Indian indie brands emerging and on the rise. Top new labels with better design, minimalist fashion and higher quality.

Opinion Why Indian Homegrown and Indie Brands are on the Rise

India may not have ever seen such a large number of consumer lifestyle indie brands bursting with freshness and conviction.

by Amish Behl

My first memorable tryst with an indie brand ecosystem was about a decade and a half ago in USA. I was a teenager visiting relatives in Austin, Texas, who happened to take me to a parlour called Amy’s Ice Creams.  

Amy’s Ice Creams is a small company having a handful of outlets in Texas, with no intention of expanding nationwide aggressively. Amy’s is representative of the local spirit of enterprise thriving on the support of Austinites who like to ‘Keep Austin Weird’ — a slogan to support small businesses and buy local. It is a charming little joint and I’d honestly never been served ice cream with such warmth. The more I saw the ‘Weird’ side of Austin, the more I was hooked. Many such experiences and places in the city struck a chord and stayed with me. I felt it would be so great to have something like this closer to home too.

I love small, indie brands, so I couldn’t be happier to witness their growing numbers in India. Some research and surveying followed, to understand this trend a little better. In this piece, I talk about things the interested, differentiated sub-set of indie brands are doing right, and why they are gaining popularity and prominence to become worthy competition to the big, established names. This isn’t a ‘best indie fashion labels’ kind of list; though through our body of work at Definitely Curry, we’d really like to arrive at it – patiently and fairly.

In a nutshell

Lately, there has been a surge in the number of local Indian brands. And not just any local brands, but a new breed of really interesting, differentiated labels with an honesty about them. Who focus on making things of very high quality that aren’t mass produced. Not all are worth writing about, but it isn’t a stretch to say that there is a movement afoot in indie, modern Made in India, albeit not organised so per se.

This is happening across different product segments, whether it is clothing and fashion, leather goods, accessories, footwear, liquor or even stationery.

I feel there are a bunch of reasons on the side of brands as well as buyers why this is happening. Some brands and creators are refining their designs, sensibilities and quality, taking the best global cues through study and experience. They are more confident about their vision and the ability to pull it off. Whereas today’s buyer wants to know more about what they’re buying, wants better, knows better and feels pride in buying from local brands. According to a 2017 Boston Consulting Group (BCG) report, 60% of Indians are willing to pay extra for products that are made in India. It is this maturation on both sides that is really paving the way for an indie brand movement.

Mumbai Marine Drive, Representing the new wave of indie brands and homegrown labels in India

1. Indian labels aren’t just about luxury and exclusivity any more

Traditionally, in India, established brands and designers played either in the mass market space or luxury segment, leaving a vacuum in the area of well priced, high quality products that one may categorise under street or everyday style. This category is generally served by a number of global brands and more continue to enter the country to retail.

This means we don’t have a whole lot of local options to turn to if one just wanted to pick up a casual denim shirt or a basic t-shirt of good quality  — just everyday things. But gradually, this is changing. If you look around, there are many young brands catering to different niches, without crossing into luxury or haute couture.

Heck, we even have a chikoo wine

2. We are seeing design sensibility and aesthetics that were largely absent a few years ago

There’s a new aesthetic and design language at play with a number of newer Indian brands, like Bhaane and Nappa Dori, for example.  It points to a stripped-down, sticking to the basics kind of sensibility with earthy and neutral colours. Nothing too over the top and with tones of minimalist design.

Minimalist fashion and clothing, in fact, has become a genre of its own.

Over time, many homegrown creators, through their experiences and learnings, have imbibed a global take on refinement and style, and let it percolate into their brands and work. This has resulted in a design philosophy that veers away from the ostentatious and kitschy, keeping it tastefully modest.

It is real, raw and relatable.

Bhaane shirt and packaging - Grey mandarin collar shirt - Minimalist fashion design from Indian indie brand

Bhaane is a super chill, fun take on streetwear with muted, earthy colours. They know how to hit the sweet spot between stylish and inconspicuous.

3. It’s easier to find something with more individuality as indie brands are not looking to mass produce

Everyone loves exclusivity, right? I believe the best kind of exclusivity is when it is uniqueness or differentiation of a kind that allows expression of oneself, not just something that stops at being top dollar.

Buying from a more boutique setup is one way of bucking the mass-produced trend. The healthy number of brands doing something interesting and offbeat, combined with their smaller production batches enables finding this uniqueness. Where you truly identify with something.

4. There is better quality and attention to detail than what we’ve come to expect from local brands

The phrase ‘attention to detail’ is becoming cliched, standard marketing copy to the point of being comical. I mean, if everyone is paying attention to detail, stuff available at large ought to be a lot better made!

At the same time, in its literal sense, it is extremely important to any good production outcome. Better quality and attention to detail is easier when a label is smaller. With some notable exceptions, production quantities and quality are usually inversely related.

The good thing is that I can genuinely see the attention to detail getting better with many Indian brands I have bought from.

Korra custom, raw denim, selvedge jeans - single tailor sewn from Indian indie label

Korra jeans are custom-made using raw, selvedge denim by a single tailor who sews them start to finish just the way you want it.

5. Indie labels are closer to the designer, creator and their vision

We’re all suckers for a good story. And it’s also the best way to connect with a brand. With many homegrown brands, the stories really resonate. This brings about a closeness and appreciation that fosters trust. There is also a general feel-good about using something that is conceptualised and created closer to you.

We’re becoming more discerning buyers, who want to know little details and how parts of what we consume come about. So there’s a level of assurance that comes from proximity to the creator and knowing what they stand for. I, for one, have been able to bond with articles better where their purpose beyond vanity is clear to me.

6. Many homegrown brands are increasingly embracing environmental sustainability and responsibility as part of their reason-to-be

Pleasantly, this is the stand-out if you do a bit of trend-spotting. Many young brand owners either completely drive their brand on sustainability or have a definite focus on it. From cutting down on plastic to going organic to even using novel eco-friendly materials, it’s all happening.

While the extent of it may vary, just seeing this element of responsibility being taken on is delightful. More and more people care about what they buy and whom they buy from. And it’s nicer to associate with brands that care, given where the ecological balance of the world stands today. Clean and natural feels better.

No Nasties Organic Fair Trade Cotton

No Nasties only use organic, Fairtrade certified cotton across their collections. Photo courtesy: No Nasties

Summing up

Made in India is a matter of pride even in globalised times when we have choices from around the world. I feel quite nice wearing Indian labels or drinking an Indian craft beer, thinking local entrepreneurs and creative minds are offering me an enjoyable experience. While I am playing some small part in encouraging them. The good news is that their outlook and sensibilities are evolving in a way that is offering something superior to the consumer, the appeal of which does not merely rest on its origins.

There exists an interesting, differentiated sub-set in the Indian market, high on quality and high on heart, where there is much to be discovered and enjoyed. Sure, there’s still a lot of stuff that doesn’t hit the mark and some searching and handpicking is needed. That’s what we’re going to do at Definitely Curry – Find and help you discover the best homegrown indie brands.

What has your experience been with local indie brands? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this story interesting or useful, please spread the indie brand goodness by sharing it!

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