Fashion Fables
ISBN 9788119316212





Life is full of lessons… Many that I have learnt on the job, and ones which have made me laugh out loud…

The third part of this book takes you on a journey; one which is filled with laughter and joy, and with valuable lessons and insights these funny anecdotes has taught me…

CHAPTER 3.1: The ‘Not Invented by Me’ Syndrome

How many times have we witnessed good ideas go down the drain because someone in the system vociferously opposed it?

Too many to count, isn’t it?

In my career, I have seen many such incidents, but one stays fresh in my mind…

This incident occurred a few years back.

A Ms.Young energetic buyer was recruited in our team to drive the sell throughs of a key but non-performing category. She brought a lot of new ideas with her, was enthusiastic about the category and took up rather unique initiatives.

2 months passed.

6 months passed.

12 months passed.

But nothing happened! Sales continued to stagnate.

One day, she came up to me, after a rather difficult Monday morning review. Distressed and irritated, she said,

But what is the issue?”, I asked her!

Our competition is constantly innovating and introducing newness in the product range. This keeps them ahead of us”, she said.

She discussed how she had put together an innovation pipeline and worked with the fabric team, designers and vendors to come up with some new age products. She created marketable ideas, worked out the promotions and then presented it.

To her utter surprise, every one of her ideas went either into rework or were dropped.

This discussion stayed in my mind, thereafter. I kept pondering over why her ideas were dumped. One day, while interacting with her team leader, I understood what had happened.

Introducing Mr. Team Leader.

He truly believed that he was a brilliant buyer and fancied himself to be an innovator par excellence. His arrogance made him overlook many unique initiatives by his team, many going waste, like our case in discussion. In fact, his team refrained from taking up such projects and eventually became ‘Yes-Men’. The mere fact that a young buyer had taken the initiative to work on innovations did not go down well with him.

His logic was simple.

IF I DID NOT INVENT IT, IT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH! and he genuinely believed in this.

Ms.Young energetic buyer eventually was recognised as a power house of talent and recruited by our competitors. Mr. Team Leader continues to be the same arrogant leader he always was…

This incident, though an everyday occurring, did teach me something!

- It’s what I now call,

We see good ideas biting the dust too often to count. Most of the times, it’s because people don’t want to listen. The team leaders come with the “Been there - Done that” attitudes and refuse to see the obvious. The solutions are right there, staring us in our face, and yet our egos make us look the other way. We just need to silence it to be able to listen/see, appreciate and recognise them.

This is the bane of the fashion industry. It’s so subjective that a little success can sometimes build big egos which become our blind spots. It slows down the team’s efforts and creates a negative environment for all.

In the end, I would only say that we should simply learn to open ourselves to listening, learning, and understanding everyone’s inputs. All our stakeholders want us to succeed as in our success lies theirs too. All we must do is move beyond the ‘NOT INVENTED BY ME’ syndrome.

CHAPTER 3.2: Roughly Right or Perfectly Late???

Have no fear of perfection - you’ll never reach it.” So rightly said by Salvador Dali.

The word ‘Perfection’ has been an enigma my whole life. We all want it, but is it what’s needed?

This simple incident directed me towards an answer to this question.

A few years back, we were working on a new initiative to reduce our lead time and get to market quickly. There was a lot of pressure. Mr. Sells Maximus had joined us as the sales head, and he was trying to maximise business in his channel.

He had taken up the challenge of increasing his business manifold. He held multiple meetings with the channel partners, the design, product and sourcing teams. He even had meetings with the vendors to tie up all the loose ends.

His ask was very simple:

A system which offers fast fashion to the channels

React to the market in 8 weeks with the required product

SOP’s were set up, regular reviews were planned, approval processes were defined and nothing was left to chance.

Or so he thought!

Everyone went into hyper drive. Work started in right earnest. Ball started rolling!

But he soon ran into an unusual problem.

The stakeholders seemed to be dealing with some commitment issues!

Yes, you heard that right.

They just would not commit an end date. And every time there was a review, there were new curve balls thrown in the form of open points.

By the 3rd week, it had become obvious that the timelines were derailed.

Costs were not getting closed, vendors were not committing to timelines, no closure on colours, so on and so forth…

He decided to roll up his sleeves and dive right into each issue. And to his utter surprise, he came face to face with his nemesis,

Designer refused to delegate approvals to the vendor

Product manager refused to close the cost till he got a detailed cost sheet

Vendor refused to give a detailed cost as he wanted to vet every single variable like final fabric width, consumption etc.

