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Why India needs its own ski wear

In an interview with Lounge, Narresh Kukreja of Shivan & Narresh talks about the importance of launching a ready-to-wear ski and après ski line during a pandemic

The collection starts from  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>11,950. 
The collection starts from 11,950.  (Company handout)

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Shivan & Narresh is on a mission to go international this year, and they have a product that might just help them reach there quickly. The luxury holiday brand has launched its first ready-to-wear ski and après ski line, Farrago.

Combining comfort, fashion and functionality, the capsule collection is inspired from the artistic quilts of Ralli, the traditional patchwork style of Jaisalmer.

We spoke with Narresh Kukreja, the brand’s creative director, to understand about the launch and the inspiration behind it. Edited excerpts:

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Co-founders Narresh Kukreja and Shivan Bhatiya.
Co-founders Narresh Kukreja and Shivan Bhatiya. (Company handout)

Ski wear in India... Why?

I know from an external point of view, it comes across that it's a very new thing that we're doing. But it was a pre-planned category to get into. It was pre-planned like 11 years ago (laughs). The reason to start a holiday brand was that we wanted to do something that we wish to do till the last day of our lives, and that’s travel. So we decided that if we have to pick up a category of clothing in fashion, it has to make people travel because that's one central theme for life.

When we started the brand over 10 years ago, we had decided on five animals to be part of our logo. Each represented a holiday lifestyle. Snail represents swim, which is swimwear. The second one is a peacock, which is resortwear; dolphin, cruise; elephant, safari; and the fifth one was a reindeer and it represented skiwear. So ski was always in the brand promise.

It's for sure one of the most challenging categories to do. Our initial idea was that the first five to seven years we will only focus on swim resort and cruise because these are our main categories—all related to summer holidays. But it actually took us an entire decade to really become a household name when it comes to swimwear in the country. So now we thought that this decade should be to fulfil our promise fully.

Who is your client?

Our target audience is the same whom we sell summer clothing to. There are essentially two types of holiday locations, either you go to a summer location or a winter. For winter holidays, we did not have an offering for the same client that we already served. So now with this collection, the brand has an entire offering for winter holidays. So whether you are going to Gulmarg or Switzerland or Austria or the French Alps, we have an offering. This is a very calculated move because we're essentially increasing the basket size of the brand and giving more reason for the same customer to shop with us.

The collection’s design inspiration is Rajasthan’s traditional quilt. How did that happen?

You know, most inspiration just comes from travel and art. In 2020, one of the only trips that we did was for my birthday. We had gone to Jaisalmer with a bunch of friends. So while there, I was clicking photos and came across a product where they just put patches of different leftover fabrics together and make it into a quilt. So that became an inspiration. And conceptually, the reason to pick it was that it was graphically so maximalist.

You are presenting the collection at a time when the world is again trapped inside... 

I think we have learnt a lot from the first year in terms of shaping our business strategy. As soon as the lockdown was lifted in 2020, sales were happening. There was so much pent up demand; it was phenomenal. It really gave us the insight that even when people are restricted to their homes, their bandwidth to absorb fashion and dreaming to travel is a lot more because they're only concentrating on their phones. So there is actually a lot brands can do to build a narrative and do storytelling to sell their designs. So even though there might be a lockdown now, releasing a collection or campaigns where you have storytelling is a fantastic time because conversions happen as people remember more.

How important is storytelling for you?

It's phenomenally important, especially if you're trying to sell a product category that's not really nascent to the land or culture that we reside in. We've witnessed this even with swimwear, you know, 10 years ago, when we started as a swimwear brand. India has never really had a “swim culture”. And we knew that to open a completely remote market, it would be a difficult task. And for the first few months of starting, we were trying to always position it as, “okay, this is a swimsuit and we do swimwear”. And while all that was fine, the great learning curve only came a year after starting the brand, where we realized that you need to sell the category not with the category, but with a lifestyle angle of a summer holiday, of the fact that a swimsuit is not just for the pool, but it can also be worn under a jacket, as a top, even with a sari. And this type of storytelling actually ended up being a big boon for the brand. So from early on we knew that the category of clothing we sell is not traditional; it’s not like selling Indian wedding clothes, where the customer doesn't need education. Our category needed a lot of education at different levels. So storytelling was the only way we could inform the customer.

And in terms of affordability... a lot of brands are now looking at building separate entities that are more accessible. Are you also considering?

For us, the journey has actually been an inverted pyramid. We started with a ready-to-buy category, so there was never a reason for us to further do more affordable. We have become a luxury ready-to-wear-brand. Now, we are going into couture.

What’s next?

To dominate the Indian market with this new category of clothing. We are in a spot where we're probably the only brand in the Indian fashion ecosystem that has a product ready to be scaled globally. So, this decade will be all about international expansion.

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