Forty-five years after it was founded, major leather goods brand Hidesign competes with the likes of Charles Keith. Today, the company operates 103 stores, is in the process of opening another 4, and has spread its presence across 25 countries.
Many years before Hidesign was founded, Dilip Kapur was a big part of the ‘incredible idealism of changing the world’ that swept across many parts of the world in the 60s and 70s when he was in the US, where he lived for 15 years. When he returned to Puducherry’s Auroville in India, it was with a desire to recreate that world. “Then there was nothing. It was barren land. I was in a one-room house with no running water. There was a hand pump if we needed water,” he recalls.
He started creating bags as a hobby, a craft that he had learned when he was finishing PHD at the University of Denver, School of International Studies in International Affairs. “I needed a job and had applied at many places, and joined a business. At this factory, I was trained in leather work.”
Little did he know that a couple of decades later, this hobby would translate into one of the most successful homegrown luxury bag brands in India.
Forty-five years after it was founded, major leather goods brand Hidesign competes with the likes of Charles & Keith. Today, the company operates 103 stores, is in the process of opening another 4, and has spread its presence across 25 countries.
Metros Vs Tier II & Beyond
Kapur claims that the brand is growing more in the metros. “Whenever we get a chance, we try to open in the metros. We would like to go elsewhere, but we are used to big stores in malls. We are also looking at posh high-street markets now,” he says.
Before launching a store, the factors that Hidesign considers are essentially a good mall. “Our location strategy is that we need to open a store in a mall that has mid to upmarket. If it’s below mid, it doesn’t work for us, especially in the post-Covid era,” he says.
He explains the logic behind opening in upmarket areas saying, “Whether it’s the way the economy has moved or us as a brand, our average value per piece sales has increased by 40%,” he says. “40% comes from selling high-quality products or luxury bags.”
Online makes up 30% of the total sales for Hidesign, and this revenue mainly comes from the brand’s association with major e-commerce platforms. However, it aims to generate more through its own online platform.
About its recently opened store at Delhi’s Khan Market, Kapur says, “The store is so much like Puducherry. A little bit of French heritage, a whole lot of Puducherry – Our ‘amour’ (love) for style may be influenced by our French heritage but our skilled craft is all Puducherry! The architecture is an homage to the quaint little town that made us who we are!”
Products & Designs
Currently, Hidesign’s ostrich leather bags are the best performing range.
“All our products are made of vegetable-tanned full grain leather from our own tannery. Sometimes we import leather that comes with chrome, but we strip the chrome out of it,” Kapur explains.
He is, however, candid in admitting that its footwear range didn’t do well; something confirmed by the display of a few pairs of leather shoes at its newly opened Khan Market store. The sunglasses range is doing well, he says, but we don’t make them.
When it comes to design, the brand takes pride in being unconventional. Kapur himself leads the design team, and he considers it something very close to him. “I personally supervise the team, and I am deeply involved.”
“We have always found inspiration in adventure, travel and culture, rather than following trends. Originality and simplicity are at the core of our design philosophy,” he says, adding, “Our first few bags were ‘so different from the norm’, they were a hit on Castro Street, California, then known as the gay capital of the world. Its Little Boxy bag, which the brand describes as ‘unashamedly different from the pretty bags of the 90s’ won the ‘Accessory of the Year’ award in the UK.”
The brand has a reputation for staying away from any celebrity endorsements, but when asked about its collaboration with Bollywood actor Kalki Koechlin for a collection some years back, he explains, “Kalki is our neighbour. She is a Puducherry girl and practices what we believe in. Simply put, we can’t afford to rope in someone who doesn’t share our beliefs and values.”
Long before sustainability became a buzzword, Hidesign started making bags using vegetable-tanned leathers, solid brass fittings, cotton or leather linings and designs that stand the test of time.
Hidesign’s Côte d’Azur collection is, he says, all about sustainable luxury; each bag is made from 24-28 recycled plastic bottles that have been hand-woven into fabric.
“The water at our tannery is 100% recycled, old brass is melted and cast to make buckles that glow and at our atelier, our leather cutouts are re-purposed to make zip pullers, hang tags or keychains. In the end, the unusable leather scraps are ground into a pulp to make leather board paper, transformed into beautiful paper bags as packaging in stores,” says Kapur, briefly outlining the manufacturing process.
Further, the brand’s campus was transformed from rice fields into a ‘green oasis’ of streams, waterfalls, wild grass and trees by the landscape artist Claude Borg. Then Ray Meeker, ceramist and architect, built a home for Hidesign, which the brand describes as ‘full of warmth, with raw brick buildings and inner courtyards, surrounded by lush greenery and freshwater streams’.
The company claims that no single workplace has more than 60 people, and its artisans typically work in small groups of 3 to 4 people.
On employment, Kapur says, “Hidesign hires from local villages, often uneducated women from the local villages, trains them in the skills to handcraft – a slow but thoughtful product. Forty years later, we have developed one of the most skilled leather ateliers in the world; master craftswomen who are now training the next generation, making our atelier proudly 90% women.”
The company asserts that it hires more women and persons from religious minorities and
the LGBTQ community to create a more diverse workplace.
According to a report by Research and Markets, the handbags market in India is poised to touch $207.51mn during 2022–2026, progressing at a CAGR of 4.90% during the forecast period. The market has witnessed more homegrown brands competing with global players, and it’s believed that more brands will enter the market.
How innovatively brands like Hidesign will play out in the coming days is something everyone will keenly watch.