The two-day Hindustan Times Luxury Conference 2006 kicked off in Mumbai on Friday with Union Commerce Minister Kamal Nath giving positive signs of the growth of the industry. The minister indicated that India’s customs duties would soon move to ASEAN levels and India could see a transformation in the next couple of months. He also said that India should take advantage of the trade agreements signed with Sri Lanka, ASEAN, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
He further said, “Luxury brands do not pose any such threat to small neighbourhood retailers. You will not have to wait for long to see this happen.”
According to Kamal Nath, it should be possible to create more jobs and employment opportunities in the country through indigenously designed luxury products. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) should get involved in this endeavour of wealth creation along with India’s traditional sectors, he stressed, adding, “Designed-in-India should stand side by side Made-in-India and Served-from-India.”
The market for high-end clothing in India is estimated at Rs 1,000 crore, while that for accessories – including cosmetics, costume jewellery and footwear – is another Rs 1,000 crore. If you add other luxury products – furniture, appliances, and premium models in all product lines – this will amount to over Rs 10,000 crore. This is growing steadily at 20 per cent. “But the luxury market has the potential to grow at 50 per cent, providing more jobs and employment. It is a market waiting for a bigger boom,” Nath asserted.
The sessions were dominated by two giants in the luxury business – Robert Polet, President and CEO of the Gucci Group, and PRS Oberoi, Chairman and CEO of the Oberoi Group. While Polet spoke about managing a portfolio of brands, Oberoi spoke on ‘Luxury of today – necessity of tomorrow?’
According to Oberoi, “Luxury is not about extravagance as much as it is about providing good service and customer satisfaction. The word luxury and its exclusivity is considerably diluted when used indiscriminately. Today, the demand for luxury is universal and is growing.”
With luxury gaining ground, what has also emerged is a need for self-expression and individuality. Today’s customer doesn’t patronise luxury brands for status but for experience. Oberoi maintained that in the service industry, luxury became meaningless if it did not bring with it customer satisfaction.
“The challenge, as I see it for the hotel industry, is to be able to anticipate these changes and have the ability to meet new demands in as short a time as is possible,” he said, at the same time cautioning that change and innovation must not be at the cost of compromising brands.
Earlier, Gucci’s Polet spoke about the brand being more important than the designer. “The Gucci Group will be in India 80 years from now, when we as individuals will not be,” he said. He emphasised that Gucci was not in the business of selling just handbags and shoes. “We’re in the business of selling dreams,” he said. People bought luxury brands for ‘self esteem, for self actualisation’, he said, “it’s because they are in love with the brand.”
Gucci is the mother brand for Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, Sergio Rossi, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Boucheron and jewellery, Bedat & Co.
The Hindustan Times Luxury Conference has been organised in association with FICCI and NID. Shobhana Bhartia, Vice-Chairperson and Editorial Director, Hindustan Times, while welcoming the delegates at the conference said, “Luxury and India have long been inextricably linked. India is too big a country to blindly follow anybody.” Appealing to the large contingent of foreign delegates Bhartia said, “Don’t just look at us as a market but teach us how to market us.”