Mill refused to confirm the ex-mill date till griege was in-house

Vendor refused to confirm a delivery date before he got a final date from the mill

Bottomline, there were no closures.

All exhausted, our hero came to me and asked a simple question.

Frankly, I still do not have an answer for this!

He was clearly frustrated. But the other stakeholders could not see the problem.

They genuinely wanted to give him a correct answer. And therein, lies the problem.

How much precision is required to conduct business? Is it better to be quick and roughly right rather than miss the bus in search of PERFECTION?

When companies have too many specialists and they lose sight of the final objective, they lose their nimbleness and speed. They focus on process and perfection rather than speed and the big picture.

Businesses need to develop a culture which balances out the above. The answer is always in the balance. In ancient Indian texts, there is a word for this - ‘samay-achaar’, or simply put ‘adapt your approach/style/process based on the need of the situation’.

CHAPTER 3.3: The Quality of Errors!

Quality’ a word that everyone in the organisation is scared of, but passionate about…

What does it mean? No one knows.

It’s one of the most dynamic words used in the industry, solely defined by the stakeholder’s perception.

How this quality is understood by all is a mystery to most, a lesson I learnt in my first job.

It started one fine morning, when Mr. Lead M. All, our chairman, walked into the office fuming. He summoned every stakeholder to his room. This included the CEO, the merchandising head, the quality head, the product and design teams.

‘Oh! boy’, was it baptism by fire for us young trainees who had just joined the company.

As we all filled into the room, we could only see two things:

One, the anger on his face and

Second, the pile of three shirts on his desk…

And suddenly he looked at the quality head and roared.

After a minute of silence, the quality head mustered the courage to ask,

But what happened?”

See this”, said the chairman…

Unfolding the shirts one at a time, he pointed to the many issues. A loose button, faded colors, uncut threads and so on. With each issue, his voice got louder, and our heads hung lower. And then in an obviously foul mood, he said I don’t even know why I’ve hired you guys!

We all slunk out of his room in utter dismay. Everyone huddled around Mr. Qualithello, the head of quality giving him questioning looks, “Who’s the auditor on this? How did he allow this to pass? Does he even know how to check?”

But we did not come up with the instructions, we just executed them”, he muttered under his breath.

And then started the ‘tandav’.

In the meantime, the Mr. Qualithello had called the vendor in, who quietly heard us out and then asked for the garments in question. He inspected them and said,

These have all been made within specifications, all approvals are in place.”

He then started showing us the detailed style file maintained by the factory.

Thus, the morning passed with everyone furious and playing the blame game with panache. Tired with the day’s activities, and with no solution in sight, everyone decided to pass on the task to the kids in the system, namely us - The Trainees…

We were told to figure out the root cause of the problem. With no clue in hand, we turned to the chairman’s secretary.

His friend picked up these pieces from our store and his driver handed them over in the morning”, she said.

So, in our innocence, we took the friend’s phone number and called him up.

The garments have faded, the jeans have become loose and I was wondering if someone could get that button fixed”, he said. On further enquiry, we learnt that these garments had been purchased over six months back.

His friend was extremely happy that someone had spoken to him. We also had his clothes ironed and returned to him with the button fixed. His driver came and took the pieces.

In the evening, the chairman, beaming and obviously happy left for the day, breezing past us sharing general pleasantries.

This incident taught a valuable lesson.

Quality is defined by different stakeholders differently.

For the customer, it is fit, hand-feel, lustre, vibrancy of colour, whether the garment behaves well after multiple wears, no obvious defects like tears, stains etc.

For the designer, it has to be a perfect representation of what’s been conceived in her/his mind. Is the colour matching perfectly, the fit is as per specification given, wash, hand-feel etc., as defined.

For the product merchandising team, it’s about matching what the designer has defined, but with commercial tweaks gleaned from sales feedback.

For the sourcing teams and vendors, it’s about matching expectations, but within cost and given timelines.

It’s the quality team, that has the dirty job of auditing at various stages to ensure the products come out right.

In other words, most of what is understood as quality by the customer, is defined by design and product teams and the rest is just about whether those defined parameters have been met in production or not.

