Fashion in India is at its all time high and this is evident with the mushrooming of Indian as well as International brands in the country. Flashback a decade ago and the scene was quite different. Where the advent of brands for Western apparels was at its nascent stage, the Indian ethnic wear market didn’t have much to speak about except for the local one off stores that were frequented by the elite and NRIs. Today, each department store and chain of department stores have a dedicated section for Indian ethnic wear and the brands catering to this segment are growing as well. We trace the inception and journey of Seven East by Sanjay Bindra who launched the brand in 2008 post bidding adieu to his earlier venture – BIBA.
Why the name Seven East? “Well, because according to numerology, 7 is one of the most powerful numbers and East because we wanted our name to reflect our line of specialization when we would launch it overseas,” explains Sanjay Bindra, the brainchild behind – Seven East – one of the fastest growing brand in the category of Indian ethnic wear for women. Was splitting with BIBA difficult? “Not really. I did my best when I was a part of it. Along with my brother and my mother, we launched BIBA when the market for branded Indian ethnic wear for women was literally non-existent. Post working on the brand for about 6-7 years, I realized I had nothing more to contribute in terms of its growth the way the team wanted it to grow. I could sense the changing dynamics of consumer preference and lifestyle and had pretty many ambitious plans for the way ahead. Since our wavelengths differed, I decided it was best to venture out instead of degenerating myself. The decision was well accepted and respected by the team and post a fair evaluation, I was on my own. The entire process was very much amicably resolved hence no regrets!”
Today, the brand can find itself in the list of one of the most inspiring start-up stories in India. With the size of organized ethnic wear retail being in the range of 13,000 crores across lifestyle and value segment formats in tier 1, tier 2, tier 3 cities, Bindra has already picked up 30 per cent category share in Shoppers Stop. Today, the brand today is available across 48 Shoppers Stops, 22 Planet Fashions, 17 self-owned stores and 15 other MBOs. The brand already has a gross realization in excess of 40 crore.
According to Bindra, where the story of BIBA was between 2002 – 2010, the story of Seven East is a story taking shape between 2010 – 2016 and that is what sets it apart from BIBA. Elaborating on this, Bindra says, “The story of BIBA started in 2002 when India was very different. That was a time when organized retail in the country was at its nascent stage. Even though we are talking of India as it was just a decade ago, in these last ten years retail in India has witnessed an era of a difference. When we did BIBA in 2002, we never had an ERP, we never had retail chains talking of expansion to open 100 stores etc. Today it is a different story altogether! From IT to HR to Merchandizing – everything has undergone an incredible change. Seven East as a brand is for the New India. The problem is when you peak, you just keep re-inventing yourself. As a fashion brand, you have certain check-posts set for yourself, say reaching `50 crores, then `100 crores and so on. I think at BIBA we did a very good job till a certain level. I could foresee a new India taking shape between 2012 – 2016. Prior to that the India story was all about offering ‘value’. Today, the shift is more towards ‘lifestyle’. Yes, there is some turbulence in the market right now, but then this is just a phase. Things are only going to get better for retail in India, especially in the category of Indian ethnic wear when we talk specifically of apparels.”
Bindra was clear from day one that his brand Seven East would not cater to the mass but yet it would be in the ‘niche affordable’ category. The confidence stemmed from the fact that he clearly saw the 2002 consumer graduating to another level in 2016. He explains, “The aspiration levels that you had just a couple of year ago are very different from what you want today. Technology and the convenience to travel have contributed to a very different ‘you’ and that is the ‘you’ we wanted to cater when we started with Seven East. In India, it is more about the ‘product’ and not so much about a ‘brand’. If you have your product right, getting customers to be loyal to your brand is easy. When I started work on Seven East, the team was small but we were very strong. It was a team which had worked on brand BIBA so they were well aware of the nuances of the business and also all the mistakes had already happened so it was just about putting all the learning into place. Also, considering Indian ethnic wear is catching the fancy of people across the globe, I was certain of spreading my wings internationally as well.”
