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Shailesh Chaturvedi: Fashion in every fibre

In his three decades in the fashion industry, Shailesh Chaturvedi, MD and Chief Executive Officer of Arvind Fashions, has seen things unfolding in the country’s fashion and lifestyle market – from a predominantly tailored-and-stitched apparel market to one of the top future markets for global brands. As the chairman of India Fashion Forum (IFF), Chaturvedi brings a wealth of fashion and retail knowledge to the country’s premier fashion and lifestyle event where the glitterati and top honchos of the fashion industry will search for the next big thing and opportunities in the business.

In 2004-05, when brands like Lee, Wrangler, Pepe and Levi’s ruled the roost of India’s branded denim market (primarily in the price bracket of Rs 1,500-2,500), many in the fashion business dismissed Shailesh Chaturvedi’s idea as crazy when he was planning to introduce Italian super-premium jeans brand whose starting price was 140 euros.

I never used to tell other colleagues (the actual starting prices) because, you know, they used to laugh. So, I would round-off and say $100 that was around Rs 4,000 at that time,” Chaturvedi recalled. “People used to tell me: ‘The most expensive Levi’s is available at Rs 2,000. What would you sell for Rs 4,000-4,500. Nothing will sell. And people used to say, ‘Shailesh, you will not be able to sell a single pair of jeans in India at $100’.”

Over the years, as India’s economy stared to explode delivering 7-8% annual growth, the country’s fashion market also started to moved up the ladder that helped Chaturvedi to prove his skeptics wrong. Today, BSE-listed Arvind Fashions Ltd, the company that Chaturvedi heads as its CEO and MD , sells “multiple lakhs” of pairs of jeans of Calvin Klein alone whose median prices is at Rs 12,000. Calvin Klein jeans in India are priced between 10,000-18,000 while Tommy Hilfiger jeans are sold in the range of Rs 6,500-10,000.

Both Chaturvedi and India’s fashion industry has come a long way and currently the country is ranked among the top markets for global brands like Spain’s Zara and Stockholm-based Hennes & Maurtiz. Today there are about a dozen of global bridge-to-luxury denim brands including Diesel, Gas, Armani Exchange and G-Star Raw among other swish labels sell through their exclusive stores and many more such brands are either planning to enter India or exploring the country’s burgeoning market.

According to market watchers, about 20 million Indians are currently purchasing the premium brands of jeans priced in hundreds of dollars. As India’s economy is expected to swell from about $3 trillion at present to about $7 trillion in the next ten-12 years, that segment of high-heeled customers-base will grow more than double to 50 million people and that segment will have the purchasing power to consume everything from uber luxury brands and products to services.

In his three decades in the fashion industry, Chaturvedi has seen things unfolding in the country’s fashion and lifestyle market – from a predominantly tailored-and-stitched apparel market to one of the top future markets for global brands. As the chairman of India Fashion Forum (IFF) 2023, Chaturvedi brings a wealth of fashion and retail knowledge to the country’s premier fashion and lifestyle event where the glitterati and top honchos of the fashion industry will search for the next big thing and opportunities in the business.

As promising as India’s fashion market sounds, it still has major pitfalls, Chaturvedi warned. His advise to foreign companies is that they should try to cover the basics strategies of right planning and executions in a complex country like India and not to get carried away by India market dynamics. Using a sports metaphor, Chaturvedi says India is akin to ‘away games’ for foreign brands with no home market advantages but a lot of surprises.

I always use the phrase to global world (that) Indian is an away game and there are still a lot of control a lot of protection, high duties, etc.,” the 54-year-old head of Arvind Fashions Ltd. said. “India disappoints optimists and pessimists – both at the same time.” He also advised global brands not to commit the mistake of comparing India with China or terming India the next China.

China is a very different animal. Today we are $3 trillion economy and China is like $16 trillion. The overall orientation of Chinese consumers towards brands and luxury is very different from those of Indians,” he said.

China is a different thing – a little more disciplined and manufacturing-led exports, great infrastructure consumers are ultra brand-conscious, much larger size of the market. Chinese travel a lot and spend lot more outside of China then than even American citizens do, almost double the size of US citizens spending outside of the US. China is a force so lets not compare.

Chaturvedi was born in Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1968 and his teen years were tough as he lost both his parents before he could finish his college. His younger brother stepped in to manage their father’s sari store in Mumbai’s Tardeo Air-conditioned Market. Before he died at the young age of 48, his father would also supply sarees to various Bollywood movies. As a child Chaturvedi saw various actresses including Rekha Hema Malini coming to his father’s store.

While his younger brother shouldered the responsibility to run their father’s business, Chaturvedi, who was a bright student, continued with his studies. Even though his younger brother chipped in with finances for Chaturvedi to complete his engineering degree, Chaturvedi gave tuitions to various students to shore up his family’s income. Then he also worked as a research analyst at a stock broker during his MBA days.

I got into retail by default,” said Chaturvedi, an engineer by studies when he was hired in 1992 as management trainee by British Madura Coats Group.

In his three-decade journey in the apparel retail industry post his Engineering and MBA, Chaturvedi has launched and developed some of the biggest brands in India including Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Arrow, Louis Philippe, US Polo and Sephora. He is credited with scaling up both Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein as brands to reckon with in India. He also had a stint in Hong Kong with Italy-based Benetton Plc as the head of its wholesale business in Asia Pacific region, overseeing countries including Australia, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia.

Chaturvedi took the helm of as the managing director of Arvind Fashions in 2021, a year when the retail industry was battered by the pandemic. However, Arvind Fashions, that operates a bouquet of brands Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Sephora, US Polo, Flying machine, Aeropostale and Arrow brands, returned to profits barely a year after Chaturvedi took over.

Chaturvedi believes that India’s fashion market will grow multiple times in the next decade-or-so as per capita income of Indians are set to grow and the growth will happen at every segment of the business.

There will be “tailwind from on the unorganized – which is so much larger business – and as it converts to organized and then from value to sub-premium to premium then to super-premium,” he said in a telephonic interview before heading on his annual ten-day detoxification break at Jindal Naturecare Institute in Karnataka in late January. However, he said the “standards have to be maintained. Sometimes, just because they’re tailwind, people will start to say everything will sell or we will go in the water and then we’ll learn to swim. That doesn’t work. We have seen lots of failures in recent times. We have to be efficient, we must have a scientific model. So, while there is a tailwind from unorganized to organize, the efficiency is the necessary requirement.

On the IFF, Chaturvedi said the event should focus on the basics of “decoding the DNA of growth and how to deliver profitable growth and create shareholder value” and not to rely too much on the country’s market attractiveness.

Rather than trying to just replicate successful businesses, companies should focus on the next big gap in market , he said.

“Jockey has created a big business in underwear we will also get into underwear segment. Whether you have capabilities or not everybody wants to get into underwear business. Similarly Nykaa has made it big value creation in online beauty business so there are lot of start-ups, many of them are in a hurry trying to be the next Nykaa and many of them will unfortunately fail,” he said. “As an industry we are focusing too much time on the market attractiveness and everybody wants to be the next Jockey, next Manyavar or next Nykaa. We want to keep our DNA stronger, sharpen consumer definition, execute well, become more profitable and deliver better ROCE.”

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