Unfortunately, it’s the quality team that takes the brunt of the criticism, the only time someone remembers them is when something has gone wrong. When things go well, everyone else gets the credit. There is very little in quality team’s hands,

They do not make the specifications

They don’t select the vendor

They don’t close the costs

They just advise on technical issues and audit, but they are the ones who carry the can every time there is a customer return or complaint.

Most companies do not even realise that a lot of customer complaints are unjustified and occur due to garment mishandling, post purchase. And the rest are mostly about fits and aesthetics on which the quality teams do not have a say. But every time the word quality comes up, everybody looks at the quality team for answers.

This does not mean that they don’t make mistakes. Sometimes they do, then improvement plans, and processes should be put in place. But most of our other stakeholders do not realise that a larger aspect of quality, as understood by the consumer, is about how the product has been defined.

So, the question I ask is – ‘Who is responsible for quality? The guys who define or the guys who police?’

I feel, we need to approach quality more holistically in an integrated manner where all the stakeholders clearly understand and look at fulfilling consumer expectations rather than, their own narrow definitions of quality. Hence, the truth lies somewhere in between.

CHAPTER 3.4: The Order of The Phoenix!

How often have we heard this dialogue from many buyers in office? They keep resurrecting with order emails every now & then…

But is an email or a phone call an order?

Let me share a humorous incident from my first job which answers this question.

Straight out of traineeship, I was moved into the merchandising at this company which was a pioneer of sorts in our country. It was a fashion retail chain with stores across the country and many private labels along with a few brands.

The company was growing at an unprecedented rate and almost doubling in size every year. But the supply chain can be at best defined as erratic. Being managed by the many different private label teams, it was confusing and chaotic.

The Chairman, Mr. Allead Dumbledore, had decided in his wisdom that it was time to professionalise the sourcing function and got Mr. Sourcerers Stone to join the team as the sourcing head. He was tasked with standardising the processes, setting up SOP’s, conducting regular reviews etc.

In his quest to be known as fair and sincere, he started pushing us for clear data, quick closures and details. This did not go down very well with my boss Ms. Merchandising Myrtle, the Buying and Merchandising head. She was a spitfire, best described by the Hindi word ‘Dabang’, meaning brazen, daring, direct…

And so, a few months into his new role, Mr. Sourcerers Stone was summoned to the Chairman’s office. On entering, he was ushered into the conference room, where he was ambushed by our ‘Dabang’ leader and us.

After being chastised on some of the trailing deliveries, our Dabang leader got to the point.

See! This is what I am saying? Your team has not even placed the order. You are not even aware”? Dabang was in full flow. She had the sourcing head where she wanted him - on the run.

Let me call my team lead for this category’”, Mr. Sourcerers Stone said in distress.

“Have we got a blazer order from them”, he asked his team lead when he came in.

Yes, sir”, said the team lead cautiously, not knowing what he had walked into.

Why did this order not reflect in the ORM (Operational Review Meeting, for the ignoramus) data when we reviewed it yesterday”, he was asked.

Oh! That’s because I received an enquiry on mail from their buyer yesterday asking if it was possible to make blazers in six weeks and supply for Diwali. They have an enquiry from one of their channels’”, the man was visibly relaxed, now that he knew what the issue was. “And I have already called for swatches for selection from available stock”. There was stunned silence in the room.

To the chairman, the issue was being built around the incompetence of the sourcing team and their new head. How did he not even know that there was an order on hand?!

Mr. Allead Dumbledore, who obviously was a past master at dealing with such situations, quickly seized the opportunity to make a point.

For it to be construed an order, it has to have all specifications clearly defined and documented. What is the fabric code, BOM, fit specifications? Without such clear definition, it cannot be an order, it’s an enquiry. It is the business team’s responsibility to ensure that sufficient details are provided to the sourcing team, enabling them to process an order”.

Turning to us he said that “there is a difference between an ‘order’ and an ‘enquiry’ or ‘intent’. It actually takes a lot of work to issue an order”.

And then to Mr. Sourcerous Stone, Put together a minimum threshold, below which you will not consider it a live order, at least 4 or 5 mandatory fields in an order form”.

There are many lessons in this anecdote – definitely, behavioural and management lessons, but what the chairman then sat and defined was pertinent and relevant in all situations.

‘Enquiry’ or ‘Intent to Order’ is not an Order

Orders are clear liabilities which the business is undertaking, hence they must be in black and white.

