Meha Bhargava
Guest Article

The tussle between accessibility and exclusivity

Our guest author analyses the Indian fashion market in the wake of Aditya Birla Group's acquisition of designer labels like Tarun Tahiliani and Sabyasachi.

Did Sabyasachi and Tarun Tahiliani become more accessible and affordable?

This would have been the first thing to come to the minds of young brides who came across the news of Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail (ABFRL) acquiring yet another label to its already existing partnership with designer duo Shantanu & Nikhil (S&N). The answer is Yes and No. The move does have its pros and cons, and it may or may not affect the modern-day brides, the avid shoppers, etc.

As a wedding stylist and personal shopper, this news brings in mixed reactions and contrasting viewpoints. It’s quite early to say what it will mean for a modern-day consumer. The door is open for speculations and a whole lot of questions.

The acquisition, in my opinion, is an open contest between the high-end customers, a retail giant (in this case ABFRL) and the ultimate outcome. Remember Manish Arora’s spectacular downfall, or Label Ritu Kumar’s shift to an accessible high fashion brand, or how Anita Dongre chose to be attainable, exclusive and sustainable, all at once, with Anita Dongre, Grassroot and AND?

Time and time again, we have seen brands move away from their comfort zones and adopt a new approach, to either burn or flourish. Sabyasachi, in my opinion, is doing just that. From testing the waters, by supplying to multi-designer outlets, to announcing his presence in the fashion capital New York, the exceptionally talented designer was already broadening his horizons. Now, with this merger, it seems that Sabyasachi will not only be available to a worldwide audience, but also to the common man in India.

The merger, and what is in store for the modern-day consumer

Accessible or lacklustre

What it’ll do is to give the average Indian a chance to own a designer brand, subtly doing away with the glitz and glamour (as opposed to the cost of an actual piece at their flagship stores). Such a planned move does bring about unending speculation. Take, for instance, the designer duo S&N, whose brand was acquired roughly a year before Sabyasachi and Tarun Tahiliani. We have seen new stores booming with the introduction of their pret line.

The collection does have a strong sense of their aesthetics, but definitely lacks the sheen, owing to its price point. Since they opened their doors during the COVID pandemic, we are yet to see (its) success. As a wedding stylist, I would make a hard push for the brand. The customers are willing to buy S&N simply because of the brand name...

Brands/labels/designers such as S&N have an aspirational value attached to them. When you make it accessible to all, things can either backfire or work in your favour. Anita Dongre, Grassroot and AND are a perfect example of a well thought out business strategy.

More stores across the country

A significant endeavour behind ABFRL’s acquisition is to increase the reach of these brands. Therefore, we can expect a steep rise in the number of stores from these designers in the coming years. Tarun Tahiliani, Sabyasachi, and S&N will receive ABFRL investment.

But seeing a pioneering label in every high street and popular mall may work against brands exclusivity. Soon, anyone can reach for it and make a purchase. Once it becomes accessible to all, it is no longer a novelty piece. This could work against the whole idea of being aspirational.

The company’s press release states that the current aim is to improve and build more stores across the country. However, will these be easily accessible on platforms such as Myntra in the coming days?

Looking at the stupendous growth of the e-commerce sector, it will not be wrong to assume that premium brands may shift their focus to these sites to cater to a larger audience. There will be fewer exclusive lines by the fashion houses on such platforms.

Even though these renewed approaches will give the brand a new lease of life in Tier-II and Tier-III towns, which incidentally have robust purchasing power, it may take away the luxury element while making it more affordable. This may be a rational way, given the current economic situations, but it may impact the brand in the long run.

Too early to judge

As a wedding stylist, I cater to Indian families globally and work with the brides and their families, who aspire to don haute couture on the D-Day. I feel that pitching the same brand within different economic brackets removes the sheen and panache, while giving the average consumer an opportunity to own a piece of luxury for themselves.

It may be a win-win for the designers, but I believe it’s a waiting game to know for sure whether the game plan was a success, or not.

(The author is the Founder of Styl Inc., a one of a kind boutique-luxury styling service that deftly navigates the delicate art of wedding styling and shopping, image consultancy/personal styling and personal shopping.)