Archive for February, 2012

Status Symbols – A basic instinct


In Asia, where the need for acceptance by the group is high and individualism low, the highest need that a luxury brand serves is status seeking. A slew of these brands owe their popularity and sales to this phenomenon, that consumers make the purchase for (impressing) others as often as they do for themselves.

For instance, I recently heard this interesting anecdote about young women in East Asian countries. Brand consciousness is so high in these countries and brands so much a part of one’s self-image, that when these young ladies join the workforce they scrimp and save in order to be able to buy a designer bag, say a Louis Vuitton, often spending the equivalent of a few months’ salary to buy one. To them this is the badge that announces (to everyone around) that they’ve ARRIVED !


A friend of mine here in India loves designer handbags and would love to own several, but doesn’t want to spend that much. She was thrilled when – India’s first luxury handbag rental service – was launched and she could rent designer handbags for a week at a time.

Apart from accurately recognising a need and fulfilling it, Bagsutra utilises the psychology behind the lust for a designer bag rather effectively. Luxury brands not only convey a standard of excellence, but act as social codes indicating access to the rare, exclusive and desirable. To match the designer handbags they rent out, bagsutra also has an exclusive air – membership is by invitation only, prospective sign-ups are screened and need to be recommended by an existing member. If you don’t believe how secretive (read exclusive) it is, check out the website and see how much information you can find there about the service!



You’d think this obsession with handbags and their reflection of one’s social standing would be limited to the well-to-do, but no, somehow it has percolated down income strata in the mysterious way that attitudes do.

A friend with an army of maids has one for cooking, one for the other chores, one for taking care of the baby and a fourth for miscellaneous back-up. This section is about the cooking maid – let’s call her Shobha.

Unlike the other maids who grew up in shanties or slums, Shobha grew up in a flat – albeit a small one – in a proper building and has a higher level of education. Ill-fortune has forced her to work as a maid and cook for other people, but she still wishes to underline her higher status and set herself a notch above the other maids. Hence, apart from wearing better quality clothes and sandals with heels (not chappals, mind you), she has cultivated two habits that clearly differentiate herself from the maid cadre. One, she uses a deodorant regularly, in spite of the fact that the smell is obliterated in less than fifteen minutes of cutting-chopping and sweating over the stove; nevertheless, the important point is that everyone notices that she arrived with deodorant on. Two, she carries a handbag rather than just carrying her money in a small cloth purse or rolled up in a handkerchief and tucked you-know-where. This has of course not gone unnoticed by the other maids and they rib her about it incessantly, saying ‘memsaab banne ki koshish kar rahi hai’.

Interesting to see how many women across geography, income and education levels pin identity and status to the same type of symbols and objects. It is another type of basic instinct, isn’t it !



Zenobia Driver

February 22, 2012 at 6:11 am 7 comments

The growing need for all things “designer”

On a recent trip to Kolkata, my mom and I walked into a fabric store. While we were browsing through thaans and thaans of very interesting fabric, we gloated in our discovery of this treasure chest of fabrics – there are fabric stores and then there was this. Very differently treated fabrics, lovely embroidered fabrics, fabrics with intricate cut-work, fabrics in very en vogue colors – something not so common to find.

As my mom and I discussed what we’d do with a lovely shaded peach georgette appliqued fabric – the store owner approached us with a potential design. I was surprised, taken-aback, impressed and saddened – all together. I was surprised because he came up to us with a beautiful image of an outfit made from the same (or similar-looking) fabric. I was taken-aback, because the design he showed us was an original Gaurav Gupta outfit from one of the recent fashion weeks, I recognized it from the distinct style of buttons he uses. What impressed me was – he showed us this set of images on his i-Pad! On further exploring, I realized he had pictures of entire collections from the last 4-5 years of fashion shows of all leading Indian designers – he had everyone from Sabyasachi to Tarun Tahiliani to Manish Arora. Just ask for the collection, browse the images, point out the one you like and voila! – He has the exact fabric to be able to replicate the outfit, all in a few thousand rupees. And if he doesn’t have it – he offers to create that fabric for you within 30 days!

This got me very curious – and I started observing the people shopping there. I soon realized that it was not just this store that was thriving on the knock-offs, he was just the provider of the raw-material. There were housewife-turned-“boutique owners” who seemed to have been sitting in the store for a few hours now, with thaans of fabric strewn around them – picking and choosing to assemble an outfit “inspired” from the greats!

I always knew this was happening – but experiencing this store and the shoppers made me realize how this undercover parallel industry is thriving on the glamorous, controversial, larger than-life, fashion industry.

Observed another example of the same nonchalant attitude towards ‘inspiration’ while we were researching sales experiences at jewelry stores a few months ago. We walked into a small independent jewelry store in Mumbai and started chatting with the owner about a pair of earrings we’d liked – he proudly claimed “this is a copy of Chopard design… that’s why it’s so unique”. Sounds to me like an oxymoron – sure it was meant to be unique when the team at Chopard made it, but now that several jewelers like himself must have copied it – it neither remains special for the original owner neither does it remain unique.

A similar thing is happening in the slums of Dharavi in Mumbai. A drive along the slow-moving, traffic-packed road along the leather shops in Dharavi – I have had sightings of the entire gamut of luxury handbags and belts ranging from Marc Jacobs, Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Chanel and even the iconic Hermes Birkin! These people have caught on to the identifying elements of each of these brands and improvised. For example: they have identified the rectangular gold Marc Jacobs plaque, the triangular Prada tag, the Gucci stripe, the Louis Vuitton checks, the classic Chanel padded criss-cross pattern and the leather and metal chain strap; and created knock-off leather accessories using these distinct elements. The irony of the situation is that most people shopping here are so far removed from the original brands, that they wouldn’t even know that what they are buying are knock-offs.