For orders to be actionable, they must mandatorily contain sufficient information to process.

What’s the big deal with this? It’s common sense, you will say.

Well, strangely enough, it’s not! This is the bane of the fashion industry. It’s a highly subjective industry and extremely people-dependent. How well-made or how fast your goods come in is decided more by how well the order is defined and how clearly all the data is given.

CHAPTER 3.5: Different Quality for Different Folks

Isn’t it surprising how we all tend to see every situation with the same glasses on? We apply the same standards and measure everything against the same yardstick. We apply a ‘one size fits all’ policy…

But why?

In the quest to find an answer to that question, I started thinking about an incident that occurred while I was still at my first job. It was the late 80’s/early 90’s. The retail industry had started growing at a fast pace and business was booming.

But then came the 1st disruption in the business!

A formal shirt brand called Stencil. Tapping in the value segment, they launched cotton formal shirts for Rs.199.

Yes, you read that right… Rs.199 it was. It was quite the rage and had taken the market by storm.

So, Mr. Lead M. All, our chairman, had a quick meeting with my boss Ms. Buying Beauty.

Such projects were nothing new for my boss. She was used to these reactionary projects from the chairman, every time he came across anything new. And many a times, he even forgot some of these projects. But every time he came up with these ideas, they used to create quite the stir in the office.

So, not realising the importance of one more new project, this was passed on to me.

And so began my indoctrination into product development.

I went from team to team to figure out how to get that product right. Unfortunately, success seemed like an elusive dream to me.

From the designer to the fabric team, from the trims to the tech team, everyone told me the same thing – “We are doing the best in the given quality”.

A week passed by without any progress.

Then came that day when the chairman wanted to know what was taking so much time?

My boss, sitting right beside me, was equally baffled by the outcome of this exercise. Cost re-engineering was still not a developed skill set in the company.

And then began a masterclass by the Big Bad Wolf himself. A lesson that has stayed with me ever since.

Let’s take away the box pleat at the back. Can we reduce the length by an inch? What about the matching parameters? Do we need matching shoulder, sleeve, cuff, cuff placket? What about the cut and sew placket, do we need it?” And he then went on to discuss every trim used, thread quality, packing material and, lo and behold, in 20 minutes, we had cracked the entry price point of the shirt.

But my boss was still not convinced, “This is not what our customers expect in terms of quality”, she held her ground.

Do you know the difference between the German cars and the others?” He asked, alluding to his prized Mercedes, which in those days was a rarity in the country.

Do you think the quality expectation is the same for these and the others which are one tenth the cost?”

Quality is how you define the specifications. The important thing is - is the consumer accepting it happily?”

He asked us to do a small test market for these in two of our flagship stores in Delhi.

The rest, as they say, is history. Our new price point product did well for some time, as did that new brand. But as it happens often, in this graveyard of fashion brands, both have been relegated to the annals of the Indian Fashion Industry history.

Quality is how you define the product specification. Different customer sets have different expectations of quality at different prices.

Therefore, it’s different quality for different folks.

You may think this is simple and everyone understands it. Well, truth be told, most companies struggle with the concept of defining quality differently for different price points and products. They get used to following the same standards for everything in the company which leads to higher costs and longer lead times, just to name a few issues.

CHAPTER 3.6: Decoding the Consumer Code

Do the consumers care about the count of the fabric?

Do they walk into the store and get enthralled by the season’s concept/story?

Do they care that this ‘Red’ is not ‘The Red’?

What does the consumer really see? A piece of art or a practical clothing?

The answer to this question has partly been a mystery to me. And every time I think about this, I am reminded of a rather weird incident which took place early in my career.

My first job was with a company, best described as one of the pioneers of fashion retail in India. They had a chain of retail stores across the country, through which they retailed a variety of private labels and brands.

I had the privilege of being part of the first batch of management trainees they had hired. And they had such grandiose plans for us. A stint in the stores, then factory, followed by the warehouse and finally moving into buying and merchandising.

But as often happens with the best laid plans of man, it went awry the moment we reported in the stores.

Yes, the sales team quit! And we had no choice but to fill in. So, here we were, 4 management trainees in that store, trying our best to figure out how to manage our counters. Sales obviously went down as the whole sales team had quit en masse. Mr. GM Manageus, the general manager in utter desperation, decided that we needed training.

And who better than the design and buying teams to train us novices.

