Indian luxury leaders evaluate the industry’s performance and evolution in the last decade

Pooja Patel

Indian luxury’s biggies reflect on the last decade; discuss trade secrets, lessons learnt and expectations from the government.
The Indian luxury market had to cope with many changes in the last decade, which significantly reshaped the industry. GST, new international brands, experiential luxury and growing demand for hand-made products challenged the market players to think out of the box to survive, sustain and succeed.
Keshav Prakash, Founder & Curator, The Vault

“Resilience is the one trait that people in the liquor industry must possess to navigate the ever-changing and short-sighted regulations”
“2019 saw the resurgence of Gin, and we also witnessed a good demand for luxury and ultra-premium labels. Young millennials drove the surge of ‘cool’ craft brands. There were a few hiccups though, mainly with the regulatory policies, which almost stunted the business in Maharashtra, in the first few months of the financial year of premium spirits’ imports. New Delhi’s year on year delay in announcing its excise policy is proving to be a burden for the small players. Given the circumstances, resilience is the one trait that people in the liquor industry must practise.
Nevertheless, if the Indian government becomes inclusive in policymaking, and engages with the industry before implementing changes, and ensure ease in doing business; it would be of much help. As for my business, I think we will continue to stay ahead of market trends and constantly look out for craft spirits, which have made an impression globally. We aim to build the culture of fine spirits appreciation by providing access to the best of world’s spirits to a select audience in India.”
Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla of Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla
“We are bringing international luxury to India. It’s time to take Indian luxury to the world”
“2019 has been challenging because of the slowdown in the economy. Tweaking your expression, introducing new product lines at affordable price points, and, above all, continuing to create fabulous ensembles is what sets apart those who continue to stay on top of their game, no matter the conditions in the market. We believe in being dynamic, in constant artistic growth, in being true to our aesthetics and design philosophy and open to playing with different design expressions.
We are passionate about and hungry to work in every increasing circles. This means making the House of Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla a global player across verticals. Diversifying into new areas including accessories, expanding our fashion labels to incorporate a wider design expression that welcomes a whole new demographic…We believe that India must become the birthplace of original design, exceptional quality and ethical practises.
However, we see a lack of investment from the private and public sectors as the biggest weakness. No label can grow to its optimal level domestically or across the globe without investment. There also needs to be a zero-tolerance policy to plagiarism. We saw a rise and rise of the rip-off merchants last decade. The government can do so much to support the fashion industry through policy change. Reduce prohibitive duties and taxes to fuel, both, production and demand. Allocate physical resources like land to empower crafts people.
It is also time for India’s corporate and private sector to help put Design India on the global map through investments. We are bringing international luxury to India. It’s time to take Indian luxury to the world.”
Ashiesh Shah, Principal Architect, Ashiesh Shah Architecture + Design

“The made in India tag now stands for high quality and good design”
“The Design and décor industry in 2019 has been phenomenal. There are more platforms and avenues than ever before for designers to showcase their material. Genuine patrons are encouraging designers to experiment. Award ceremonies dedicated to arts and crafts have also multiplied.
The downside is that India continues to ape the West despite having immense talent and a treasure trove of original ideas. We often consider Western design as a benchmark. It is necessary to change our collective mindset.
Reflecting on the last decade, I think that India’s design exhibitions and fairs have improved a lot. When we launched Decode, we brought together India’s brightest talents and design companies under one roof; and ever since the design fairs have multiplied. With each passing year, they are becoming bigger and better, showcasing pieces from the most renowned artists in the country to crafts from the remotest villages.
Our business goals here at the atelier are to continue to work with craftsmen, to push boundaries and resurrect the country’s dying crafts. The made in India tag now stands for high quality and good design, and I would like it to gain more clout and respect in the coming years. This would be easier to achieve if the government relaxes the taxes on working with Indian crafts. It will also encourage us to continue to seek out new crafts. More importantly, it will greatly benefit the craftsmen, encouraging them to take on more work and innovate.”
Abha Narain Lambah, Conservation Architect & Principal, Abha Narain Lambah Associates
“In lieu of financial downsizing, many corporate and business houses have put their design-related projects on hold”
“The industry is more acutely aware of sustainability today more than ever before. Therefore, designers, both, in fashion and décor spaces have imbibed sustainable materials and design in their work. In 2009, the government for the first time, took on outside consultants to develop a management plan for UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We were appointed by the Archaeological Survey of India to advise on Ajanta caves. This created an awareness within the government that specialist professional agencies can be a value-addition to the heritage sector. In the last decade, we saw many states engage professional firms to prepare tourism plans, museum redesign projects and advise on urban planning projects.
The challenge has been the economic slowdown. In lieu of financial downsizing, many corporate and business houses have put design-related projects on hold. Architectural and interior practices are also facing the brunt. Nevertheless, an increased investment in infrastructure and urban projects by the government has proved to be a boon.
We, as an architectural atelier will continue to work in a specialised niche of heritage conservation, which is a labour-intensive, painstaking process. We do not want to compromise on quality to meet fiscal targets. We are proud of being a small atelier that works on great projects. I hope that in the coming years, more support comes in from the government for heritage conservation; not just the monumental kind, but urban heritage, non-monumental heritage and privately owned historic stock and rural heritage.”
Gauri Devidayal, Director, Food Matters India Pvt Ltd

