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Often worn by influential women including Michelle Obama on the red carpet, 12-year-old fashion brand Sachin & Babi is best known for its eveningwear. But luckily, prior to the pandemic and the mass cancelation of formal events, founders and married couple Sachin and Babi Ahluwalia had started to expand their product focus.
“For the last three years, we’ve been looking at the business to see how we can make it a little bit more ‘all things occasion,’ [for] day or evening,” Babi Ahluwalia said on the latest episode of the Glossy Podcast. “We made a deliberate attempt at [around] the start of 2019 to showcase how you could wear certain pieces of clothing during the day. [So] that gradual shift had started. And the pandemic helped us to push it a little further, faster.”
Now, Sachin & Babi customers can shop styles from linen shorts to peasant blouses.
What also changed during the pandemic was the brand’s sales-channel split, moving from 60% wholesale to 60% DTC e-commerce sales. “It’s [all] such a shift at the moment, and every month is a different game,” said Babi Ahluwalia. “So here we are, weathering the storm of fashion.”
In addition, she spoke about the dwindling importance of fashion week, as it stands; the future of formalwear; and the way she and Sachin Ahluwalia were able to get a second fashion company, The Good Kloth Company, off the ground mid-pandemic. Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
The brand’s pandemic-driven acceleration
“We’re trying to make the most of what we have. Our brand, of course, was an elevated eveningwear line. And over the course of time, for the last three years, we have been looking at the business to see how we can scale it, how we can make it a little bit more ‘all things occasion,’ whether it’s [for] day or evening. A deliberate attempt was made by us at [around] the start of 2019, and we used our website to showcase how you could wear a certain piece of clothing during the day, whether it’s for a luncheon or a board meeting or a day wedding. That gradual shift had started. And the pandemic helped us to kind of push it a little further, faster… Last year was a disaster for all of us, because all of us went home and we weren’t going anywhere. So we internalized that. The thought was already there, but we put into action [what we had started] in 2019. We added more silhouettes and design details for this spring to showcase the brand in its entirety. We used fabrics like linens that we’d never used in the past. And we consciously made the decision to buy fabrics and then produce [the styles featuring them] in that particular place. For example, if we bought the linens from Gujarat, we would make them in Mumbai. If we bought viscose from China, we would make them in Vietnam. So we deliberately, internally [decided] that it’s better to buy local, wherever it’s from, and then to import. That’s opposed to buying fibers from Vietnam, shipping them to India — it’s just the freight, the back and forth of it [that’s the problem]. All the things that we were thinking of over the years, we put into play last year; it all came full circle. And I feel this is a resurgence and a rebirth for our brand, in a way. Now, when you look at the site, and you look at the brand’s followers and influencers, they are much broader than what we had in the past.”
The relevance of fashion week
“I’ll be very honest: I think it’s fun to do a preview. With shows, we, as brands, have to decide who our audience is. Is it the press? Is it the consumer? I have friends who I have very honest conversations with, and when I used to invite them to my shows, they would be like, ‘Oh, this is fantastic. Can I have it, Babi?’ And I’d have [to say], ‘Oh, it’ll be ready in six months.’ They were like, ‘Oh, my God. Why am I seeing it now?’ So the thing is, if fashion has to be for the consumer, then there is no relevance in a fashion week being six months ahead. That was not the point when this all started. It was always [catered] to the trade [professional], if you remember. You actually showed it to retailers, you showed it to people in the press. They got excited, and then you booked orders, and then you shipped. Thanks to the digital age, that’s gone. Today, she’ll walk into a show, she will Instagram it, she will Insta Live it, the consumer gets excited. And then it’s available six months from now. So that is the biggest disconnect, in terms of what has and hasn’t been working. It’s more relevant to show your collection to the consumer with a different lens. It has to go back to how it used to be: Do a salon [type] of preview or do a salon presentation. Do something more intimate, and actually have stock to support the excitement of it. I understand the six-month [lag], because it takes time to procure the patterns, to source the fabrics — but the consumer doesn’t need to know about that. Do I love a good show? Yes. But as a consumer, I’d [rather] be invited to a trunk show where I can actually purchase the piece of clothing, shoes, whatever the case is. So that relevancy has to shift, because in the digital age — thanks to Amazon Prime, thanks to Netflix — nobody wants to wait anymore. It’s just [changing] consumer habits, and we have to change with the times.”
Launching a second brand mid-pandemic
“This was mid-pandemic — in April of last year, between the cancelations of all the department stores and the complete radio silence on e-commerce. Things just came to a screeching halt, and it was [only] month two or three [of the pandemic]. Sachin was brainstorming — because we are true entrepreneurs, at heart — and he was like, ‘This pandemic will die down at some point. A year or two from now, things will come back. There will be a new normal. So, how do we ensure our workforce is protected?’ We saw that, mid pandemic, what kept the economy alive in this country were the front [line] workers, the health-care workers, the delivery people, the chicken farmers — [these were] simple folks who always showed up. So, Sachin and I came up with an idea [we called Good Kloth], and we met with a fantastic company in Switzerland — a chemical solutions company that had come up with an antimicrobial compound that can be coated on any fabric, from sportswear to uniforms. We were like: ‘Fashion is fantastic, and it’s not devoid of purpose. But there is performance in it, and there’s a sense of self-esteem — when you look good, you feel good. But it’s not really attainable for everybody.’ The first plan of action was to come up with well-designed, well-manufactured uniforms coated with this antimicrobial coating, so that [workers] could be more protected. And of course, being in fashion, we wanted things to be aesthetically cool, we wanted them to be comfortable, we wanted them to be performance-driven — we wanted to make sure that there were 4-5 things in play. And as we moved super fast [to get this off the ground] as small-business people, big giants moved slowly.”