So, in they strutted, and we spent two hours every day being taken through the whole product line.

We were given the complete encyclopedia. From yarn, to dying, fabric, trims, stitching, fits, construction, benefits, styling details, it was enormous. Then we were told about how lines are conceptualised, designs created, samples made and then produced, wow! It was like rocket science to us young kids.

We never realised that so much went into clothes.

Armed with all this amazing knowledge and new-found confidence, we decided to attack our sales targets with renewed vigour.

But lo and behold! The consumer taught us a very different lesson. Most of what we had learnt did not actually help us. What the consumer wanted was very different.

But something else hit me like a ton of bricks!!

When a consumer walks into the store, he/she sees hundreds of garments at one glance. Only 1-2 garments may attract their attention, while the rest are lost in this abyss.

What takes the teams 6 months of hard work, conceptualisation, trials, sourcing and manufacturing does not even attract the consumers’ attention for a fraction of a second. The consumer doesn’t even spend a moment before rejecting it.

I realised that the most important aspect of business is to understand what grabs the consumers’ attention and why a product is successful in doing so. Unfortunately, this is usually the most neglected aspect in our industry.

I figured that we need to simplify the way we design.

We need to understand and work on what grabs the consumers’ attention

The product benefit is conveyed using simple messaging

Keeping innovations relevant to the consumers is key

Anything else we do is pointless and a wasted effort.

I then developed a habit that has stayed with me through the years.

This has given me a unique perspective and helped me in my work, throughout my career.

My friends, who I take shopping, ask such questions through their innocence and simplicity that can disarm the most potent designer or buyer.

Many a times, in fact most of the times, we obsess and work on so many things, most of which the consumer does not even notice.

My advice is to see and think like the customer and things may just start looking very different.

CHAPTER 3.7: The Vanity of Sizes

What size do you wear?

Often, the answer to that question is ‘Hesitation’.

Yes, you read that right. Hesitation it is!

In a world where body-shaming is still a reality, opening up about the size of your clothes or your preferred fits is a very difficult thing to do. Particularly, when you walk into a store and ask the salesperson for your size.

This is not just because of how the outside world judges you, but it’s also a matter of self-perception.

Of course, these things don’t matter if you have spent hours working out and have a body you can flaunt (and these people are rare).

What does that have to do with fashion retail, you say?

Well! A lot.

Particularly, if you are selling in a store.

My last chapter rejigged my memory and reminded me of many incidents from my first job. Some from days I spent on the retail floor which gave me insights into the consumers’ minds.

For those who came in late. As management trainees, we were sent to the store for some months to sell, but we ended up managing the whole counter ourselves.

So, there I was in my first job, trying my best to manage my sales targets.

And these were the days when no one taught you much.

We just learnt on the job. And the consumers taught me a lesson I cherish till date.

One of those days, in walked a customer and

Not to offend her, I quietly gave her the piece in a size 28 to try.

And a few minutes later, with irritation written large all over her face, she said “your fit is bad, I don’t like it”.

‘But . . but . .’,

Before I could say much, she had already turned around and left.

Another day, another customer, similar story …

He had wanted to try our new Italian slim fit, but he had heavy thighs, and it did not fit him well.

I soon realised that:

I was spending too much time doing re-trials and losing other customers in that time

Customers always had a slimmer image of themselves in their heads

They did not know what type of fit worked for them

They quickly lost interest, if the first trial did not work. Convincing them to try another fit, would lose me 60% of the other customers

So, after another bad week of sales, I got down to some serious thinking. How do I overcome this problem? And then suddenly…

I figured out a simple formula. And it took me some time to learn this, but learn I did.

Guess the customer’s size correctly before asking him

Anticipate which body type he is and understand which fit would work best for him

So, after asking him his preference, I would always slip in an extra piece which I knew would work, and quietly request him to try that as well.

And lo and behold! My first trial hit rate improved, so did my sales because I could attend to more customers and convert more trials into sales.

While this is an old anecdote (the late ’80s) and retailing has since evolved – the basics have remained the same.

Conversion rate, communication of fit, and body types continue to be as relevant today as always.

In fact, communication of fit is of the utmost importance in today’s digital age, where a consumer does not interact with a salesperson. He/She buys the product based on what’s communicated on the web page.

Good understanding of consumers’ approach to sizing and communication of sizes and fits, lead to lesser returns, fewer dissatisfied consumers and forming of better brand perception amongst the consumers.

