The most talked about topic across our industry, especially in India, in the recent past has been the H&M Designer Collaboration 2020. After all, this was a collaboration that has put Indian design on the world map, with ace designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee collaborating with H&M for a collection named “Wanderlust”. This is undoubtedly the kind of platform each of us aspires for and an event to be extremely proud of since we belong to the same industry.
While the H&M Designer Collaboration 2020 has had its fair share of limelight – both in a positive and somewhat negative manner – it has a lot that we can learn from. This is a masterclass in building an international audience and managing communication, especially for the fashion start-ups in the country. Before we get into the details of all the learnings in this collaboration, let us first understand what it is all about.
Fashion Collaborations – Best of both worlds
Honestly, it is the dream of every designer to have an exclusive audience who eagerly awaits their collection. This is what makes us get up every day and work hard on our ideas and collections. Each dress or accessory that we design represents us – be it in aesthetics, philosophy, or the theme. We all know the sweat and tears that go behind creating each design.
When we put our heart and soul into our creation, it is obvious to expect love and acceptance from our audience. And having an exclusive audience that waits for our latest collection is the ultimate goal. For those of us working in the luxury segment, this becomes even more important. After all, nothing speaks of luxury as exclusivity does.
Yet, this exclusivity comes with its own set of challenges. The most prominent one being the restricted audiences. Once our designs have the luxury or exclusive identity, we cannot expect to sell in bulk. It may sound counterintuitive, but as much as we want to have an exclusive collection, the lure of reaching out to a wider audience is always there.
This is where fashion collaborations come in. Over the past few years, fashion collaborations have been making news, and for good reasons. The concept of a fashion collaboration entails the coming together of a high street retailer like H&M, Zara, and others with a fashion designer to create an exclusive collection. These exclusive collections are available for a short duration.
These collaborations are advantageous for both the retailer and the designer. The retailer gets access to the exclusive clientele of the designer as well as their brand. The fashion designer on the other hand gets to interact with a much wider audience, without having to dilute their own brand. Plus, this is a great marketing advantage for both parties as these are limited collections and the event can be hyped up accordingly.
With both the high street retailers and designers realizing the potential of such collaborations, we are seeing more and more of these collaborations. Nowadays even the customers eagerly await these collaborations. The limited nature of these designs as well as the reduced price points make them an attractive proposition for customers across the globe.
The first H&M Collaboration with a noted designer happened way back in 2004. The first collaboration that the high street retailer had was with the legendary Karl Lagerfeld. The unique concept was such a hit that the merchandise was sold out within minutes of the collection launch. This is one trend that has been repeated year after year.
Over the years, H&M has collaborated with some iconic designers and their limited edition collections have always been a hit. These days it is an eagerly awaited event – first to find out which designer is tying up with the retail giant for collaboration and then the actual collection. Here are some of the successful H&M collaborations that have taken place over the years:
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These are only some of the names that have collaborated with the retailer. Each year saw people queuing outside the retailer’s outlets the night before the collections’ launch and the collections being sold out within a few minutes. An interesting trend with respect to these collaborations is that these dresses end up on the secondary market at a price anywhere between 1.5X to 5X their original price.
Sabyasachi x H&M – H&M Designer Collaboration 2020
With such expectations, it was a great achievement for the Indian Fashion Industry when the H&M Designer Collaboration 2020 was announced. For the first time, an Indian designer was going to be a part of the collaboration. For someone known for his bridal couture and his emphasis on traditional crafts of India, this was a great platform to take Indian designs and art to a global stage.
As expected, there was a lot of excitement about this partnership. Given that sarees are an integral part of Sabyasachi’s designs, it was no surprise he insisted on including the same in the collection. This was one of the biggest moments for the Indian fashion industry and we all celebrated the announcement. But then the pandemic struck and the launch of the collection had to be postponed. In fact, it was postponed multiple times. The H&M Designer Collaboration 2020 could finally see the light of the day on 12 August 2021.
The collection was a mix of womenswear, menswear, and accessories in being consistent with Sabyasachi’s brand. As expected the collection was lapped up by eager customers as soon as it was launched. However, it also received a bit of negative reception on social media. The designer was called out for collaborating with a fast-fashion brand when the USP of his brand has always been craftsmen and traditional art forms of India. Yet, this collection – Wanderlust – is a hit with the audiences who were looking to own a piece of Sabyasachi’s collection but were unable to do so earlier.
Lessons for Fashion Start-ups from the H&M Designer Collaboration 2020
For all of us trying to make a name for ourselves in the Indian fashion industry, the H&M Designer Collaboration 2020 has been a landmark event. Not only has it broadened the horizons available to us, but there have also been several important learnings. The lessons are summarized here for the start-ups looking to scale up and build their brand identities.
1. Creating a Brand Identity – We all work towards the same goal — building a brand that has an instant recall for the audience. Think Sabyasachi and the first thing that comes to mind are sarees and Indian fashion. It was this appeal and identity that made an international brand like H&M reach out to him. This is certainly easier said than done. But consistent hard work and diligently working towards building our brand identity can go a long way. As much as we want to have the success that Sabyasachi has today, we need to understand the amount of hard work we need to put in. Deliberate and consistent efforts can open a lot of doors for us by creating a unique identity for our brand.
2. Identifying Opportunities and Capitalizing on them – There are many times when we do not realize the opportunities that are right in front of us. For a designer like Sabyasachi, getting customers is not a problem. His brand has reached an aspirational status among consumers. It was very easy for him to ignore the opportunity to collaborate with a brand in a different market. But he realized the opportunity and made the most of it. While the collection still reflects the brand’s core philosophy, the H&M designer collaboration 2020 has opened up a completely new and much wider audience for his work.
3. Patience is Key – When working on something as big as an international collaboration, it is obvious to be excited and nervous. And when things do not go as planned, it can lead to a bigger disappointment. The same could have happened to Sabyasachi when the collection kept getting delayed due to the unprecedented situation of a global pandemic. But instead of being upset with the situation he could not change, he focussed on the positive. Waiting patiently for the collection to be launched gave him the much-needed exposure to the global market and clientele of H&M. It is a very important lesson, especially for start-ups. Things will not always go as per plan. More often than not, they will go in the exact opposite direction. Being patient and persistent is the key to success in such circumstances.
4. Handling Disagreements Respectfully – While the Wanderlust collection was received positively by a majority of the audience, there also has been some criticism. It is easy for such a big name in the industry to have an abrupt reaction. He could have chosen to either completely ignore the criticism or reply disrespectfully. Either would have been negative, especially in today’s world relying on social media. Instead, he chose to respectfully address the concerns and maintain a dialogue with the naysayers. This is an extremely important lesson for fashion start-ups in particular and companies in general. Having a calm demeanor and being open to dialogue can work wonders for our brand.Controversy or no controversy, the H&M designer collaboration 2020 is a big milestone for the Indian fashion industry and we must celebrate it. Simultaneously, we need to realize that by learning from this event, we can make bigger strides in the international arena as an industry.