Fashion is a hyper-competitive industry. For a brand to thrive in such an environment, it needs talent and a well-designed and superior quality product. Brand building goes a long way in separating a successful fashion business from another due to its emphasis on creating a story that resonates with its customers. Further, the current digital nature of the marketplace allows greater engagement with the clientele. Hence, a pre-digital age, classic marketing strategy using channels like print and TV, will have to undergo change. It is in this context, that disruption becomes crucial.
Disruption is innovation, but it is more than just that. In popular culture, fashion or technology it is a process by which the norm has been upended and transformed. In a digital era, it is social media platforms that have become potential game changers. The original fashion disruptor was Gandhi. His legacy of thought which emphasized on the ‘morality of cloth’, rejected all western modes of dress and believed in the empowerment of homegrown industries to combine style and ethics together. Today, disruptive innovation in Indian fashion, in the case of Sabyasachi can be understood through his revival of traditional crafts, indigenous textiles and handloom weaving. He is a vocal advocate of ‘slow fashion’ involving karigari or artisanal based production which challenges the massive scale and speed of fast fashion. Fast fashion in India was propelled by brands like Zara, TopShop and H&M which retained the same identity while providing multiple lines with multiple price segments.
An interview with Border & Fall reveals the musings of the ‘design ambassador’ of India. Firstly, he realizes that along with the power that his brand has acquired him, there is a responsibility to which one is held accountable. Hence, it is easy to feel pressurized when one is expected to represent an entire subcontinent in a particular way. Secondly, his business strategy is one which seeks to create a demand and supply for his craftsmen—the base of his business, so that it becomes a sustainable source of income for them as well. His designs are an amalgamation of a revivalist approach, creation of a purist ideology and instilling a sense of nationalism within the customer.
Sabyasachi’s vision for his label is ‘an identity which is very close to who they are’. Being Indian is what he deems to be the comfort zone of global Indians which survives, unmarred by major socio-economic-political changes. His business strategy thwarts the fact that whenever something beautiful in India is picked up by someone from the west, suddenly everyone in India makes a mad scramble for it. He seeks validation from none which is why he is unafraid to take the road less traversed—case in point being his digital marketing strategy on Instagram.
It is one which has disrupted the conventional standard practice of runway shows as a designer’s showcase platform to the public. A practice which was previously peppered with a dash of exclusivity, for only Page 3 regulars were privy to the first glimpse of a designer’s line.
“Earlier, the only people privy to what I was showcasing was those who attended the show or came across it in the newspapers the next day. Today, everyone has a front-row seat to my shows via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and livestream.” (Manish Malhotra)
Now, however, interactive social media platforms are being targeted by multiple public relation agencies as primary marketing channels. These disruptive business strategies highlight the accelerating pace of fashion production, where brands must negotiate consumer ennui driven by the immediacy of social media and fast fashion.
Instagram is redefining the fashion industry with its core strength in visual storytelling that has propelled it into the fashion forefront. Such a marketing strategy relies heavily on the following: Brand Identity, Community Engagement, Going Behind the Scenes and Monetizing It. By doing away with the six-month cycle of seasons, it has enabled Sabyasachi to provide a visual treat and retreat for his followers, currently at a whooping 2.2 million. With Instagram allowing its users to follow or track a hashtag, Sabyasachi has tried to leverage this by the aggressive use of hashtags in his posts. His target market has grown exponentially since he debuted his jewellery line exclusively on Instagram back in 2016 wherein the caption read “….launched democratically on Instagram for friends and fans of the brand worldwide, we invite you to share the experience”. From not being restricted to just potential buyers but also, to those who are passive witnesses to his work of art, it was a way to appeal to a larger, wider and more diverse age group.
His Instagram account, “sabyasachiofficial”, opens doors to an old-world nostalgia, one which is complemented by Sabyasachi’s signature staples. The mono-colour blocking technique, jigsaw puzzle concept of unveiling a larger image through smaller, multiple posts and the unconventional background score of old Bollywood tunes (like Chura Liya Hai Tumne) appeals to our auditory senses. His posts reveal the beautifully penned anecdotes accompanied by the breath-taking visuals that take you back in time to the back alleys of Kolkata or the bazaars of Baroda.
On a whole, it is the ‘creation of desire’ interwoven into his business that heightens the visual experience that iconoclast, Sabyasachi wishes to create by invoking an old world, regal charm. Nostalgia is his muse but his resume is underlined by his marketing genius. His debut collection, Kashgar Bazaar, witnessed models in large-framed spectacles carrying books on the ramp giving prominence to the Bengali bhadra (intellectual and well-mannered) aura. Continuing till this date, ‘intelligent fashion’ is now a persistent motif in every Sabyasachi deconstruction so much so that the Sabyasachi branding could be museum pieces telling an India story.
Donning the garb of the occasional business man, Sabyasachi specializes in a broad-spectrum approach. He ensures that he is deeply involved in all aspects of his fashion business from designing, sourcing, reviving artists and crafts on the fringes of fashion to designing comprehensive marketing and expansionary strategies. This strategy also involves celebrity endorsements, a mastery of the art of storytelling and a personal connection with customers. Research has revealed that a ‘tweet from a celebrity increases purchase intent by 2.7x as more than 50% of the Twitter users follow and engage with the accounts of their favorite celebrities’. This works wonders for him as mostly all celebrities act as Sabyasachi brand evangelists. Another study has revealed that ‘92% of the consumers want their brands to make ads that feel like a story’ which Sabyasachi exploits by invoking a feeling of nostalgia with every Instagram post.
Sabyasachi, who started his label in 2002 with a Rs. 20, 000 loan from his sister is now making an annual turnover of over Rs. 60 crores. However, what will be interesting is to see how his business and marketing strategies change as private equity investments and corporate funding succeed in revolutionizing the fashion industry. He credits his success to his constant endeavor to support the livelihoods of those he employs as well as capitalizing on traditional craft techniques among his bridal clientele. Disruptive fashion is his trademark because in an age where about 147000 pictures are uploaded to Facebook every 60 seconds and 70% of Instagram posts are ignored, Sabyasachi survives due to his engaging content. In conclusion, the following words of Sabyasachi leave us with a thought to ponder upon,
“The future of luxury is anything that’s time-bound and sensitive. A lot of us consume products but we feel a bit vacuous afterwards. You have to consume – otherwise, there is no economy – but [we should] consume knowing that somewhere else a child can go to school. It makes a world of difference.”