Business of Fashion: When 3 is Company
Celebrities Malaika Arora Khan, Sussanne Khan and Bipasha Basu have teamed under The Label Life banner - the brainchild of Preeta Sukhtankar - to curate fashion statements and trends for an online audience
The Hindi film industry, or Bollywood as it is fondly referred to, has always been known for glamour. While films are, of course, at the core of Bollywood, those associated with the bright lights of "tinsel town" have always branched out into other parts of the glamour industry. There is Anil Kapoor's wife Sunita, former fashion designer and now jewellery designer; Shahrukh Khan's spouse Gauri Khan, who is an interior designer; and filmmaker Karan Johar, who co-designs a menswear line with fashion designer Varun Bahl. Of late, actors Alia Bhatt, Sonam Kapoor, Kangana Ranaut and Deepika Padukone have all tied up with brands to design their own capsule collections.
DIVAS OF DESIGN: (fromleft) Malaika Arora,Susanne Khan and Bipasha Basu.- Photo by Rohan Shreshta
It is seems films are not enough for Bollywood today. The players want to expand their horizons and look at fashion, design and style. It is against this backdrop that 38-year-old media professional Preeta Sukhtankar started thelabellife.com three years ago. It merges commerce, content and celebrity status, a unique combination, which seems to have built itself into a healthy niche business. The 'edits' of The Label Life, earlier known as The Label Corp, is done entirely by celebrity "taste-makers" Malaika Arora Khan, Sussanne Khan, and Bipasha Basu. They curate signature pieces of home décor, fashion and accessories.
Preeta has previously worked at fashion magazines ELLE and L'Officiel before moving to MTV. With a funding of $1 million, she started LabelCorp in 2012, which houses three labels under it - the homelabel, thetrunklabel, theclosetlabel - and gave her three celebrity style partners equity in the venture, as well as revenue sharing. Last year, she merged the company under one banner, The Label Life. Sussane Khan, already being known for her work in the décor space The Charcoal Project, is in charge of the home edit. Fashion is handled by actress and style icon Malaika Arora Khan, who has always been known for her love of dressing up. Being a former model, it is an industry she already knew well. Another former model and now actor Bipasha Basu is the accessories editor; she's had a passion for those. Preeta says, "What people don't know is that Bipasha has 41-size feet, so she's hugely passionate about styling beautiful footwear for women who normally don't get their sizes easy."
The three women were friends before they started working on this project, but have now become part of each other's inner circles. As Malaika says, "Since our interests and expertise lie in different areas, it was quite natural that Sussanne would curate and design the home décor section, Bipasha would put together stunning statement jewels and accessories, and I would style and curate clothing pieces."
They now act as style advisors for each other too. "Recently, I wanted to incorporate a Persian rug in my living room and the first call I made was to Sussanne," says Bipasha. There is a real sense of camaraderie among the ladies, and this has helped give the site a very cohesive feel.
The Label Life seems to have cracked the winning formula, as traffic has gone up by 40 per cent in the last year; and with 45 per cent of customers becoming repeat clients, it seems these style savvy women have understood what sells. They have even started working with larger marketplace portals such as www.myntra.com, and Preeta says they receive about a 100 orders a day from this website. Not only do the trio curate the site, they are also on hand to answer questions that customers may have. Says Malaika, "Everyday, women have so many questions regarding style and the home space that need answering. We act as personal stylists and help these women answer those questions."
The Label Life has also launched special Twitter handles for each celebrity, so you can ask Malaika about fashion at @askmalaika. Recently, she styled Sussanne Khan for a photoshoot and this was shared across her social media platforms. Preeta also brings in special guest editors for short periods. Fashion designers Rocky S and Malini Ramani have both been guest editors in the last month. This keeps things fresh and ensures there is always engaging content on the site.
Of course, there are times when the ladies have got it wrong; there were a few hits and misses in the early stages. Preeta says, "We find that product which are unique and also have a utility aspect to them, sell fastest. For example, our best selling product is a lovely, ombre water dispenser. India's online shopper is very price conscious, so products which have high price tags, sell more slowly. In fashion, comfort and price are of utmost importance." (You can find a Little Black Dress on the site for under Dh150, so pricing does have a celebrity feel.)
The company now employs over 50 people and Preeta is looking for more investment as she believes she's understood the marketplace and is ready to take things to the next level. "Business has grown ten times as we now understand our customer a lot better and are evolving our marketing, product and pricing to match market needs."
So Preeta's project may make Bipasha, Malaika and Susanne three very wealthy women, much more than they already are, in the future. Though online retail is still new in India, it is expected to generate $100 billion in revenue in the next couple of years, of which $35 billion will be in the sectors of fashion e-commerce. And The Label Life has a definite first mover advantage.
"Bollywood has always been the medium audiences and fashion designers have turned to for style inspiration. As Bollywood has matured, so has the awareness and consciousness of fashion-forward trends as a whole evolved," notes Bipasha. One of the reasons that she has been quiet on the film front lately is because this venture has become a focus for her. "The Label Life is taking up a good chunk of my time. Our new Festive Edit just went live. I was very busy working on the travel and holiday collections that launched in December 2015."
With every item on the site being a signature piece, they try and ensure that all products on The Label Life are truly exclusive. There is a method to these mavens' madness, and in these three years, they have learnt what it takes to be a good merchandiser. "Based on trend forecasts, we zero in on one theme and work towards incorporating colour palettes and design aesthetics from that theme across home décor, clothing, and accessories. As far as sourcing goes, we build each piece for each collection that you see, from scratch. However, for certain special collections, we do travel overseas to source key materials," explains Susanne.
Of course, the true testament to The Label Life is the fact these celebrity style gurus actually use products from the site. Basu can often be spotted stepping out in brogues that retail on it; Malaika wears clothes from the site frequently
for events; and Susanne's dinner set at home is also available here. The latter is also currently working on a furniture coll-ection for the site, which will be more affordable versions of what she designs for The Charcoal Project. Also on the cards are further designer collaborations. It seems life has just begun for the three-year-old The Label Life.