Sites to BEHOLD
Keep your mouse at the ready because there’s a new guard of entrepreneurs all set to make cyberspace more stylish
Every once in a while, I need my fashion fix. It can come from a stroll through a mall, scouring a flea market, or rifling through the pages of my favourite fashion bible. But when I have a mountain of deadlines and a much-needed evening yoga class, I find instant gratification on a slew of luxurious online portals that have begun to change the way we appreciate, shop, and learn about fashion and beauty. Think sites taking luxury Indianwear to the global market or bringing the best of Paris, New York, and London to India. There are subscription-only beauty stores that will let you sample before you buy, and content-based platforms that are rivalling magazines. What’s more, they’re all just a click away.
A study by the Internet & Mobile Association of India and KPMG last year said that Indian e-commerce was projected to grow to ` 62,967 crores. And with fashion getting up to 40 percent of the investments in online retail, going digital was the next step for entrepreneur Priya Sachdev. The owner of multi-designer store Kitsch, with outlets in Mumbai and New Delhi, she will debut her online space Rock N Shop (www. rocknshop.com) this month. Just like her Kitsch, the website will stock names like Victoria Beckham, Alice + Olivia, Alexander McQueen, Dolce & Gabbana, and more. “Online is the future of shopping, so it was the inevitable next vertical. On Rock N Shop, we can retail as many brands and products as we want to with ease.”
“It’s not just about putting the best story out. It’s about finding that story which will get a lot of views,” says Priyanka Gill, editor-in-chief of eStylista
Similarly, when friends Bharat Kapoor, 38, and Rishi Seth, 35, wanted to set up something of their own, they knew they had to look online. After a bit of research, the duo decided that a subscription-based e-commerce model was the way to go. And the products that fit that platform the best? Perfumes, cleansers, makeup removers, and serums. The result is luxury beauty retail site My Envy Box (www.myenvybox.com) that retails top-notch brands like Thalgo, L’Occitane, Terraké, and Phytomer, among the usual suspects. They are also the exclusive sellers of niche French botanical brand Eminence Organics. Beauty might seem an odd choice for the New Delhibased duo, given that Kapoor worked at Ernst & Young and Seth was in the renewable energy sector previously, “But we don’t really look at it as beauty or not. What really excites us is the marketing, building the site, and our relationships with the brands.” But most importantly for them, “When done right, the reach of an online business can dwarf that of a traditional physical retail enterprise.”
It was this potential that pushed 35-year-old Mohini Boparai to start Exclusively.in. As director of an architectural firm that worked with designers and with her own line of clutches, Boparai was no stranger to fashion. Born in Netherlands and based in New Delhi, she picked up on the Indian diaspora’s nostalgia for the country’s opulent embroideries, intricate beadwork, and rich hues. “Three years ago, it was virtually impossible to get anyone to buy Indian designers online. Now, we have demand from all over the world. The Internet, e-commerce, blogs, and social media have played a huge role in changing the awareness levels globally.” The site is home to names like Ritu Kumar, Varun Bahl, and Pankaj & Nidhi among others, and Boparai says that most of her traffic comes from the United States. On this side of the Atlantic, former assistant director and film editor Aashni Shah found that, surprisingly, her biggest clients are British and French. At her London-based store and its online counterpart Aashni + Co (www.aashniandco.com), Shah stocks a range of designers including Manish Malhotra and Anamika
“When done right, the reach of an online business can dwarf that of a traditional physical retail enterprise,” say Bharat Kapoor and Rishi Seth of My Envy Box.
Khanna. “When I’m choosing designers, I look for a strong aesthetic. I am not looking for a white shirt or a black pants. There has to be an element of being Indian that can add a contemporary twist to your look when combined with western silhouettes.” But what’s the difference between what she keeps on shelves and what goes online? “I don’t expect brides to shop online. Buying couture is more of an experience. Online is more of a volumes game with quick turnaround, so it’s ready-to-wear that garners the most interest.” Sachdev agrees, “Thanks to the Internet, more Indian designers are offering prêt below ` 25,000.”
While my wallet breathes a sigh of relief, street style blogs all over the world are already a testament to the increased democratisation of fashion. Log on and you’ll see a flurry of talented new critics, stylists, and photographers, who, thanks to the Internet, get to sit front row at fashion week. By pressing the right buttons, entrepreneurs like Kapoor and Seth of My Envy Box are getting the chance to bring their business savvy to a new, welcoming sphere. For Priyanka Gill, editor-in-chief of eStylista, it was thanks to the accessibility of the Internet that she made her first forays into fashion. Her CEO, Namrata Bostrom, a former management consultant, had a shared interest in angel investing, technology start-ups, and fashion. Bringing it all together, they transformed what started out as Gill’s personal blog into a voice for other stylish influencers. “We are all about experienced content. Instead of journalists telling the reader what they should do, we get real lifestyle leaders to set the agenda,” says Gill. And she means alpha women. From their base in London, the duo scouted out contributors like jewellery designer Farah Khan Ali, hotelier and sommelier Aishwarya Nair, and Kalyani Chawla, vice-president, Dior India. While traditional magazines are aspirational—their pages filled with elaborate fashion spreads, beautiful models, and covetable couture—Gill admits that eStylista is about the numbers. “We are almost a data company. We obsess about analytics and traffic numbers. It’s not just about putting the best story out. It’s about finding that story which will get a lot of views.”
But even if they want to stay solely in cyberspace, these young risk-takers often find that they do need to make their presence felt in the real world. “Social media and Google are key promotion tools, but we also depend on word of mouth,” says Seth. Sachdev plans on a series of pop-up shops to celebrate the launch of her site, while Gill’s eStylista collaborated with Mumbai’s multi-designer store Bungalow 8, auction house Christie’s, and designer Masaba Gupta for a slew of glamorous events last year.
For projects such as these, the challenge lies in being able to build a strong identity: One that will support them in new markets and help them weather a world where pictures on Instagram or Twitter can do as much to promote the brand as a stellar new campaign. As for me, I’m simply enjoying browsing through my favourite site that promises that my new Pankaj & Nidhi dress will be here in time for the weekend. Someone pass the coffee please.
eStylista’s Priyanka Gill and Namrata Bostrom
My Envy Box’s Bharat Kapoor and Rishi Seth
Exclusively.in’s Mohini Boparai
Rock N Shop’s Priya Sachdev