This brought home to me the growing demand for all-things “designer” – even amongst people that cannot afford true designer merchandise and the cottage industry that has risen to satisfy this demand. Seems like the growth in the luxury goods market has been accompanied by growth in the industry of counterfeiting, right in its shadows.



Roshni Jhaveri

February 14, 2012 at 5:21 am 4 comments

Manana is soon enough for me

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak – part 3

These were the questions we’d posed at the end of our first post in this series :

Why do most people fall short of their intentions? Do they try and then give up, or not even try? What do they do in order to stay healthy?

This post explores the answers to these questions.

Most people fall short of their intentions for one key reason –  ‘the man~ana factor’. ‘Man~ana’ is  Spanish for an indefinite time in the future, tomorrow or sometime later; ‘the man~ana factor’ is our term for procrastination, an attitude described with a lot of wit and a fair bit of accuracy in a popular song from decades ago with the refrain ‘man~ana is soon enough for me’.

While they are aware of long-term health problems and maintaining good health is important to them, most people don’t see it as a key problem for themselves; a previous post titled ‘everybody says I’m fine’ had described this attitude. Hence, while they intend to do something about it, it isn’t critical except when they are feeling unwell. As a respondent pithily expressed the fact that practising healthy habits is limited to when one feels unwell,“takleef gayi tho buri aadatein shuru”. Now add to this the fact that time is a commodity in short supply in everyone’s lives, and you know why intent doesn’t translate into action very often.

The people that do exercise regularly are of two types. One, those that are extremely health conscious or appearance conscious – this is the sliver of the population we’ve referred to in multiple posts (here and here). In addition, a chunk of this regularly exercising group is those that already have some health problem and need to manage it, for instance, those that have back pain and do yoga regularly, or those that have diabetes and walk every morning. Often, the shock of having and suffering from the ailment is the wake-up call that jolts them from a state of intent to one of action.

Women often exercise even less than men do;  one, the belief that housework itself constitutes sufficient exercise and two, a tendency to put anything related to themselves right at the bottom of their list of priorities. Even women that do take care of their health sometimes feel the need to rationalise it as necessary in order to ensure that they can take care of the rest of the family; as one woman expressed it, ‘agar tire hi achhi nahin hai, tho gaadi kaise chalegi?’ (‘if the tyres aren’t in good shape, how will the vehicle run?’). Yoga and walking are the preferred modes of exercise amongst women that do exercise regularly; one wonders whether the reason for the popularity of these two is that neither requires special equipment or surroundings, both of which would mean spending on themselves.

Women either wake up early to do yoga (we’ve actually met women that got up at 4 a.m. in order to do an hour of yoga before their daily chores begin!) or do it in the afternoon. Yes, the spurt in the number of yoga channels such as Baba Ramdev’s has added to the popularity of this mode of exercise. Walking is another popular method, though they often cheat their conscience by accepting hot weather / rainy weather / cold weather, in fact, anything less than perfect weather as an excuse for not stepping out. One exceptional lady we met in Bombay though, solved this problem by deciding not to travel via vehicle to any place that was within 2 hours of home – so she walked to the grocer, walked to work, walked to her children’s school, etc. and this kept her fit as a fiddle.

Given the lack of time to exercise, most people rely more on controlling their diet – or trying to – than on regular exercise. Most people, both men and women, believe that eating fresh home-cooked food is one of the best things to maintain good health; hence being on a healthy diet is something that is not too difficult, except for those that have a job that involves travel. Within this broad framework, housewives also recognise the need for some amount of control, so they try to moderate the amount of rice, sugar, oil, etc. they consume and use for cooking, and to increase the amount of green leafy vegetables and cereals consumed. Sometimes leading to frustrating results; as one lady told us, her husband complained about the amount of oil she used and its effects on his health, but when she made parathas with less oil, he refused to eat them as they weren’t tasty enough ! Her solution, to make the parathas with ‘enough’ oil and then dab them with a paper napkin before serving them so that no oil was visible !

Unlike the belief that they are getting a reasonably healthy diet, most people recognise that they are getting nowhere near the required amount of exercise. Concerns about this cause a heightened awareness of exercise solutions available, and probably an over-stated intention to exercise in order to stay healthy as seen in the survey.

Before ending this post, let me mention that while most people believe that their diet is reasonably healthy, they also believe that they need to tweak it slightly in order to address certain specific health issues. Understanding which health issues these are and creating offerings that address them has been the key to many a successful product launch in the past, and it is only this understanding which can lead to the high growth rates that have been estimated for this sector.


Zenobia Driver

February 7, 2012 at 6:18 am 2 comments

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak – Part 2

In our previous post , we spoke about the recent Nielsen Study that explored the health-conscious sliver of the population and some of their attitudes.

One thing that jumped out amongst the findings of this study was the difference in preference of method to lose weight between health-conscious Indians and westerners. The preferred method of losing weight globally (i.e. western countries) is through dieting while in India it is through exercising.

These results got me wondering — why is this the case? Even if, as mentioned in the last post, we interpret the survey results as a reflection of intent and not actual practice, one still wonders about the reason for the difference. Are these reflections of the social, cultural and economic conditioning of these populations? Or is this a reflection of the current market forces?

What do you think is the reason for this difference?

Do write in to us and share your views.

To be continued in the next post ….



Roshni Jhaveri

February 2, 2012 at 5:11 am 5 comments

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