Sleepwear constitutes about 20% of lingerie industry
Designer Suman Nathwani talks about her journey of opening a sleepwear label in India at a time when it was considered taboo, to current times when the brand has spread to all the major cities of India and diversified into resortwear as well, in an interview with Paulami Chatterjee.
Fibre2Fashion: From being someone who had no formal education in fashion to becoming a renowned designer in luxury nightwear, what has your journey been like?
It’s a story that I have told over the years. I belonged to a family of entrepreneurs and had dreams of being just like my father. So, when I found my calling, I decided to act on it. The journey started when my older cousin was getting married and we had gone looking for nightwear for her but couldn’t find anything that defined my thought process. That’s when I told her: you can’t buy this. I will make something for you and that’s how it started. I drew my inspiration initially from the Mills & Boon romance novels, and eventually the designing process became me.
F2F: What kind of market study did you carry out? What were your conclusions?
I was never formally trained, and at the time that I started I was just 18 years old. The only market study I did at that time was trying to shop for my cousin’s trousseau and not being able to find anything worth the name. So, I decided to make some (for her). In today’s terms, I would say that I did some primary research at the time, identified a vacuum in the market, and simply acted on it.
F2F: What is the brand’s retail presence today?
The brand is present in all major cities. We are trying to make it more widely available.
F2F: Do you manufacture through vendors?
We manufacture on our own. We don’t have vendors for producing our designs. We outsource only the embroidery, though the development for that happens in-house.
F2F: Internationally, the sleepwear segment is diversifying keeping utility in mind, giving rise to categories such as bridal sleepwear—right from bachelorettes, his and her collections to lingerie-based sleepwear, travel sleepwear, restorative sleepwear, etc. Is lingerie sleepwear the only category that excites you, or do you want to diversify?
Very few are aware that all the categories you have mentioned are something I have been creating for over two decades now. Yes, we have already diversified into resortwear. That division is currently being headed by my daughter.
F2F: Tell us about the resortwear collection. Is it also under the Suman Nathwani label?
Yes, it is under the label of Suman Nathwani. We launched our resort label in 2014, and since then there has been no looking back. In the resortwear’s pret section, we try to use sustainable fabrics. We have three sections in resortwear—holidaywear or pret, occasionwear or couture, and Indianwear for destination weddings.
F2F: What is your design strategy? What is the staple in your collections?
I am a very instinctive designer, although a really organised one. Everything is played out, planned and sampled before being put into production. The staple is my craft- either a delicate lace or a hand embroidered embellishment. The best fabrics to go with are silk satins, satins, tulle and chiffon.
F2F: From where do you source the fabrics and trims for your collections?
I get the fabrics custom woven, though the trims are procured from all over the world.
F2F: How big is your loyal customer base? What percentage of them are men / women / teens?
About 90 per cent of my customers are ones who have been with me since the inception of my journey. Today, I proudly say that I am dealing with the third generation of women from a family. Women make 80 per cent of them; teens and men make the remaining 20 per cent.
F2F: What are the priorities of customers while making decisions?
Fabric, colour, fit, styling, pricing and brand name—in that order.
F2F: Which are your biggest markets in India? What about tier 2 and 3 towns?
Currently, my products are sold all over the country, whether it is tier 1 or 2. The only difference is that tier 1 is comparatively more price-sensitive as it has more options available.
F2F: What percentage of your sales is through brick and mortar and what through e-commerce?
Our maximum sale till date has been through brick and mortar. My nightwear is comparatively expensive for a simple reason—fit, finish and quality that I try to give in each piece. We don’t sell through our website, but that’s something that’s in the pipeline.
F2F: How easy is it to get to the point where you get to dress celebs or even design for a movie?
It’s quite tricky to dress celebrities—as you would want to make them look sexy and glamorous, but at the same time keep it appropriate with the audience. I would say: visualize the story before you design for the role.
F2F: How much yearly budget do you earmark for advertising and promotions?
We keep about 30 per cent of the turnover aside as the marketing budget. We carry out branding through social media, trade shows and exhibitions.
F2F: What are the upcoming trends in luxury sleepwear?
The latest trend in the sleepwear market is to maintain sexiness with simplicity. The segment makes up just about 20 per cent of the lingerie industry. Thus, it has huge potential to grow.
F2F: How is the sleepwear category expected to pan out as a lot of these wears are transcending / overlapping their role with the trend of day-to-night wear or supperto- dinner, and sleepwear is increasingly taking over?
It’s just the beginning. India is finally becoming one of the fashion powers of the world. Slowly, there is more acceptance for loungewear.
F2F: What steps do you take in terms of sustainability?
First, all waste fabrics are converted into bags from our end for consumers. Not only that, but we also ensure that we maintain healthy working habits and not strain our employees. We try and reuse a lot of our materials too.
F2F: How do you divide your time as a designer and being a counsellor for women mastectomy patients at TATA Memorial Centre?
Time is something that needs to be managed. It’s always a juggle, but that’s one of the most satisfying things. Helping women and empowering them is not a problem. The most satisfying thing about being a designer is seeing customers once again, and that too happy customers.
F2F: Which patterns and colours will dominate SS2020?
The silhouette with plunging necklines and high slits is currently the most favourite. Bottle green, blacks and pastel shades will dominate the colour story for 2020.
F2F: Tell us a bit about your latest collection.
The next collection is called the Garden of Eden. It’s about the seductress eve and how she owned herself. The collection is sexy, bold and elegant. (PC)