E-commerce: Fashion forward

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Published: February 22, 2015 12:08:28 AM

E-tailers do more than sell. From being start-ups themselves, fashion websites are now providing a platform to help realise the dreams of others, making the fashion industry more easily accessible for aspiring young professionals

WHEN FASHION designer Ravi Bajaj started out in the 1980s, it wasn’t easy to get a foothold in the industry, as the options were fewer and far between. But that was almost three decades ago. In all these years, especially after the advent of technology in the industry, things have changed dramatically. Competition has increased, yes, but the industry has also become more easily accessible for aspiring young fashion professionals.

“There is no denying the fact that most people nowadays prefer to do everything from the comfort of their chairs. So, in that respect, the newer designers can get launched without actually having to have any retail space,” says Bajaj.

And giving this new crop of designers a big fillip are online fashion destinations such as Jabong, Myntra and LimeRoad, with concepts like online fashion shows and incubator programmes curated especially for them.

With the help of these initiatives, upcoming designers are now getting a chance—right at the start of their careers—to not only design their own lines, but display and even sell them nationwide, something that was unheard of till recently. Getting such a break in the past would be a dream for many designers, who would toil away in a dingy attic in suburban Mumbai or Delhi for at least a decade before getting a major break, or even an opportunity to work with, or assist, an established name in the business. But not any more.

Take, for example, 23-year-old fashion designer Shreya Mistry, one of the winners of the 2014 edition of Jabong Online Fashion Week (JOFW). Since winning the competition last year, she has been employed by Jabong as a fashion designer and has even designed two new collections for them.

“JOFW was the first platform where I showcased my collection after graduating (from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Mumbai) and it changed my life drastically,” says Mistry. “In the  world of fashion, it is very important to be known in the industry. Platforms like JOFW are important because they give recognition to a few from the pool of talented young designers,” she says, adding, “According to me, it is easier to get a break in the fashion industry now compared to the old days.”

Started last year, JOFW, an online fashion week, allows customers to buy designer wear directly from the Web. The customer can sit in the comfort of his/her home, watch designer fashion shows and ‘shop the look’ directly off the ramp—in short, a ramp-to-home fashion week.

In its second year now, each season of JOFW begins with a ‘call-for-entry’ phase, where fashion enthusiasts from across the country can submit their applications in any of the five categories: designers, models, fashion photographers, make-up artists and hair stylists. Once the submission window closes, a panel of jury members from Jabong.com, as well as from the industry carefully assesses every entry to prepare the first shortlist. These shortlisted candidates across all categories are invited for on-ground auditions. Once selected, each contestant is mentored by the jury members.

The sheer reach of these fashion shows is something that offline competitors can only dream about. As per Bajaj, the maximum number of guests invited in traditional fashion shows range between 300-400, but when it comes to online fashion shows, thousands of people could be watching these at any given time.

Speaking about JOFW’s genesis, Praveen Sinha, founder and managing director, Jabong, says: “The concept of an online fashion week was unusual for us, with an underlying thought of giving a platform to the aspiring talent in our country. JOFW is a great opportunity for people in far-flung and non-commercial locations to make a mark in the fashion industry. It provides them global visibility and an opportunity to get mentored and guided by established members of the fashion fraternity.”

And it’s not just the young crop that benefits from this arrangement. LimeRoad’s founder and CEO Suchi Mukherjee swears by the humungous amount of energy and fresh perspective that this upcoming talent brings on board. “They are not restrained by things previously learnt or standardised. They have an ability to try out new things at economical budgets.” Mukherjee, who routinely scouts for new talent in fashion institutes across the country, says the average age in their team is skewed towards 30 years or less. One such talent working for them is 26-year-old Diya Sahgal, manager, visual merchandising, LimeRoad. Sahgal, who leads the LimeRoad Scrapbook Community—a page where you can ‘create’ your own look by adding and assembling your favourite clothes and accessories—says thanks to platforms like LimeRoad, “there’s no pressure to ‘fit in’ conventional roles and grow the traditional route. Earlier, the opportunities available to a design professional were limited—a buying house, an export house or a designer. Most of these were low-paying, high-slaving jobs, where one was never able to satisfy one’s creative hunger. Today, with these new platforms, you can explore social media, styling, communication and design with a whole new perspective.”

Another e-retailer Myntra’s Fashion Incubator (MFI) initiative supports entrepreneurship in the business of fashion. It is a platform for young entrepreneurs and designers, giving them the opportunity to turn their designs and ideas into sustainable business ventures. Under MFI’s ‘Designer in Residence’ (DIR) programme, Myntra provides mentorship, infrastructure and capital support to eight selected applicants for a year and assists them in curating their own fashion label. “The idea behind setting up Myntra Fashion Incubator was to mentor young talent who do not have access to industry expertise, capital, supply chain and distribution platforms, and to empower them to create sizeable indigenous fashion brands in the long run,” says Abhishek Verma, head, Myntra Fashion Brands, adding, “Access to our portal to retail their merchandise gives them access to millions of shoppers from across the country, giving them a much needed boost.”

For MFI, Myntra invites applications from across the country from people who have the passion for fashion. The applications are reviewed by a panel of experts and 25-30 applicants are shortlisted to present their works and ideas before a jury. As many as eight candidates are selected to be mentored as part of the DIR programme.

Mohammed Javed Khan, a 29-year-old fashion designer, got to know about MFI through Facebook and applied promptly. “One may never find an opportunity like this where you get to do your own thing, build a brand for yourself with complete support from different teams at Myntra and also get paid in return. Through DIR, we are also being trained to be the owners of our ‘design + business’ idea,” says Khan. “This programme provides us training on brand building, understanding potential customers and market scenario, building a business plan and the evolution of our idea. I now see myself as an entrepreneur rather than just a mere designer,” he says.

“Currently, there are more than 30 million online shoppers, a number, which is expected to increase to more than 128 million online buyers by 2018,” says Verma, quoting a February 2014 Crisil Research report. “Fashion is one of the most progressive categories in e-commerce with the segment set to grow to $7 billion in 2016 from $1.7 billion in 2013,” he adds.

Indeed, if the last few years are any indication, Internet may well become the defining factor in the fashion industry.

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