How Ritu Kumar Made Her Brand Accessible To Youngsters With Label Ritu Kumar
After decades of revivalism, countless seasons on the runways and unforgettable trend-setting statements, Ritu Kumar is still set on fashion domination. Almost 20 years into the new millennium, the Padma Shri awardee finds her pride of place in the wardrobes of not just the young who live on bite-sized, Insta-friendly fashion notes, but the style-wise as well who like to have fun with fashion, with a contemporary aesthetic that’s firmly rooted in the sartorial legacy of the parent brand. From studying the demanding business dynamics of the industry to revamping her youngest brand, Label Ritu Kumar, the veteran is creating garments that are as international in their visual appeal as they are Indian in their make.
Crafting everyday luxury
Having established a strong textile aesthetic with her brand and name in the 1960s, her endeavour years later — a decade ago — was to see if it could travel to the Gen Next and their lifestyle. “The younger generation had more or less stopped wearing saris, at least in the day time. Although our craft received a lot of appreciation, we realised that we had to make our brand more accessible to the millennials and not restrict ourselves to the bridal segment. Hence, slowly we experimented with fabrics, jerseys and textures. Cutting and stitching modern silhouettes, we introduced specialised fabrics through trial and error,” says Kumar — adding that they continue to experiment.
An exciting journey
It has been a learning process, Kumar points out. “We made many mistakes but each of them taught us something, and we found solutions. For instance, we did veer towards getting completely western for a while. But that did not suit our customers and we realised that climatically, lycra and synthetics don’t work here. They were not natural and were not part of the ethos of the company. We had to create silhouettes which were our own and which worked with our climate, but at the same time weren’t restricted to a certain age group or occasions. Our target audience is increasing. Though I have women in their 70s who wear our tops with jeans when they are travelling, my real target clientele is the young, Internet-savvy crowd.”
Kumar accepts that standing out in a sea of innovative brands is indeed difficult. “It is a very competitive environment, but I think we are keeping our heads well above water. We are a far more indigenous, organically evolved brand which comes from India.”
While globalisation came with its pros and cons, an accessible and comfortable shopping environment is one of the good things it brought along with it and Kumar tapped this opportunity by finding and propping Label in a well-curated environment — Palladium. “People find it easier to step into a mall where they can explore multiple shopping options as opposed to visiting an independent store as a destination. We do have stand-alone stores for more exclusive brands, but people come there for a specific reason and it is not that casual.”
With a democratic design philosophy, Label focuses on the quality of the fabrics and getting younger minds into the collections. The necessity to be fresh does not wash away the desire to revisit the grassroots. Kumar is often described as the torchbearer of the revival movement and she lives up to the title whether the results are commercially viable or otherwise. Talking about her other labels, she says “We did a major revival in Benares which has been successful not so much in quantity but in reestablishing an old aesthetic. It is the nature of the beast — Benarasi saris are the highest form of couture you can get in India. They are one-of-a-kind masterpieces; they do not tend to be produced in large numbers and they shouldn’t because the master weavers weave them and there are not that many left. We are now working on an Ikat revival which is coming in another year.”
Notes and anecdotes
One of her many firsts, she reminisces about hand-block printing at Srirampur. “Every time I go into a textile area, it is an adventure and a discovery. India has so many crafts and textiles that we are spoilt for choice!”
While things are beginning to look international for Label, it is also entering smaller cities and doing collaborations. And Kumar is also busy with her upcoming project — a travel book on textiles, which will also contain paintings created by the designer herself, reflective of places she has travelled to.