At the Bata Fashion Weekend in Milan, MW caught up with country manager Sandeep Kataria, to learn more about the unique event, and how the iconic brand is cashing in on nostalgia, while also increasingly engaging with its consumers.

An invite to the Bata Fashion Weekend in Milan had me wondering what to expect. Growing up, I had always assumed that Bata was an Indian brand — I would go on to discover, at the event, that people from other countries had thought it to be their own too.

The extravaganza is in its second year now — it debuted last year in Prague, paying homage to the brand’s Czech roots and celebrating 123 years of its existence. This second edition upped the ante by transforming Milan’s Palazzo Mezzanotte into a centre of fashion and design, with activities like fashion shows, shoe exhibitions and music performances. The exhibits included newly unveiled Bata collections like B-Flex, Insolia, Atletico and Bata Heritage.

I arrived in Milan excited by the gamut of activities, which began soon after I reached my hotel. A quick change of clothes and a short bus ride later, I found myself at an elaborate event at Via Dante. ‘The Sound Of Style’ was the theme for the evening, and it was wonderfully executed, with street installations featuring musicians as the highlight. The next afternoon, at a press conference, we saw some beautiful shoes from Bata’s latest collection. A DIY corner was set up for us to paint and customise pairs for ourselves. Later that evening, we attended a grand fashion show that saw guests from all over the world suited up and eager to see what was on offer.

Here, the theme was taken to a whole new level with great music, a live a capella act, tap dancing and more. Models of varied ethnicity and sizes walked the ramp. One section of the show featured shoes by young designers — created as part of the second year of a competition that Bata runs in association with the Italian school, Politecnico Calzaturiero, and UMPRUM (Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague).

The evening ended with the group’s charming heritage director, Charles Pignal, presenting awards and introducing Bata’s global ambassadors. We also caught up with the brand’s India representative, Sandeep Kataria, to learn more about the event, and what’s coming up in the near future.

Tell us a little bit about the Bata Fashion Weekend, which is now in its second year. How did you come up with this property and idea?

Typically, Bata has been a conservative company, keeping a low profile. But over the last several years, we have taken a big step forward in the transformation towards more contemporary and fashionable style. We thought a concept like the Bata Fashion Weekend would be the perfect way to showcase and bring this to the consumers and to the media fraternity. It shows the silent transformation that Bata has undergone in the last few years.

 

Does this also have to do with the fact that we have moved into the digital age?

I think it was about coming to a point in time when you are ready to showcase the products, rather than creating a splash about them when they are still in the works. Many customers who walk into a Bata showroom are amazed with the range and quality we have to offer. When such reactions started coming in consistently and became a pattern, we knew it was the time to put ourselves out there. Especially in India, this is the ideal time — even the stores are looking smarter. Currently, we are in the process of rolling out our global concept, Bata Red, which celebrates the white and red colours of the brand.

Does the marketing plan include celebrity associations as well?

Yes, we have a diverse list that ranges from Bollywood actor Kriti Sanon to cricketer Smriti Mandhana. We rolled out a new campaign recently.

Bata is in a unique position, wherein a lot of Indians assume it is a homegrown brand, whereas it was actually founded in the Czech Republic. How do you explain this?

It’s a huge advantage for us, because it means there is an inherent trust that comes with the brand. We have all grown up with Bata, and everyone has fond memories of the shoes from their childhood. We have an equity of trust and comfort, and are trying to build on it with style and contemporary designs. The good thing is that this is not just limited to India. Even people in Indonesia, Malaysia and Chile feel that Bata is a local brand. This reflects the ethos of the brand. When the founder, Thomas Bata, came to India, he set up a township called Bata Nagar just outside Kolkata. It was his intent to set up a full community, where people could live, work and study. He was clear that he was building roots for the company, way back in the mid ’30s and ’40s.

Sandeep Kataria, country manager, Bata India, with Smriti Mandhana

Tell us about your campaign ‘Me & Comfortable With It’.

The philosophy we are following here is that there are a lot of expectations and stereotypes that we tend to enforce in society as a whole. So this was a bold statement, for us to say that we want you to celebrate your individuality, and we will make sure that we have shoes to suit whoever you are and whatever your taste is. It helps you to not only be yourself, but also be comfortable and enjoy it. It’s not an advertising slogan for us, but a brand belief. Across our 1,500 stores in India, we have something for everyone. The idea is inclusivity.

What is the theme ‘The Sound Of Style’ about?

This one came from our design studio. One of the inspirations across our various studios in Italy, Canada and India was sound — the sound of beautiful heels or a pair of loafers while taking a step. It’s always been with us, and we wanted to highlight it more with some of our associations — like Lenny Filipová, who is based out of the Czech Republic but in Europe now. We decided to take the concept to our stores as well, and we celebrated with musical installations in Milan.

Talk to us about the brand’s association with Nidhim Kochhar.

He embodies our brand motto of being comfortable with who you are. Kochhar had an unfortunate incident in his life, where he ended up having to lose one of his legs, but rather than feeling bad or weighed down by it, he took the other route and is now an inspirational role model.

Is there a hero product for the season?

There are three products that I would like to talk about. One is the Ambassador range we launched earlier this year. It is very popular in the dress shoes/ formals category. The shoes are made with genuine leather and are really comfortable. The second one is the Bata Red Label, a new range that focusses on casual, easy-to-wear styles. Finally, we have been working hard on Power, which takes forward the athleisure trend. In fact, Power is one of the biggest sports brands in India, and our trainers have the highest consumption. We’ve introduced a lot of new technology — for instance, the XO Rise range has a special mixed sole that gives 25 per cent more rebound.

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