A profile of Sabyasachi Mukherjee
As the self-proclaimed, but undoubted king of the Indian bridal market, Sabyasachi Mukherjee has built a luxury brand that generated $35million in revenue in 2019, growing to $38million in 2020 despite the global pandemic.
When Aditya Birla Fashion announced a strategic partnership in 2021 with India’s largest designer brand, acquiring 51 per cent stake in the Sabyasachi brand for Rs 398 crore, it signalled a serious intention to expand the popular designer’s brand and accelerate its growth.
The ABFRL platform will complement brand Sabyasachi on its journey to becoming a global luxury house out of India, whilst adding weight to ABFRL’s growing ethnic wear portfolio. This will accelerate the company’s strategy to capture a large share of ethnic wear market through a comprehensive and attractive portfolio of brands, across key consumer segments, usage occasions and geographies. .
After two decades of hard work carefully building his business from scratch, Mukherjee’s label saw a +30% year on year growth (2018-19). He launched a fine jewellery collection in 2017, and is considering other expansions into fragrance, shoes, lingerie and even sustainable beauty. Currently the brand is active in categories such as apparel, accessories and jewellery and has a strong franchise in India, USA, UK and the Middle East. All products however will be focused on how they complement the stunning bridal wear that is already well established.
Sabyasachi was motivated by his upbringing to build his own business from an early age. Coming from a humble middle class family background he saw his family struggle after his father lost his job when Sabyasachi was 14. His intention was always to build a strong and stable business, that created employment for many people and engendered a sense of purpose and pride in being associated with it.
He graduated from the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi in 1999, and started his namesake label a few months later. He quickly drew attention at home and abroad with collections featuring quirky names. Even Selfridges and Browns in London began to stock his products, a remarkable feat for an unknown designer.
It was only a chance encounter with Suzy Menkes (editor at Vogue International) at the New York fashion show in 2009 that showed him the bigger opportunity actually lay within his own home country of India.
That revelation led to the growth of his business empire. He now employs the services of 4500 artisans across various states in India, making the beautiful handcrafted pieces that are his hallmark. Despite his design success, Mukherjee doesn’t see himself as a fashion designer, but as a textile designer. His core value remains quality craftsmanship.
The customers of his label are not generally driven by seasonal trends. They prefer instead the appeal of items that can become the heirlooms of the future. Importantly, they also celebrate their Indian-ness, not just for those who live in India itself but also throughout the global diaspora of about 30 million ex-pat Indians who thrive on nostalgia.
The attraction of the brand is such that despite prices generally too much of a stretch for many, the desire to be a ‘Sabyasachi bride’ will encourage even middle class brides to spend upwards of $10,000 for their wedding ensembles. The brand has been further elevated by the award winning reality TV show ‘Band Baajaa Bride’ which has helped to democratise high fashion.
The emphasis of all of Mukherjee’s pieces is on the exquisite craftsmanship and his love for Indian art and artisans. His style is considered a form of retro revivalist with a strong connection to his birthplace that he wears like a badge of honour.
Patience is at the heart of how Mukherjee has built his brand and business. Whilst new diffusion ranges are in planning now he has nurtured his brand very carefully first without risking any dilution or distractions. The newly agreed external funding will enable this next stage in the brand’s journey to expand upon the well-established brand values and qualities.
‘His success comes from his willingness to take risks. He’s not afraid. He’s never been afraid to fail’ stated Indian actress, Deepika Padukone, who wore Sabyasachi’s designs for her own wedding. In an astute move, he provided all of the clothes for the bridal party (bride, groom, sisters and other family members) knowing that the publicity would get his brand in front of millions.
Nurturing a luxury brand takes patience. It is clearly a long-term commitment, and he has stated that he has little time for short-term gains. ‘Raise funds when you are in the position to dictate terms. And don’t sell out’ is his best piece of advice for new entrepreneurs.
(source: BoF, 2019)
Update since writing:
Sabyasachi has recently opened a new flagship store in south Mumbai and extended his brand into high end jewellery. He is still primarily associated with bridalwear, but his popularity shows no sign of reducing.
Given the recent shift of numerous western luxury brands into high end jewellery that is comparable in design, impact, and quality, it remains to be seen whether Indian brides combine a Sabyasachi lehenga with a Cartier necklace and Louboutin shoes in future.
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