Notes from first row


Notes from first row

Radhika Dhawan,director of First Row,an online fashion portal and a tboutique is someone I first met in Ludhiana in the course of some fashion research. She was holding an exhibition of designer garments and I wanted to observe the buying behavior of the rich and flamboyant women of Punjab.

For Radhika,these tboutiques were learning investments into regional buying behavior to find the pulse of tastes and demands across India for her online venture,which she eventually set up. I asked the Mumbai-based Radhika to share her experiences on what she learnt from selling fashion in different cities of India. Here is what she says.

Notes from First Row

I have always had a fascination for the fashion industry which reflected in my academic and career choices. However,it all began with a little idea. When I was away in London,being a shopaholic,I loved to shop online. Books,shoes,clothes,concert tickets,accessories,everything that had an e-commerce option,I shopped for it. The fascination was with receiving the perfectly packaged boxes with ribbons on them,especially from Net-a-porter,Amazon and ASOS; they always put a smile on my face.

Often while shopping from my little dorm room or my Central London apartment,I would wonder why I couldn’t find any Indian designers online even though the Indian fashion scene booming. With an entrepreneurial background,I saw no reason why I couldn’t be the one to change that. It to me was,and still is,the perfect blend of fashion and business.

So with an understanding of the international and Indian fashion scenario,I decided to start my own e-commerce company in 2008,retailing multi-designers and catering primarily to women. In my understanding there were two major hurdles– people rarely bought designer wear,unless it was for an occasion,and it was going to be a challenge to break into a brick-and-mortar dominated market.

An important aspect of my marketing plan was the setting of pop-up stores across the country. I realised that to make fashion accessible and affordable to women who only thought of it as aspirational and to help them overcome the intimidation of walking into a designer store,it was important to give them the touch and the feel of the products.

So in the process of setting up the e-commerce venture,I first started First Row’s “Super Special Designer Sales” or the tBoutique – a travelling multi-designer boutique targeting metros and smaller metros. Though the clientele was very niche,I quickly learnt that while money was hardly a challenge in small towns,availability and choice certainly were.

With the tBoutique I covered cities like Ludhiana,Chandigarh,Ahmedabad,Pune,Hyderabad etc. It helped me gain a clear picture about my target consumer – their needs,wants,desires and shopping habits.

The style and fashion sense of these women varied vastly from state to state. Residents of Chandigarh had a sober taste compared to those of Ludhiana,who were more flamboyant. Ludhiana is about being loud and in your face,while Chandigarh is simpler. A frequent customer always sighed as she had to maintain two completely different wardrobes for the two cities.

While women in the north believe in ‘if you’ve got it flaunt it’! Women from the south and West prefer to keep it subtle. Pouring rain or blazing sun never hampers the spirit of the women in Ludhiana from sashaying down their BMWs in their sparkling diamonds and 4-inch Jimmy Choos,just to expand their wardrobe a bit more! They were very clear about being the fore-runners of fashion in their towns. Big names of the industry,spaghetti gowns,off shoulder dresses,snug mini skirt were their obvious choices. Even mother-in-laws walked in to buy elaborate and exposed gowns for their so called ‘bahus’. The demands for Gaurav Gupta,Tarun Tahiliani,Shantanu Nikhil were galore and Gauri Nainika,Mailini Ramani for day kitty parties.

Women from Hyderabad,Pune,Ahmedabad were ardent followers and buyers of big designer brands,their unspoken fashion rule was,‘keep it simple’! They preferred silk or cotton tunics,tops with minimal embellishments. Once in Hyderabad,a lady walked into the tBoutique wearing a simple outfit and a sober Prada bag and bought the simpler but elegant merchandise like Rajesh Pratap Singh and Raghavendra Rathore.

The tBoutique helped me map which designers worked better in which markets. No amount of market research could beat my hands-on experience. Using this offline sale module and the knowledge,today I have an insight that helps me in my online venture. I still continue with the tBoutiques,as I now know that the two are complimentary to each other and not competitive.