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Akutee’s triumph: Sagarika Ghatge’s vision to 3-5x growth unraveled

In the bustling world of fashion, where trends flicker like shooting stars, there emerges a brand that stands as a beacon of timeless elegance and cultural homage. Akutee, an ethnic wear brand founded by Bollywood actor Sagarika Ghatge and her mother, Urmila, is more than just a collection of garments; it’s a narrative woven with threads of tradition, artistry, and the rich tapestry of the Ghatge dynasty’s history.

In an exclusive interview with IMAGES Business of Fashion’s Sanya Arora, Sagarika shares insights into the brand’s inception, the royal influence that shaped its aesthetics, and the delicate balance of tradition and modernity.

Can you share the story behind the inception of Akutee? What inspired you and your mother, Urmila, to start this ethnic wear brand?
Akutee is an ode to rich textiles, detailing, and hand-painted garments that take you back in time to an era of artistic talent and impeccable taste. Growing up surrounded by elegant women draped in Chanderis, chiffons, tissues, and brocades, I was in awe of their poise and grace.

My mother Urmila was my biggest influence. A strong, independent and passionate woman who took up art at the age of 16 and has been painting ever since. Fond of nature, her hand-painted floral patterns made their way onto the garments she wore which soon became her signature style. She has now trained and mentored a collective of young artists to paint in her signature style and bring our brand Akutee to life.

Tell us about your dynasty’s story.
Beyond the stitches and fabrics lies the rich tapestry of the Ghatge dynasty’s history. Tracing back centuries, the Ghatges have woven their legacy with threads of resilience, military prowess, and diplomatic acumen.

The Ghatge Dynasty’s story unfolds through historical eras, from the Adil Shahi period to post-independence. Originating from Rana Hada of Rajputana, who migrated to the Deccan in the late 1300s, the Ghatges became loyal shield-bearers in the Bahamani kingdom. Joining forces with Chh. Shivaji Maharaj in the pursuit of Swaraj, embarked on a legendary journey.

The kinship between the Chhatrapatis of Kolhapur, the Bhosales, and the Kagal Ghatges spans 600 years, starting from their migration. The Ghatges’ association with legendary rulers and luminous women who shaped history adds layers to their remarkable narrative. The family’s contribution to art, culture, education, and sports resonates through awe-inspiring architectural marvels—palaces, dams, monuments, and temples.

In the contemporary landscape, the Ghatge lineage carries this legacy forward with diligence. Sagarika reflects on this familial connection, stating, “It vividly portrays a dynasty that undeniably played a pivotal role in shaping the course of history.”

Growing up in a family with a royal lineage, how have your cinematic experience and exposure to regal surroundings influenced the designs and aesthetics of Akutee?
Akutee is fashioned around the celebrated women of the Ghatge family, the brand stays true to its royal roots while preserving the essence of its cultural heritage.

The women in my family shaped my views on fashion and style, and so I naturally imbibed a lot of customs, traditions, and folklore. Looking at their timeless elegance, I couldn’t wait to grow up to be as beautiful and as poised as them. Akutee is an ode to all those strong, graceful women.

Tell us about your collection.
In a poetic fusion of heritage and modernity, Akutee’s collection unfolds like chapters from a royal chronicle.

My mother has been the driving force behind Akutee, as a child I remember, that our garden was a large part of our inspiration. The detailing in the floral paintings, the language of petals, flowers, etc on fabrics, and the motifs, then became an integral part of her inspiration for Akutee and became a signature style of the way she painted.

These garments, whether sarees, dupattas, or jackets, are not mere ensembles; they are a bridge between the past and present. Akutee’s collection of hand-painted garments takes you back to an era of rich history, and heritage. It is like going back in time for the women of today. As a brand, we closely resonate with modern women, keeping the artistic expression common for different types of garments.

Your mother, Urmila, began her artistic journey at a young age. How has her hand-painted floral patterns, which became her signature style, shaped the unique style of Akutee?
My mother is the driving force behind Akutee. Her hand-painted floral patterns, inspired by their garden, became a signature style. The detailing in the floral paintings, the language of petals, flowers, etc on fabrics and the motifs – the signature style of the way she painted – have all become an integral part of her inspiration for the brand.

Akutee is described as a blending of tradition with modern lifestyles. How do you ensure that the rich heritage of the brand resonates with contemporary women?
We closely resonate with the modern woman, while keeping the artistic expression common for different types of garments. Our collection of hand-painted garments takes the consumer back in history. However, we also have jackets that are hand-painted and hand-embroidered, which is a perfect fit for the modern working and independent woman.