Many brands have institutionalised vanity sizing and changed their fits and sizes to ensure that they flatter the customers’ ego.

Anticipation and understanding the customers’ requirement and ensuring that you give them what works for them, and by understanding their requirement better than them, remains the key to higher conversion and earning their trust.

CHAPTER 3.8: Grab that Attention

Let me ask you a question…

What do you think is the scarcest resource in the world?

Yes, my friends, it is ‘Attention’.

And why is attention scarce?

Because it is so difficult to grab.

What happens when we walk into a store? Or open an e-commerce webpage? Or any of the social media accounts?

We are bombarded with information - each trying to grasp our attention. Every inch of our view is branded with messages, colour, music, smell and design fighting for our attention.

What do you think this does to our attention? It fragments it, makes it jumpy and that results in a very small attention span. We become much like ‘grasshoppers, fluttering from one place to another.

Studies show that the average human being now has an attention span of 8 seconds. This is a sharp decrease from the average attention span of 12 seconds in the year 2000. More shocking, perhaps, is the fact that research has found that human attention span decreases by a whopping 88% every year.

Take a minute to soak that in as I recount yet another incident from my early days in retail.

For those who came in late, as a management trainee, I was sent to the store for some months to sell but I ended up managing the whole counter as all the sales staff quit. So, there I was in my first job, trying my best to manage my sales targets.

Now, try as I might, the sales targets were always elusive. There was a lot of pressure from HO to meet our targets. Even the Chairman made a few visits to see how things were going.

It is here that I had a revelation. Customers (and people in general) have very short attention spans.

By the time you explain them one thing, they have moved onto to the 10th.

One of those days, in walked a customer who demonstrated this to me.

‘Well. ..’ I gave him an explanation on how the newly introduced trouser was a superior product. Thank God! I remembered some of the product training.

Do you have it in my size?”

“Let me check?” I said, and quickly checked the pile on the shelf for the piece, which was not there. “I think it’s in the storeroom, I will just be back”.

I went quickly to the store and rummaged through the stocks and there it was at the bottom of the pile. With a sense of great achievement, I rushed back.

But where was the customer?

I looked left, looked right. The customer had vanished.

There was this empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. Had I taken too long?

I looked at my watch - 6 minutes – oh! It’s okay! I thought . . .

I started walking through the store to see if the customer was still there. And there he was, in another section, looking at the products.

He looked blankly at me when I offered him his size. “Ah! Yes’”, he remembered. And politely took the piece to the trial room. “This fit is fine”, he said coming out, “Do you have that dark grey colour in this? I think I like that colour more”.

On the inside, I was dismayed as I could see another customer in my section who was going unattended.

With a polite smile, I said “Of course, just give me a minute. I will get it for you”.

I had no idea if I had that piece in stock. It would take me another 6 minutes to get the size. In the meanwhile, I would probably lose the customer browsing in my section. But I would at least get this sale.

Unfortunately, by the time I came back with the piece, the customer had left. And I lost that sale. Not just one, but two.

And then I started seeing a pattern. I realized, there were quite a few cases like this. I thought maybe if I could not waste time while attending to customers, it would allow me to multi-attend and close sale faster.

And then I came up with a 3-Step Formula to help myself.

The product posters & tags helped me in explaining the product to the customer while allowing me to multi-attend other customers.

The cheat sheet was a pencil written inventory which always stayed in my pocket. I would cross off pieces sold and add pieces which came in. At any point I knew what my inventory was.

In the store, I made a system of keeping inventory in a way that I knew exactly where the pieces were.

I did feel a lot more confident after this and it helped improve my hit rate.

But the lesson I learnt was that consumers have a very short attention span. And if you have not hooked them in that span or ensured that they find it easy to shop and try, either you have lost the sale or lost a future sale.

While retail has truly evolved in these many years and so much is done by artificial intelligence, systems, store talkers, marketing material etc., yet the fact remains simple.

Keep your communication simple and clear

If it’s important then that communication bears repeating

Do not waste the consumers’ time if you do not know the answer to a question

Anticipate, plan and keep the consumer engaged

Whether you are in retail or online, these principles remain the same.

CHAPTER 3.9: From the Readers’ Mind!

