When couture brand Jade by Monica & Karishma opened its first flagship store in Los Angeles early April, the founders did not expect the opening weekend to be as busy as it was.
“We had about 40 bridal appointments whom we consulted virtually while the in-store team helped them with their styling and fittings,” says Monica Shah, co-founder of the brand.
Designer Payal Singhal, on the other hand, had some 200-odd customers show up at her two-day trunk show in New York (that coincided with the first fully-open weekend in the city). Following this, she hosted another trunk show in New Jersey, followed by similar events in California and Chicago. Anita Dongre, who opened a flagship store in New York in 2018, has been fully booked with appointments since March, claims the House of Anita Dongre Limited’s business head Yash Dongre.
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NRI brides, who pre-pandemic, would typically travel to India for their trousseau shopping, have always been important for India's bridal designers. When covid-19 and the ensuing lockdowns rendered this impossible, it was a severe blow for the brands. “We have always had an international clientele, mostly from the US. The largest cohort comes from New York and California. The pandemic definitely affected orders when the world went into lockdown,” admits Shah.
Singhal reveals that NRI brides from the US, the UK, Canada and Australia constitute about 30-40% of her client base. “Before the pandemic, we hosted our travelling trunk shows across the world annually. This is our first series of shows in two-and-a-half years,” she says. “It’s not just about the immediate sales at the event. These trunk shows and facetime with patrons also enable brand building. After meeting the designer or seeing the collection in person, clients become more confident about returning to our local partners to shop from us in the future too.”
The online versus offline battle
One of the biggest shifts in retail in the pandemic era has been the rise of online shopping. So, if a bridal lehenga is available at the click of a button, do the collections even need to travel overseas to woo potential customers? The need still exists because bridal wear and its hefty price tag warrants store visits, fittings and the overall tactile experience. “Offline retail has definitely taken a hit. Window shopping and browsing is low. A lot of the business has moved online not just due to access but safety as well,” says Singhal. “That said, brides still want to shop in-store. The ones who did buy their wedding outfits online are the ones who had absolutely no other option at the time.”
Take, for instance, San Francisco-based lawyer Anisha Mehta. Mehta made a trip to Jade's Los Angeles store to buy outfits for her wedding this November. “I was absolutely not comfortable buying my bridal outfits online. I wanted to touch the fabrics and try on looks before making my final decision.”
Revenge shopping on the rise?
Dongre, who admits that the New York store has seen dips and surges since last March, adds that it’s back to business now. “We’ve witnessed a rise in customers at the store since March. With restrictions lifted now, there has been a huge boom. Our staff is busy with back-to-back appointments,” he says. “People are out with a vengeance. Destination weddings are back again in that part of the world. People are shopping for their weddings in places like Caribbean Islands and Mexico.”
And since a quick shopping trip to India is not an option at the moment, there is an increasing demand for bridal and Indian occasion wear that can be bought locally. An increasing number of designers are exploring stockists in the West. Arpita Mehta, for example, says she started retailing from Kynah in Los Angeles since May last year.
Dongre believes this will be the way forward even in the post-pandemic world.
He says: “We have noticed that younger generations like millennials and Gen Z don’t necessarily want to fly back to India to shop. Often, their busy schedules don’t allow it. As time passes, more and more south Asians will want to shop top brands locally, in their country of residence.”