has been extremely challenging but it has come with its fair share of learnings. We have learnt to adapt and be agile; efficiently responding to the changing times. 
 
What were the biggest challenges and achievements for Anita Dongre Fashion House this year?
The pandemic was a typical black swan event--it was unprecedented, and we didn’t have a playbook. We needed to be positive, innovate continuously, working closely with our teams, and, above all, be compassionate towards the needs of our team members. This time was the time for prioritising other people, and I believe we have done well on this account. As a team at House of Anita Dongre we worked very closely with all our teams and managed to keep the morale high. We also launched a mask-making initiative and set up a medical fund to support our artisans and partners across the board. And AND launched a new line for girls.

Which industry trend were you surprised at or most impressed with?
While it’s debatable about whether this counts as a trend, what surprised me this year was the number of businesses that crumbled under pressure viz-a-viz the number of successful businesses built almost overnight in response to the need of the hour. The silver lining of 2020 has been the number of home entrepreneurs born and the incredible services they continue to provide through these constantly shifting times. Industry recovery, however, was a surprising and welcome trend. The resilience of our customers has been positive along with the fact that there has been no substantial downtrading in products. The consumer is out there and willing to shop if we, as a brand, have new things to offer--a promise that augurs well for the future.

What is the most important lesson you learnt this year?
As a business leader, I have learnt the strength of a team. My team’s support and resilience in the face of this crisis has been amazing. The fact that we involved all the key stakeholders and reached out to all 2500+ of our team members during these times helped us make tough calls as a united organisation.  

What will be the biggest fashion trends in India next year?
I can only tell you what I hope the trends should be.
-Sustainability
-Versatile garments
-Conscious consumption over conspicuous consumption
-And market leaders to gain market share

What do you predict the next year will be like for the Indian fashion industry?
The year 2020 has reminded the fashion industry to focus on designing for women who come to our stores and not just for the ramp. As an industry, we need to slow down, simplify, and refocus on the woman wearing our clothes and how what we do fits into her life.