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Dilip Kapur of Hidesign – Hobnobbing with Leather

Hidesign can’t be categorised as ‘just another brand’ in the luxury industry. First reason – their bags are built to be useful and functional – the sort which will truly last you forever in terms of quality and design as well. The second reason is the simple, honest and unaffected thoughts of its owner Dilip Kapur

Hidesign luxury bagsLVMH is on a shopping spree as it collects brands not just from France, Italy or London, but also acquires a stake in many Indian-based luxury brands. But this trend of taking a piece of the pie in India brands started now – this year. So when Louis Vuitton bought a stake in leather goods brand Hidesign few years back, everyone’s heads turned east. Everyone wondered that why did the global French giant buy a stake in a comparatively small Indian company?

The answer simply lies in quality. Hidesign is luxury, but not the kind I and you are used to seeing – beautiful, shining, monogrammed pieces costing a fortune. Hidesign is more subtle, quality-oriented and not that highly-priced that it clean sweeps your bank balance. Hidesign products ask for as much as it truly deserves.

Hidesign, known to be the first luxury brand to originate from India, was started by owner Dilip Kapur just as a hobby. Ironically, the brand which started in 1970s, did not enter the Indian market till 2000! Starting from the quaint French-inspired and tourist-filled town of Puducherry in India, there are many singular facts about Hidesign and Mr Kapur, which you won’t find in any other brand’s story.

Dilip Kapur Hidesign Indian luxury brandApart from refusing to comment on the Louis Vuitton episode, Mr Kapur is colloquial and a candid speak! We converse with this genius, who is more driven by his passion for leather rather than burning the oil lamps to achieve massive commercial success.

Soumya Jain: Hidesign is probably the first Indian luxury brand to have emerged from here. Yet you sold only in other foreign markets for a long time. Why?

Dilip Kapur: Hidesign began as a two-man workshop creating one bag a day. While studying in United States, I had taken an internship with a leather factory for a few months. This short stint was what made me re-look at leather and became a lifelong passion for me. I decided to return to Auroville (Puducherry) and wondered what to do next. To keep myself occupied I started making leather bags. What started as a hobby soon caught on the interest of people passing by and I landed up with larger orders. Soon these orders became regular and Hidesign had set up a distribution network in Australia, UK and USA. These became the first few countries we retailed and this is where Hidesign found its voice.

In 2000 when we entered India, the retail scene was almost non-existent and we pretty much took things in our own hands in trying to set up our stores. Over the years, our stand against plastic-looking, mass manufactured leather goods found a larger following. Customers increasingly started to appreciate handcrafted, eco-friendly goods. Our voice grew stronger, as did the aspiration of owning a luxury product made with great care, time and effort.

SJ: Do you think that India’s luxury market has matured or is there still a long way to go?

DK: Luxury retail is in its initial stages. There is great potential and the next 5-10 years will see the creation of high streets, luxury malls and an increased level of awareness in customers where more people will see luxury goods as lifestyle investments.

Dilip Kapur Hidesign in shop with bagsSJ: Your bags have a classic – or some might say boring – style. Never thought of bringing more vibrancy to them?

DK: Hidesign is well known for its classic contemporary approach to leather bags. While growing up at the ashram school, we were taught cleanliness is next to godliness, and I believe simplicity is a virtue which we strive for at Hidesign – even in our design. Most Hidesign customers appreciate the eco-friendly leathers, our solid brass hardware and handcrafted quality. Hidesign is not trend-led and we do not believe in making bags that change with every season. We understand that a Hidesign bag is an investment and ensure that it remains current for at least a few years. We bring out 50-60 new styles every season. There are new colours, new leather developments and updates like laptop sleeves, ipad covers and ipod holes in messenger bags to meet customers’ needs.

SJ: Where do you get inspiration from for your designs?

DK: Every season reflects our mood. It is a reflection of how we feel and how our customers feel. We cannot say it is always an inspiration. I wish inspiration came that easily!

SJ: The creative aspect is supposed to be the most important in a business. If the product is not good, it doesn’t sell. But do you think that creativity is slowly being given lesser importance as compared to sales and marketing in global luxury businesses?

DK: We believe we are a design-led company and creativity in the product or how we handle our operations and processes is equally important to us. Sales and marketing gives us the visibility and ensures we reach our customers. You cannot choose one over the other and certainly not marketing over the product.

Hidesign store interiorsSJ: Who is your target consumer in India – the luxury aspirer or luxury connoisseur?

DK: The Hidesign customer is a young ambitious executive between 25-35, the globe-trotting corporate honchos, the home makers, and the fresh grads who like to put their best foot forward. They are independent, focused and ecologically aware.

SJ: Puducherry is very, very close to your heart. Your factory is also located here. Do you see it gaining an even more important position in the future for Hidesign?
DK: Puducherry has always been very important to me. This is where I grew up, this is where we began and it will always be a part of our heritage.

SJ: Do you think it’s time for luxury brands to start looking at Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities in India seriously?

DK: We have been available in places like Pondicherry, Goa and Cochin since long. But these are tourist centers and get a different type of customer. In the past couple of years, we have seen strong feedback from customers in tier II and III cities through our website and social networking sites. We believe we should go to the customer and not expect the customer to come to us.

SJ: India has a lot of creative talent. But where are we lacking that we don’t see more luxury brands coming up from this region?

Hidesign luxury bags IndiaDK: Most creative talent seems to be focused on street wear and casuals. It is difficult to come by talent that seems to understand luxury. This could be because of lack of access to luxury retail. In the past few years, we have seen more accessory labels coming up. This is a good start.

SJ: The Toscana bag looks absolutely wonderful! What made you bring it back?

DK: Thank you! It is the first handbag designed by me for Hidesign. While setting up Hidesign’s flagship store in Puducherry, we were mulling over creating a Hidesign museum, and we were lucky to get some of our oldest pieces back from customers who’ve been with us for many years. We thought it would be great to revive some of the old styles. Toscana was a great starting point. You will see more in the near future.

SJ: What is the future of Hidesign?

DK: Balancing the international market and the Indian market, where we have gone from being a totally export oriented company to having a 50-50 balance without changing the brand and maintaining the same brand qualities and values across the world.

Next are brand extensions – launch of new product categories such as sunglasses to begin with.