Bindra was confident about his product but retail brands in India remain paralyzed owing to real estate price and scarcity when it comes to quality space. Sharing an insight on how he overcame the challenge, Bindra shares, “I knew that the ethnic wear market for women in India was and is one of the most promising and untapped category hence I wasn’t too stressed with regards to doors not opening for me. The challenge was more to do with aligning the vendors once we reached a particular scale. We were quick to open about 18 stores but soon realized that we had to keep a check on our back-end before expanding further. In the process, we decided to shut operations of a couple of stores too. We also realized that the Indian consumer was ready to ‘pay’ more provided it made sense to her to spend on what she was buying. Hence we worked on offering our collection in better fabrics. The store ambiance was another thing we worked on relentlessly. We had a German and an American architect work on the design which was then executed by an architect from India. From the lights to lux…each minute detail was taken care of especially since we decided to go against advertising. We wanted our stores to create a niche for the brand and let our customer carry the experience with her wherever she went. Initially I offered the mall developers a premium to seek a particular positioning for my brand in their mall.”
Bindra had no qualms in spending a premium on getting the store and the merchandizing in place and at a go opening close to 18 stores. He says, “Ethnic wear is such a magical category that everyone wants more and more of it and there is enough room and space for more players to come and join the bandwagon.” For Bindra, capital was not a problem hence he opted to open his stores at prime locations. He also joined hands with Madura and was the first brand for Indian ethnic wear for women for their stores – Planet Fashion. Taking one thing at a time, Bindra didn’t fancy having a big team or investors in place as according to him, all the basics were well in place. Sharing further on this, he says, “The design team knew well what the pulse of the market was, the tailor we had was ex-BIBA and he didn’t need two other people sitting on his head to tell him what to do and what not to do. I wasn’t in favor of welcoming investors as I didn’t want any undue pressure. I was and am happy expanding the brand at my own pace.” Elaborating on this further, he says, “Funding at the right valuation is always welcome. However, currently retail is going through a major churn and we don’t want to raise money right now. This is a good time for us to consolidate our merchandise offering and add more stores in good locations. We will not be looking at a deal size less than `30 crore, whenever we decide to raise money.”
Talking about marketing, as mentioned earlier, since the launch of the brand, Bindra decided to go against vanilla advertising. He prefers advertising only when he has a theme. For example – his soon to be launched collection dedicated to 100 years of Bollywood. Bindra also plans not to go with the tide and have discounts running every 4-6 months. “I would rather price my product smart and not have a dead inventory. Today, customers are no longer getting amused and attracted by the 50 per cent sale phenomena. Some amount of creativity here could perhaps come to rescue. For e.g., I can have a special line and then send a communication to my loyal customers announcing perhaps a three hour discount. This would actually entice the customer to take my sale on a serious note.” Currently, Bindra runs no loyalty scheme for his customers but they have relationship marketing where they make personalized calls to customers inviting them when there is any limited edition / exclusive collection launched at the store. Alterations are offered not only at the store but also the MBOs and home delivery is extended on request. The average ticket size is approximately ` 2500/- per customer currently.
A recent activity that forms a part of their marketing portfolio includes a tie-up with IIFA to bring a range of designer-led Bollywood inspired clothing to the market. Seven East is the only ethnic wear partner to the hundred years of Indian cinema. Andre Timmins, director, Wizcraft International said, “Seven East shall be our official ethnic-wear partner for the IIFA Glitterati line. This collection will deliver a slice of the glamour and heritage of Bollywood to the fans of Indian Cinema. We will elect only best designers to execute this line for us.” For Bindra, the product has always been the driving force. With the 100 years of Indian cinema line, he will present a very sellable product line, showcasing what women on the silver screen have worn in the period 1914-2014.
Bindra comes across as an individual who listens to his heart and gut feel instead of taking into account the moves made by his peers in the industry. From taking a bold step of walking away from his earlier venture, to going ahead and launching a brand in the same category and spending a premium of about 30 per cent more on creating the right ambiance for his store to refusing investments being made by Venture Capitalists to take his brand to the so-called next level, he done it all! so far, all the decisions undertaken by him have paid off well and the future for Seven East definitely seems exciting!.
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