In the retail landscape, customer experience is crucial. How does Akutee plan to enhance the customer journey, both online and offline?
Bespoke is at the heart of Akutee. There is a process which is involved in making every garment a unique piece of art, for which we are open for our customers to come and see the detailing behind the process.

We offer our customers the option to come and sit with artists and discuss customizations to create a garment that can be passed through generations. Our presence across websites helps our customers engage with the story of the brand, process the detailing of each garment, connect with us for more conversations around customization experience, and seamlessly order their selected garments.

How do you plan to make the collection accessible to a wider audience?
Akutee has its collection live for its Indian audiences and will soon take it live for western regions like the US and Canada and we intend to take special care in ensuring that audiences from all regions get the same experience in terms of product quality, customer experience and logistics.

Akutee also plans to tour India as well as other foreign countries with our art-focused exhibitions and curate art galleries to host pop-ups, and periodic events which will help the brand interact with communities across different regions.

Given the bespoke nature of Akutee, how does the brand navigate the balance between customization for individual customers and offering collections for wholesale purposes?
At Akutee, while adhering to industry best practices for growth, we approach retail collaborations with meticulous care and selectivity. We firmly believe in the intrinsic strength of art within Akutee, considering it as significant as the fashion element. Therefore, our collaborations are exclusively sought with partners who share a genuine alignment and focus on art. This commitment ensures that each partnership resonates authentically with the artistic essence of Akutee.

You are a perfect case study in a journey of self-funding. Tell us about your financial strategy.
Akutee in its initial phase has been highly efficient at maintaining low operational costs. Practices like lean teams with controlled hiring, optimized task-to-goal mapping of its operations, controlled garment production costs, lean asset procurement, and organic marketing avenues, have helped its launch and drive sales with considerably lower investments.

We will continue adhering to cost-control practices in the market, and also enhance our intelligence with tools that help us reduce TAT and increase through-put from the same setup. We will also onboard industry experts in fashion production, and performance marketing, diversify our vendors across India, and help procure, produce, and promote authentic Indian art forms at even more optimized costs.

How has Akutee measured its sales performance since the launch, and what key performance indicators (KPIs) are being monitored to gauge the brand’s success?
Akutee’s launch phase garnered impressive coverage and engagement. We reached over 3 crore impressions on our articles covered during our launch phase, with coverage from Fashion, Business, Regional and other coveted news media. We were able to pull over 1 million users to engage with our Instagram channel. We have added 50% of our follower base i.e. around 10,000 new users on our social media platform since our launch, which helped introduce our brand amongst relevant art-loving communities.

We have generated a massive 3 lakh+ website visits since our launch, with more than 1,00,000 users engaging with our story and collection. During the launch phase, we also focused on reaching amongst communities and developing a relationship with broader art-enthusiastic and heritage-loving audiences. Hence our KPIs revolved around reach and engagement in Quarter 1&2 of our operations.”

Looking ahead, what is your vision for Akutee? How do you see the brand evolving while maintaining its connection to rich textiles, intricate detailing, and hand-painted garments?
Our brand will help promote talented and upcoming artists, and women like my mother who can flourish within Akutee’s creative umbrella. We will also develop and promote different local art forms which are rich in India. We are all about slow fashion. While trends will come and go, our focus will be to be aligned with our ethos, which is being minimalistic, artistic and classic, which will also be reflected in our Home line soon.

We believe that strategic partnerships over time will help us not just create new collections but also explore new art formats on fabrics. However, such partnerships are rare, and take time to bloom.

Can you share the growth targets and milestones that Akutee has set for the upcoming quarters or years?
Akutee plans to develop more exclusive partnerships within procurement, and manufacturing and we also plan on exploring more sustainable vendors. Also, the brand plans to open its collection for the US and other western regions and develop a similar seamless structure to cater to the market and customer experience.

We will also invest more in product content, develop deeper relationships with users, and increase engagement time and patterns. We will develop short and long-format content for the utmost brand affinity and use it to engage and also use it to collect organic feedback from the community. Akutee has plans to reach 3-5X of our last quarter’s sales and growth statistics.

As Akutee unfurls its garments, each thread whispers a tale from the Ghatge dynasty’s chronicles. The hand-painted creations pay homage to the luminous women and legendary rulers who shaped the family’s history. Sagarika envisions Akutee as a platform not just for fashion but for promoting artists and preserving Indian art forms.

The journey of Akutee is a seamless blend of tradition and modernity, a testament to the enduring spirit of a family that has left an indelible mark on history. As Sagarika strides ahead with her vision for Akutee, she remains connected to her roots, ensuring that each garment reflects the timeless elegance of the Ghatge legacy. In the intricate patterns and handcrafted details, Akutee becomes more than a brand; it becomes a regal symphony, resonating with the whispers of centuries past.

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