A New Wave of Corporatizing Fashion Brands

Recently, Reliance Brands Limited (RBL) announced a joint venture with a 60 per cent stake in Rahul Mishra, intending to create a new ready-to-wear brand.

The news compelled us to look back at other partnerships between creativity and commerce, fashion and business and see how profitable and lucrative the financial backing is.

Fashion house Anita Dongre was one of the first to receive financial backing in 2009 from Future Group and in 2013 from General Atlantic.

The year 2021 was a defining year for Indian luxury designers. It started with Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Limited (ABFRL) acquiring a 51 per cent stake in India’s most significant bridalwear brand Sabyasachi, for INR 398 crore. With the collaboration they aim to become the first global luxury house out of India.

Over the last decade, RBL and ABFRL have dominated luxury retail in India. Since its launch in 2007, RBL has brought leading international brands such as Kate Spade, Diesel, Superdry, Steve Madden and Tiffany & Co. to India. Meanwhile, ABFRL has a repertoire of leading brands such as Louis Philippe and Ted Baker, amongst others.

Indian retail giants are now tapping into the Indian wear market, particularly in bestselling categories, bridalwear and festive wear. These partnerships aim to speed up, scale up, nurture and organise brands by providing them with new supply chains, global outreach, financial skill sets, digital marketing abilities, and a depth of distribution.

RBL began by investing in Indian luxury brand Satya Paul and menswear ethnic label Raghavendra Rathore. Alongside, their coterie includes names like Anamika Khanna, Ritu Kumar, and more.

ABFRL’s foray into the ethnic wear business includes partnerships with Designers Shantanu & Nikhil, Tarun Tahiliani and Sabyasachi.

The dynamics of the Indian fashion industry has seen a rapid shift. With shopping behaviour changing, social media driving reshaping sales and the world generally becoming smaller, the convergence of these top retail businesses with aspirational designer brands has been vital to expanding the scope of fashion design.

The new investments in Indian brands and designers promise high-growth potential, even as the economy witnesses many changes. Partnerships have enabled the companies to grow even during the pandemic’s peak. Conglomerates initiate these strategic partnerships with clarity and a long-term view for growth.

Indian designer names and brands are still small players compared to global luxury brands. By corporatising Indian designers, they aim to not just scale the brands by helping them with their digital journeys, launching affordable pret lines, adding product categories, opening brick-and-mortar stores, and beginning new ventures; but to help them enter the international market and have a worldwide footprint.

With RBL’s 40% stake in homegrown designer label Manish Malhotra, the collaboration strives to expand MM Styles retail presence in India.

ABFRL got into a strategic alliance with designer Tarun Tahiliani, with a 33 per cent stake in the existing couture line and an 80 per cent stake in the newly launched contemporary men’s ethnic wear brand, Tasva. They recently partnered with House of Masaba to build a gen-next fashion and lifestyle business.

Despite divided opinions, commerce and creativity go hand-in-hand, which is precisely what these notable partnerships between conglomerates and designers prove.

RBL and ABFRL are now said to be on the way to becoming companies like LVMH and Kering. The major players in Indian luxury retail only want to get bigger in the lifestyle and apparel segment. While ABFRL is sticking to their niche and making luxury brands more accessible with pret lines, RBL is focusing on nurturing designers and taking Indian luxury international.

The battle between India’s two most giant conglomerates, Reliance Brands and Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail, continue to lead us into 2022 as they diversify their portfolio of homegrown fashion brands with joint ventures and partnerships.

The retail giants are on a consolidation spree on homegrown luxury brands. While we can’t predict the future, we notice a firm nod to the potential of the Indian design landscape moving ahead, and are excited to see what the future holds in the world of fashion and business.

“Due to the heating competition in the luxury pret and trousseau segment, there’s an opportunity for these designer brands to be acquired for INR 50Cr to INR 100Cr, in the next 12 months” — Amit Bhardwaj (Co-founder, 6Degree)

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Building the future of fashion & lifestyle retail.

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