For fashion designer and designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, 2021 has been a good year, despite the pandemic. He signed a deal with Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd in January, selling 51% of his eponymous luxury brand for ??398 crores. Since the brand’s inception in the 1990s, it has been known for its daring designs that highlight traditional Indian patterns and textiles while appealing to a young audience and is today one of the most well-known luxury brands in the world. India with a presence in UK, US and West Asia.
Last week he unveiled a new collection in collaboration with fast fashion giant H&M, instantly drawing criticism from some artisans who accused him of “selling himself” by partnering with a brand whose values are contrary. to his. In an interview, Mukherjee said “commerce supports everything” and why he “has always been the child of controversy”. Edited excerpts:
The pandemic has taken a heavy blow to the fashion industry with falling demand and sales-boosting weddings being put on hold. But this year, you signed a deal with Aditya Birla, collaborated with H&M …
I have had an ongoing dialogue with Kumar Mangalam Birla over the past 3-4 years. When I was 45 (two years ago) I started looking at my brand’s heritage. Many designers are selfish enough to keep the brand to themselves, and the brand dies a painful death after them. I wanted my business to survive my generation. The H&M deal followed on time as well, so yes, good things are coming to those who wait. I would have opened a store in New York this year as well, but the pandemic has delayed that. Then there is a luxury jewelry store coming to Dubai. I’m also strengthening my back-end practices, because that’s what the pandemic has taught us.
I have to ask you a question about the controversy that followed the launch of the collection with H&M, which is inspired by Indian designs and patterns. Some NGOs and artisans got together and wrote an open letter, criticizing the tie-up with a fast fashion brand.
I have long moved beyond anger because I have always been the child of controversy. When you own a brand, you have to be prepared to take it all in – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I knew I would be sent to the doghouse when the collaboration was confirmed. But we lack the big picture. H&M only works with the most powerful companies in the region, those with large audiences. They only collaborate once. It pains me that for all of our history, our heritage and our talent, Indians have only been producers. We have never been able to send a strong luxury brand outside of India. We are reduced to manufacturers. It was a personal mission to change that. About the Sanganeri print (the collection uses a digitized Sanganeri print on viscose, not a hand print on cotton or silk like traditional Rajasthan craftsmen do): I was used to it to buy (fake) Calvin Klein underwear in Bangkok when I was younger until I could afford the real thing. Also today, someone who cannot afford the luxury can buy the digitized version of a craft until they can afford the luxury version of the craft. Crafts take a lot of maintenance: most people use a washing machine, not a dry cleaner. You cannot put handicrafts in a washing machine. Yes, I did some hybrids of Sanganeri prints, but because that’s what I’m proud of in India. Trade supports everything. We have to use technology well, otherwise we will not be able to dress the world’s population. Sustainability means different things for different economies.
You were also the first designer last year to publicly commit to paying your employees during the pandemic. It must have been hard.
We paid everyone until September-October, but had to let some people go after that. We were just bleeding. But Aditya Birla Fashion is making wonderful HR changes, with family health insurance, financial security, they also do a lot of microfinance. It is an ongoing commitment on our part to help them in the fields of education, health and banking. Ultimately, I want to raise the bar for crafts in the country.
Can you tell us more about the Aditya Birla Fashion deal?
It will be a horizontal expansion. I’m not doing ready-to-wear at the moment, but the world is changing so fast, I don’t know what I’m going to have to do to keep up. But we want to make beauty, perfumes and glasses. Jewelry is a passion for me, and we will develop it at all levels.
What does it mean when people say Sabyasachi is a good businessman?
When you were born into the middle class, no matter how rich you get, you don’t forget the value of money. We don’t just focus on the product but also on storytelling, experience, advertising. Even if someone buys an entry-level belt, they’ll consider it a big purchase – we remember and design it for every customer. The best way to make money in your business is to invest money in your business. Money is like fertilizer. You have to give to create a brand. Money is just a statistic. What you want to leave behind is a legacy.
Excerpt from the upcoming Mint podcast ‘Tell me how you did it’, hosted by journalist Namrata Zakaria
Never miss a story! Stay connected and informed with Mint. Download our app now !!