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Indian Fashion Designers Are Hitting The U.S. Market with Mixed Results: Learn How to Navigate The Land of Opportunity

posted Oct 23, 2010, 1:49 AM by Diana Rohini LaVigne   [ updated Oct 23, 2010, 1:51 AM ]

By Diana Rohini La Vigne


With Americans being so thirsty for cutting edge fashions, it’s no miracle that there has been a huge movement by Indian designers to market their collections in the golden land of opportunity, America.  But before jumping onto the fast moving track towards the states, take stock of the lessons learned from designers about retailing in America. 


Indian vs. America: What’s The Difference?

The world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, who according to The Economic Times has started preliminary groundwork on possibly entering the Indian market, regularly supplies kameez tops in all their major United States markets. But don’t mistake this for a sign that all Indian fashions will fly off the shelf in the United States. There are distinct differences between American and Indian consumers.  Some designers report minimal differences while others develop completely different lines to cater to the U.S. consumer. 


Puneet Nanda of Satya Paul, whose label include designs for top Indian Soap "Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin” explains,” In India, The saree still holds sway over most of the Indian sensibilities.  TheU.S., of course, opens options for creating more in silhouettes in Indo-Westerns or fusion.  A western silhouette with the Indian sensibility intact is what is needed here.  Comparisons between the two markets would not be fair.  While India is the home base and offers limitless possibilities, the United States still has to be worked upon to achieve those volumes.”


Some fashion designers like Sheela Mehrotra-Joshi of Omaskas doesn’t alter their collections according to geography.  Omaskas makes the same collection for the U.S. market, the European market and the Indian market. They stay consistent with one line worldwide and have been very successful with their efforts.  And still others find success in creating an entirely different line for American consumers like Kaneesha.

Fashion Designer, Nehal Amin of Kaneesha adds, “In the U.S., color choice changes with the season and in India, due to same climate around the year, more importance is given to the type of cloth used. The American market demands more party and bridal wear.  The new American generation wants bold and modern cuts with traditional embroidery. In India, salwar kameezes and sarees are worn daily so the demand is high. We produce completely different line for each market.”

“There are definitely some advantages to having different product lines for different markets, but the danger is diluting your efforts and your brand.” Warns Mehrotra-Joshi. ”Currently, I don’t plan on producing different lines for the United States.  My client base is best described as global chic, and because of this, we want to maintain a consistent brand identity in all markets… no matter where customers buy one of my designs, they know exactly what they are getting.”


Focus is important but each designer takes a slightly different path to achieving success in the states.


The American Market’s Obstacles

The American market comes with a host of challenges that designers are forced to navigate in order to triumph. But the most unscrupulous obstacle is clearly the high level of competition. The U.S. fashion industry isn’t as easy as it might appear.


“The biggest challenge is distinguishing yourself from the competition – carving out a niche for yourself.  Almost every segment of the industry in the U.S. is saturated and all the designers and companies are making a lot of noise with publicity and ad campaigns. “, states Omaskas Founder.

Admin agrees, “The U.S. is very competitive and it was tough gaining a respectable name as exclusive Indian Fashion boutique.  However, I set myself apart by developing my own brand and style, uniquely Kaneesha.  I realized that the combination of western and ethnic Indian look with the frequent introduction of new designs would fetch me quick success.  I was right!”

“New market dynamics always present new challenges which give ride to future evolution of design elements.  There are no obstacles as such. It is just a matter of evolving and adapting design sensibilities to suit the needs of a specific target segment. States Nanda,


How to avoid some of these pitfalls can seem simple but are critical to the end results. Mehrotra-Joshi suggests to forget about trying to be everything to everybody. Focus on building a very loyal client base through highly targeted marketing and branding campaigns that focuses only on that specific customer profile. A focused marketing effort is one way to make it through to the America market.  While the Kaneesha collection stays competitive through offering unique designs tailored to that consumer’s market but maintains their signature style. They both focus on branding their collections in slightly different ways.


Successes and Setbacks in America

Success is the ultimate goal of any industry but its not all gold at the end of this rainbow as designer Neelima Gogumalla of Neel Gagan will attest.  Starting her business in 1996, she was forced to shut the doors of her fashion design company recently.


Gagan shares, “The U.S. market was not a challenge in the negative sense. Developing and launching the business was very encouraging and exciting. I did not have a physical store, or employees. It was an experiment which worked very well to identify and target a niche market. I did not see any pitfalls, only opportunities. Unfortunately, I did not have the money or manpower to take advantages of those opportunities. And after 8 years of nickel and diming it, I am burned out and so I have closed up shop in America.”


But victory is scored by Omaskas stating that the U.S. market has been very successful for them and now accounts for over 95% of their total income. 


“The secret to our success has always been an obsession with identifying and delivering on customer needs.” Says Mehrotra-Joshi, “Our U.S. expansion efforts are focused on increasing our product exposure, by expanding distribution through larger, well-established retail channels.”

With a similar success story, Nanda Expresses, “We retail in boutique stores in the United States. Hence the market share can’t be exactly pinned upon.  The (United States) response is and has been tremendous!! The designs are received very well!”


“Be well funded, have trust-worthy and experienced partners and build a good advisory committee with expertise in eCommerce, fashion merchandizing and online and traditional marketing is key.” Offers Gagan. 


Gagan learned some very hard lessons, being forced to close her business, but she hopes her story will help steer other young, aspiring designers away from the potential pitfalls of retailing overseas.  She wants to share her experiences, however painful, in order to give back some of the important knowledge she gained over the past 9 years.


Outlook for Fashion Designers in the United States

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational OutlookHandbook, 2004-05, overall employment of designers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2012 as the economy expands and consumers, businesses, and manufacturers continue to rely on the services provided by designers. However, designers are expected to face keen competition for available positions. A large number of talented people are attracted to becoming a designer. The tides are changing. Those with little or no formal education in design will find it more and more difficult to establish and maintain a career as a fashion designer. Demand for fashion designers should remain strong, because many consumers continue to seek new fashions and fresh styles of apparel. Employment growth for fashion designers will be slowed, however, by declines in the apparel manufacturing industries.  Today, there are over 15,000 fashion designers in America so you have plenty of countrymen competition as well as local American competition in the market.**


In the end, it is survival of the fittest.  The most talented, focused and driven aspiring fashion designers will weave their way through the American maze and find their end reward.  Maybe an Indian Hugo Boss is just around the corner and he might just be setting his sites on the American dream too!