Gregory C. Dinges, President, Asia/ Pacific and President & Representative Director of Cole Haan Japan and Rajiv Mehta, CEO, Arvind Sports Lifestyle, on why it’s a great time to launch the affordable luxury shoe brand in the country
What makes this a good time for Cole Haan to make its India debut?
I think it’s a great time to come to India. It’s obviously a large economy, but I really feel like it’s just at that point where the affordable luxury consumer segment — that’s above fast fashion but below the Guccis and Louis Vuittons — is really ready to take off. I’ve been coming to India since the mid-90s and just the development of the fashion and the malls has changed a tremendous amount in that period of time. The economic situation and retail infrastructure are very positively in our favour now.
A few other brands in the affordable luxury segment have been here for some time. Did you study their foray into the Indian market before your launch?
One of things that we did, which I consider the most important, is a lot of homework on our potential partners. Our expertise in Cole Haan is in the design of amazing, innovative, elegant footwear. We only run the retail operations in the US and Japan. The rest of the world, we seek great partners. So we did a lot of research and met with most of the major players here. We looked at the success they’ve had with their brands, talked to them about their strategies and spoke to their competitors, which are the brands you speak of. We had to come up with a name that was the most successful at building brands, getting the right retail locations and making businesses successful in India. That’s how we chose Arvind around a year back. We’ve now opened two stores in India with them, with another one close to opening — in Mumbai — and a few more in the pipeline. We’ll also retail online via Arvind’s own website as well as Myntra.
Gregory C. Dinges, President, Asia/ Pacific and President & Representative Director of Cole Haan Japan and Rajiv Mehta, CEO, Arvind Sports Lifestyle
What is the philosophy of Cole Haan? What differentiates it from other brands in the affordable luxury segment?
You can summarize the entire philosophy of Cole Haan in two words: elegant innovation. A lot of companies do fashion very well and create elegance at high price points, but not many of them with comfort. The true innovation that is unique, functional and patentable, only the athletic guys do it well — Nike, Reebok, Adidas etc. They do it colourfully, but not always fashionably. They don’t do a product for a lot of work environments etc. so we try and create a product that is as uniquely functional, comfortable, lightweight and flexible as the very best top-line Nike product, and put it in something that’s really beautiful.
The existing outlets are all inside shopping malls. Are standalone stores part of the plan?
We’re aware of the typical footwear high street locations like Khan Market or Connaught Place in New Delhi, Linking Road in Mumbai, Nungambakkam in Chennai and Brigade Road in Bengaluru. At some point, we do want to take affordable luxury to such locations, but before that, we want to go to a place where there’s a ready footfall of our target consumer. High street is a hit or miss, so we’d rather build the brand first.
How fast will collections transition at the India stores? Will they have the same range as other stores globally?
At any point of time, we’ll have the exact international collection here. Even the window display will have the same theme, and you’ll pay the same price here or in New York. There will be a certain part of the range that will be specific to the region. For instance, if you tell me that Indian women prefer more open-toed footwear throughout the year, we will have some of that. But we can’t have that in New York in winter. I don’t think we’ll get into special collections for the Indian market anytime soon. I don’t know if it happens in the other markets, but I don’t want to. It’s something for a very matured market, where you have the volumes to support it.
Are buying patterns with Indians different from international markets?
Indians love visible technology. Anything that’s hidden, they think it’s a marketing gimmick. With Cole Haan, it’s all visible. It’s lightweight, you can see the sole and figure out that there’s comfort and technology. Also, a lot of Indians prefer open footwear.