“I want Mumbai to become a global culinary destination”
“This year has definitely been challenging for the restaurant industry. There has been a lot of volatility due to regulatory changes and disruption caused by the delivery and cloud kitchen sector and related discounts offered by them. However, new restaurants continue to open and I’m overall very positive about the future of the F&B business in India. Indian chefs, restaurants in India, Indian cuisine, etc are all making it big on the global map and getting the recognition they truly deserve. India is also a very attractive destination for many international chefs. We see more exciting experiences being presented locally.
Uncertainty over regulations is one of the biggest challenges. Second is GST. It affected many restaurants that were about to open. Having said that, F&B industry in India has immense potential to grow. As the industry is still at its nascent stage, there is immense room to experiment and innovate. I would like to see the industry’s level of quality grow than its numbers.
I hope and my biggest wish is to see Mumbai on the global culinary map. I want to see the city become a culinary destination. There are several things the government can do to help in making this a reality; from giving 24-hour licenses to liberalising import duties (currently 160 per cent for imported wines and spirits) and consolidating the licensing process.”
Biren Vaidya, Managing Director, Rose Group of Companies

“The jewellery industry needs to shift from being possession-oriented to experience-oriented”
“India is one of the world’s largest jewellery consuming nations. Both, domestic and international brands are vying for a share of this burgeoning market. While the demand has always remained steady, the brands today, in the internet age, must keep up with the latest trends and designs to succeed.
Over the last decade, the entire luxury landscape evolved and changed. Millennials and baby boomers have become a force to reckon with, changing the way the brands position themselves. Storytelling is at the core. Brands today are creating younger, edgier designs for everyday use. Wedding jewellery still dominates the market, amounting to 65 per cent of total sales. The rest is dominated by everyday jewellery.
Jewellers today are not just competing with each other but also with automobile, travel and watch industries, as experience-seeking millennials want to do a lot more with their money.
For the next few years, my company will focus on rare and one-of-a-kind heirloom pieces. A strategic shift in marketing techniques to cater to the younger generation is on the anvil. To survive and succeed in this market our industry, as a whole, should become experience-oriented.”
Dinaz Madhukar, Executive Vice President, DLF Luxury, Retail & Hospitality