It was late one evening when Anindya gave me a call to discuss a new idea for the chapter. With excitement in his voice, he said,

Joining his excitement, I said “Do you want to add quirk & a little bit of humour to these stories?” Should we keep the narrative simple and personalised…? and so the discussion continued.

After some time, the next set of chapters started taking shape in our minds… And what followed was a series relating ‘8 incidents’ from Anindya’s life which have not just taught him something, but also taught the readers many things.

As always, our readers have joined in with enthusiasm and shared many valuable comments. We thank you all, whole heartedly, for extending this support and truly making Inside Apparel a platform for everyone’s expression.

Some of the comments are shared in this article. Enjoy!


A qualified younger talent in your team (who has been put together, by adopting professional recruiting methods, with the team leader as an integral part) will only yield desired results if the team is empowered enough.

Nurturing and promoting them leads to a very conducive environment for generating newer concepts & innovative ideas.

Insecurity will never blind an open and delegating leader as it ultimately ups his/her rank and image.

At the end, it’s the product not personalities that’s going to drive the market”.

- Paresh Shah


This is relevant for all companies. Innovation is a risk-taking venture. Companies by design are structured to mitigate risk. I personally don’t think it’s a problem of the Mr. Team Leader alone. How do companies incentivise risk-taking and encourage it (within limits)? Creating a ‘safe space’ for risk taking is important. One suggestion could be to set aside a certain % of innovative styles to be created and then see what the results are”.

- Gunish Jain (CEO BlueKaktus)


This is so true. But how to address such issues is also very important. The company, as a whole, should have a mechanism to check and resolve. Otherwise, the company loses all the talent to competitors and will struggle to grow, and eventually fail, even with ‘know it all’ team leads. What if these team leads never realise their shortcomings? What if there is no one to bell the cat? I would like to know your opinion on that.”

- Prasenjit Adhikari, Creative Director Arrow @ Arvind brands


In a real situation, you have to keep an eye on a multitude of factors and take calls, accordingly.

These things make me wonder – Does Perfection exist? Like beauty, ‘perfection lies in the eyes of beholder’. To what scale you want to bend down to ensure it’s PERFECT. Commercial calls and conditional approvals are taken to avoid such situation – but do we mine that data – the winner/losers out of the calls taken and learn to bend our curve of perfection, to get to the path of winning the situation - keeping in mind the past mistakes”.

- Sarika Arora, Head Corporate Sales at Royal Data Matics Pvt. Ltd.


This year, we have for the first time moved from top-down approach to a collaborative approach and have been successful in reducing delivery lead time, and the collaborative creativity took efficiency to another level. Delivery in 45 days in India!

Colour approval digitally and closing styles over zoom calls.

It has been a rush and if we collaborate at design and buyer level with production and factory at one time, we will reduce 50% of the timeline.

This is with caution - it’s the smart working between the brands and the factory supply from mills, there has seen no change, but the process time reduced with the transfer of responsibility to the factory for yarn colour approvals and flexibility in the approach”.

- Akhil Khanna, Managing Director, SRV Knittech Pvt Limited


The prime job of any quality person or head is the ability to predict and forecast errors. He must consolidate the requirements of designer, brand value, vendor capabilities, sourcing requirements. Every product has a CTQ (critical to quality). Inspections are again classified as Predictive, Preventive and Detection. If all three fail, without any documentation, it’s quality team’s responsibility. This defines how good our processes are. The final check between the design/development/procurement/manufacture is the audits before it reaches customer”.

- Ajay Ravuri, General Manager, Quality, Arvind Fashions Limited


Once the COST of poor quality is clearly understood across the cross functions and driven top down, the probability of everyone smiling is higher, if not - it will remain a B-Lame game”.

- Sandeep Golam, Director operations, Denimach Limited


This is a typical situation in our industry. Orders are placed without details. Sometimes due to ignorance, at other times due to assumptions. To solve this issue, a good sourcing head always makes some fields mandatory for an order to exist. An order is also a financial liability to a company, so in many companies the finance guys are also involved for second level, for an order to exist. Typically, an order should be raised on the system by the buyer. Level 1 approval should be the junior sourcing merchant who has to execute the order. Level 2 should be Finance to accept the finances are allocated and level 3 should be the sourcing head to accept the order for the team to execute. If this basic procedure is followed by companies, there will never be a slip in the system”.

