Handbags: India

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Early 2000s-2021

Namrata Zakaria, July 24, 2021: The Times of India

Indian designers like Tarun Tahiliani have been known for beaded purses and potlis (Image: Instagram)
From: Namrata Zakaria, July 24, 2021: The Times of India

Homegrown fashion labels are growing the accessories business

It’s been just a year since leading designer Sabyasachi began selling handbags a little more seriously. Names of his itsy-bitsy clutches that just about hold a lipstick and a cell phone, bucket bags, and hot-selling sling bags drip off the fashionista’s lip with great ease even as the designer treats his 5 million followers to a new colour or style every few weeks.

For an Indian designer, or an accessories label, this is unheard of. Only French luxury labels keep their customers panting for the next must-have handbag, with the demand for them obviously exceeding the supply. Moreover, Sabyasachi’s handbags can cost a little over Rs 1 lakh, snapping at the heels of the top European labels.

Indian designers have often amused themselves with handbags but have never managed the scale of business that the European and American labels did. In the West, the fashion business rests largely on the leather goods and beauty segments of a luxury label. In India, we’ve prided ourselves on our clothes making our fashion business boom.

The handbags our designers have introduced have mostly been add-ons to a bridal lehenga. Either an embroidered clutch to match the embroidered everything else, or else, unusual shapes like the potli, the drawstring pouch. Ritu Kumar did make some rather tasteful leather and silk purses in the early 2000s but didn’t pursue the accessories vertical long enough.

The Indian handbag industry is truly an interesting one to watch. It is a rather large piece of the retail pie and expected to grow at 5 per cent every year until 2025. It seems to have an equal mix of commercial high-street labels and as well as the three European giants who sell here — Gucci, Dior and Louis Vuitton. Hermes does have two stores in India but doesn’t feature in India’s top ten handbag sellers list.

Ever since luxury labels arrived in India, the handbag became a lifestyle buy, not just a utilitarian product. Driven by aspiration — and logos to boot — it became the new symbol of wealth and fashion hauteur. Mass consumers began to flock to the high-street labels too, desiring more than one serviceable bag. More women in the workforce, an increase in disposable incomes, wide internet exposure, online shopping — all of these contributed to the growth of India’s handbag market.

Top movie stars were roped in by local labels. Actors such as Kareena Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Anushka Sharma and Kangana Ranaut have modelled for homegrown high-street labels showing the big advertising spends of the Indian brands. The Indian designer label has been kept out of this game almost entirely. Until now, it seems.

Tarun Tahiliani has always made rather elaborate beaded and tasseled evening bags but has lately expanded the styles. His purses are clearly not for the high-street shopper. Tahiliani says, “Indians need premium accessories. Not just derivative things but cool, modern, Indian items that are more affordable too.”

Gautam Sinha, founder of Nappa Dori that launched in New Delhi a decade ago and now has a store in London’s Covent Garden, believes the Indian accessories market has truly evolved in the last decade. “But we still have a long road ahead to change the mindset of people to accept Indian luxury beyond wedding wear. There is a massive gap in luxury spend when it comes to ethnic wedding brands, and contemporary made-in-India labels. The market is still evolving with the younger generation far more open to proudly carry Indian labels,” he says. Sinha is also banking on customers making a “bridge” buy. “People want to feel special after two tough years of the pandemic, premium accessories are not high-ticket items but come with the same bells and whistles as an uber luxury product,” he adds.

With more Indians turning vocal for their local luxury labels, the handbag business can see success close at hand.

Namrata Zakaria believes there’s more to fashion than meets the eye

(Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author's own)

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