What corporate investment means for the Tarun Tahiliani label?

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Tarun Tahiliani

New Delhi– One of India’s pioneering labels Tarun Tahiliani will now be seen in every important mall and high street in the country as it becomes the latest Indian fashion label to receive investment from Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail.

This time last year, most fashion journalists were busy writing pieces on Tahiliani’s label celebrating its 25-year landmark. To that end the designer hosted an event at his state of the art Gurgaon factory taking guests around the label’s impressive archives. Tarun Tahiliani is the man who coined terms such as “India Modern” and “Concept Sari”. It was to be a year of celebration for one of India’s most prominent designers and the entire industry was waiting to celebrate with the bon-vivant. Then the pandemic hit.

Tahiliani pivoted to become the voice of fashion, talking about the issues that hit the industry. Now he hopes to be able to do more for craftsmen as things begin to open up. He is one of the few designers that has believed in nurturing talent — designers such as Amit Agarwal, Atsu and Vineet Bahl have worked in his studio before launching their own labels. At their shows you will always see Tahiliani to cheer them on. He is one of the founders of Ensemble — India’s first real multi brand fashion store that has encouraged and launched many Indian labels first opened its doors in 1987; Tahiliani has always believed in the India Story.

This week comes the news that after Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail (ABFRL) has invested in his company–they already own 51 per cent of the Shantanu and Nikhil label as well the Sabyasachi fashion empire. It seems that ABFRL is set to become the corporate backer of homegrown Indian fashion.

The conversation between them has been going on for two years. Says the fifty something designer who is a Wharton graduate, “I have long believed that Indian fashion has to go the corporate way because, unfortunately, barring very few people, it has stayed small.” There are only a handful of Indian fashion labels that can talk of a turnover over the Rs100 crore mark. One of the first companies to receive corporate investment was the House of Anita Dongre in 2013, when US private equity firm General Atlantic (the company also has an investment in New York brand Tory Burch) acquired a minority stake in her fashion company. Adds Tahiliani, “Anita Dongre has been at the forefront of this, which started the relationship between Indian fashion and the corporate world. I think it’s evident for all to see where she’s taken it. But being corporate requires economies of scale, distribution and a product that can reach more people, and I think yes, Indian fashion is ready for this big step. From my personal experience, I can tell you, I’m tired of running a business and simultaneously designing.”

Tarun Tahiliani’s partnership with ABFRL, is a twofold one, firstly the corporation has bought a 33 per cent share into Tahiliani’s existing label, which is mainly in the business of demi-couture, for Rs 67 crore. The two partners will also start a new entity that will focus on an affordable menswear label in which the corporate will own 80 per cent. The aim is to build Tarun Tahiliani into a Rs 500 crore company with a retail footprint of over 250 stores across India. “This allowed me to invest and hold a stake in the new venture while maintaining and having the ability to work on my luxury brand at my own pace. These are two different engine drivers and it made sense. I say massive investments because we are targeting to open 250 stores and the kind of backend/back office that would be needed is enormous. And, we did not want the luxury business to be holding that back.”

The second business would be more about a price conscious India proud menswear, even though the label has always been more a women’s wear brand. Explains the designer, “There is only one branded national player in the Indian ethnic men space at the moment, so this focus makes sense. Because of the pandemic, we ran late, so we decided to focus on menswear, although we might have done womenswear.” Tailoring has always been something of interest to this designer — he was one of the first to add a sartorial element to the sari, with his concept saris; and his menswear collections have always been well received.

It is interesting to note that when Tahiliani first started his label he was called the “Armani of India” because of his sense of finesse and elegance — and now with this ABFRL he could well be on his way to be India’s answer to Armani. Though the designer has never enjoyed these international comparisons, “Honestly, I have nothing to prove to anybody except myself that I can be a designer of relevance to Indians and their needs and a whole new thing about beautiful clothes and lightness,” says the designer.

If there is one Indian designer whose work deserves to be celebrated for his many contributions to the industry, then it has to be Tarun Tahiliani — this corporate backing will ensure Tahiliani’s vision will go to the next level.

The writer Sujata Assomull is an IANSlife columnist. Assomull is the author “100 Iconic Bollywood Costumes” and was the Founding Editor In Chief of Harper’s Bazaar, India. (IANS)

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