- Poonam Sood Lal, Consultant, Co-Founder Sash Exports (Buying House)


I like the humour intertwined with a critical message. This reminds me of a placard on the desk of the sourcing head of an apparel company. It reads as - “In this place everyone wants stuff delivered yesterday. If you want something today, then come tomorrow.” Jokes apart, the situation described was commonplace, but hopefully with the advent of the systems, things have gotten better”.

- Krishna Kumar (KK), IT Entrepreneur and Supply Chain Enthusiast


This was then, what is the scenario now - with so many brands of various scale, with 35% of consumption of garments happening on a platform that doesn’t allow customer to feel much at the time of purchase but views quality post purchase, in the convenience of his or her home. The expectation of today’s customer, even if she buys disposable fast fashion product or a well curated product, is almost the same. Why do brands have to then focus on educating the customer about the quality standards and how one thing is better than the other. Millions are spent to tell the quality story through various mediums - does the customer really know or want the given quality ever? It sometimes makes me wonder what the basic hygiene in quality is and how much extra do brands put and then educate and charge thousands extra”.

- Himanshu Singh, Co-founder, Meraki


This will help to get some business immediately but where is brand value? If one brand is setting different quality level with different price range, especially in apparel sector, I think it will affect brand value in the long run”.

- Dipin KK


“We live in interesting digital times where customer choices are driven by known and unknown influencers and influences. Going forward, technology will have to deduce what you simply observed in buying behaviour. The principle remains the same though!”

- Nithya Easwaran, Managing Director, Multiples Alternate Asset Management Pvt Ltd


What you shared can be applied actually in every industry and domain. Your ability, to gauge and manage what your customer is thinking and offering solutions that will not make him uncomfortable for whatever reason, can be a great skill that all of us should learn”.

- Yogesh Agiwal, Founder & CEO, Crossover Leadership Journeys


I can totally relate to this article. I once went to a store and asked the salesperson to get me a waist size 32 jeans, and he said that as per him I should try 34. I told him, ‘Do you know my waist better than I do!!!’ and walked off. The next store I went – I told them that I wear size 34 and it fit!!!”

- Gunish Jain, CEO BlueKaktus


Communicating with the customer will reveal his quest for a fit preference, while gauging the size should be learnt while indulging in a conversation.

And not to say the knowledge about the product on the floor is vital. This is so because same size is a different size for each brand. What size 36 could be for one brand will be different for another brand”.

- Sanjay Lal, Co-founder, Sash Exports (Buying House)

What You Sow Is What You Reap

Many many many times, I have walked into branded stores and for more than a few minutes no one ever came near me. All the store staff, including the store manager, are busy with their own thing when there is no other customer except me. They all see me in the store. But … the store manager is super busy with his computer. The store staff are chatting about the movie they saw or some gossip.

Every time I have walked out …. the worst is when no one has even asked me why I am leaving or what am I looking for. In most cases, I have gone with clear intention of a specific purchase. This has happened in the last 20 years, hundreds of times, specifically with branded stores in malls as well as high streets. Sometimes, I have even shouted at them about their attitude and have told them that they are killing the brand.

But the most interesting thing is …. I have seen this happening to me far less in small multi-brand stores run by owners. There someone will come to me within 90 seconds of me walking into the store, asking me ‘‘Sir, what do you want?’ or ‘Sir, Can I help you?’.

So, you can understand when many single-branded stores owned by the companies do less sales … RMKV, Nallis, Kumaran, Chennai Sillks doing roaring sales even during the pandemic time. One of the biggest lessons I learnt was from my father, a second-class educated, retailer of stores: ‘Greet the customers within 30 seconds of entry and ensure someone is there to attend to them (This used to be a shop where we had counters between the product and the customer) & ensure no customer is unattended even if it is about managing more than three customer families, at a time, during seasons.

What came to me is a simple principle – ‘You have to give attention if you want to grab anyone’s attention’.

This leads to a very simple fundamental principle of life: ‘What you give is what you get back from the world’.

I remembered a Tamil quote that I read in early childhood: “வினை விதைத்தவன் வினை அறுப்பான், தினை விதைத்தவன் தினை அறுப்பான்.” It means: ‘You reap what you sow’.”

- Raja Chidambaram

These anecdotes have reflected on many facets of our industry. From the leaders to the consumers, from communication to attention…

Each anecdote shared has opened our eyes to multitude learnings and given us something to think about. It’s always good to learn from others’ experiences for they are the mistakes you avoid and learnings you gain.