“The growing power of social media in the age of ‘the young’ is pushing luxury brands to rethink their marketing and product mixes”
“India’s retail sector has been on the road to success for some time now, and even in 2019, our global brands scored some of the best growth numbers in the last three years. The retail space is growing at a very steady pace. Thanks to the policy changes across the political, social and economic environment, we have seen a renewed interest from major global brands in coming to India. The luxury retail environment today is way more dynamic than it used to be.
A new set of young, affluent and discerning consumers are not just looking for great products, they also want to know what values does the brand stand for and how conscientious it is. They want to know the entire story. Thanks to the rapid socio-economic changes the world over, the country is fast becoming the preferred market for international luxury brands.
Until a few years ago, the consumer was more inclined to monograms, but today, the same customer is demanding in-depth luxury. A constant integration of social media with technology and digitisation is paving the way for luxury brands to woo and leverage the new-age affluent millennials. The growing power of social media in the age of ‘the young’ is pushing luxury brands to rethink their marketing and product mixes. The next big advent is that of the socially conscientious luxury brands, case in point – Chanel. A brand that has eschewed the exotic leathers is now re-strategising on socially conscientious ecological luxury. These divergent eco-friendly luxury giants are finding great followers amongst the conscientious young purveyors of luxury.
While a lot of policies were introduced in the last decade, by and large, they were all positive in their outcomes, given that these changes harboured in a steady economy. The luxury retail industry is integrating the old with the new and keeping it relevant for the consumers of today.”
Kapil Chopra, Founder & CEO, The Postcard Hotel
“The NITI Aayog should introduce more tourist-friendly policies, like it did last year, to help the hospitality industry grow”
“The hospitality business this year benefitted a lot, thanks to the slashed GST rates; from 28 per cent to 18 per cent, making hotel stays 10 per cent cheaper, thus attracting more business. The hospitality business overall has been done well in 2019, though Delhi has been in troubled waters due to air pollution.
Since early 2018, consumers have been moving towards experiential luxury, and this year, a lot more happened in that space. This segment had a phenomenal 2019. The economic slowdown has not really affected my business and 2020 is looking even better.
The biggest challenge though, for this sector has been the tourism policies that are not constant. We need more tourism-friendly policies. What NITI Aayog has done recently with the Andamans and Nicobar Islands and Lakshwadeep, where the government invited hoteliers to setup hotels to boom eco-tourism, is the kind of initiative that would help the hospitality industry. I think more such business-friendly policies by NITI Aayog should be introduced. The way Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog, understands tourism, no one else does. I think boosting tourism is the easiest way to add to the GDP.”
Mira Kulkarni, Chief Managing Director, Forest Essentials India

“The clean beauty movement has gained momentum. It propels the idea that skincare products should be non-toxic and unadulterated”
“2019 saw a significant boom in the beauty industry owing to the growing awareness and exposure to global trends, rising disposable incomes and a shift towards a more sustainable lifestyle. The industry has also seen unique skincare regimens and innovative beauty tools, which customers are wanting to try out. The market has also inclined towards e-commerce.
The clean beauty movement has gained momentum too. It propels the idea that skincare products should be non-toxic and unadulterated, without the use of ingredients such as parabens, sulphates, chemical sunscreens, and synthetic fragrance. The core principles of green beauty are the use of natural ingredients and reduced carbon footprints.
Our vision is to see Ayurveda become a mainstream science. It should not only be based on old texts and folklores but also be given a modern context with global standards and policies. Our goal in the next ten years is to take luxury Ayurveda to the world. I think the government should set higher quality standards and higher barriers for testing, Q.C and formulations, which will earn serious players international credibility.”
Charles Frump, Managing Director, Volvo India
“We aspire to become a climate-neutral company by 2040”
“If you ignore the last 15 months, the Indian automobile industry has done well in the last decade. At Volvo Cars, we recorded growth every year since our inception in the country. Most automakers (including Volvo) started local assembly of cars, which showed a decent demand in the Indian market. The buyers have also changed over the years. They understand the importance of safety, comfort, technology, design and are willing to embrace companies with purpose.
2019, however, was tough. Car sales have declined as buyers are postponing the purchase due to the weak market sentiment and the ongoing shift to BS-VI emission norms. But we expect sales to pick up next year as BS-VI norms will be implemented across the country on April 1 and the liquidity scenario will improve. Looking forward, we aspire to become a climate-neutral company by 2040. We are happy with BEVs and the government’s ambition of an ‘electrified future’. I hope that the policy is continued in the long run. It would be great if plug-in Hybrid technology gets incentives from the Centre, as this technology does not depend on public infrastructure and greatly benefits the environment.”

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