Arjun Segal from Mariko Plus, runs his Noida based fashion manufacturing unit, purely on design instincts. He understands the value of the regular ‘cash cow’ orders as well as disruptive designs that nobody in the competition does. He gives us fantastic tips about how to work with Indian fashion manufacturers, shares stories about his transition from a boutique designer to a designer cum manufacturer and shares his thoughts on the issue of the lack of exposure of Indian manufacturers.
Tell us about your background and journey.
I am a graduate from NIFT, Hyderabad. When I stepped into the corporate world at once I had big plans for myself to become a well-known fashion designer. To begin with, I decided to gain some experience working with designers, learning the ways and only then set up my own label. But when I worked with Rohit Bahl and Manav Gangwani, I didn’t get as excited about it as I had hoped for. I didn’t like the concept of customized designing for a single client.
Later, I had the opportunity to work alongside my uncle and aunt, Uday and Shashi Sehgal, who were already running a successful home furnishing manufacturing unit – Mariko. They were keen for me to join their business and develop a fashion section. So, I did. I started with fashion garment manufacturing in 2006 with Mariko Plus.
What was your first project for Mariko Plus? What were the challenges you faced initially?
As soon as I joined, I started working non-stop. I was crazy about embroidery, so started making some new designs and patterns.
My first piece was a beautiful white velvet and cotton dress with dori embroidery. It was along the lines of a Roman style. I still have it here in my office.
You wouldn’t believe it when I say, we started with 2 machines, 1 master and 2 tailors. We had no buyers. We were just sampling at first.
A few weeks later, I happened to go to a party and luckily found someone who was looking for an exporter. So, Nirmala Singh from France gave us our first order, for which I will forever be grateful. This has taught me that networking pays up big time.
For a young entrant like you, how did you manage to build trust with your buyers?
For a good period of 2 years, we were building our base in the domestic market. We got a domestic buyer called Tarini. She started her own brand with the same name. We started designing outfits for the brand – ethnic wear, casual wear and a few beaded garments.
Work was going very well by that point. So, we were always motivated to create more. Back then, domestic business was and still is, our cash cow.
It was not until early 2008 that we started participating in the garment fairs. It actually worked wonders for us. We got our first set of buyers from there. We got a very big buyer from IIGF (India International Garment Fair) who revamped our whole organization’s structure.
From your experience, what are the buying habits of your clients?
Somehow buyers never stuck with us for more than 2-3 years. The market is such that when any exporter finds out that some buyer has a strong buying capacity, they start lobbying them. “If he is giving you at $3 then I’ll give you at $2.5”, they say.
So, these buyers keep moving. The buyer, which I mentioned before, was consistent with us from 2009 till 2011. Somewhere in mid-2011, he shifted to our competitor. So yes, this happens. Ups and downs are a part of our industry cycle.
But, there are some buyers who are really attached to us. They want us to do styles for them and are very keen to see our collection every year.
What do you do differently, which your competitors don’t do and buyers appreciate?
From our end, we are very clear on what we want to do each year. We want to see what is in the forecast, we want to see what is happening around the world and we try to create something which the market doesn’t offer yet. That is the only thing that matters to me – creating our own USP.
But, in the process, we don’t want to go overboard on financials. That is the most important differentiator for any buyer. It should be cost-effective too.
Currently, we are making a line using cotton-knits. We have started printing on them, over-printing them, tie-dying and embroidering them. The whole look is very much in vogue. It is really doing well for our European clients.
Our competitors are not doing it as of now. We have stopped working on what they are doing actually. We started with prints then our competitors started prints. Then we got into beaded garments. We don’t want to do what everybody else is doing.
What remains constant in your designs? What is your Unique Selling Point at Mariko Plus?
We always believe in doing something with all our heart. I personally believe in offering something that the market isn’t. It is all about your R&D or forecast.
How do you research new developments in the industry? Where do you find inspiration from?
We participate in International fairs, study websites like WGSN and Promostyl. Then there are workshops and exhibitions.
Is there any support from your government in terms of learning or finances?
Yes, apart from the duty drawback which we get for exports, AEPC – Apparel Export Promotion Council, the official body of apparel exporters in India helps us in many ways. For one, they hold the IIGF. Then, they organize workshops for people who want to learn about market trends. Here, people from WGSN are called for such seminars. It’s a great learning experience.
What is the one thing, you feel that the Indian government should improve the garment manufacturing industry?
The government should help us grow internationally. At one point in time, our economy was known for exports. Make in India – this shouldn’t just be the case for technology but also, for the apparel exporters. So that we get visibility and viability.
The export council should make sure that they handpick a few who are trying to innovate in this sector. Then, they have a competition for that, make a platform and then they should be travelling to different buyers.
It is more about exposure and reaching out to the market than a competition.
With such competition from China and other neighbouring countries, what feedback have you received from buyers?
Yes, the competition is there and would continue for another few years. I can only speak about the current scenario in India. There are buyers from various countries who do not buy from India. They have certain notions about something or the other. It could be about working conditions, professionalism, etc.
One thing every exporter knows is – what their brand look is. Every manufacturer knows what their clients want so, what our buyers want, we can’t stop making. That is our bread and butter.
We try to exceed their expectations by giving them more than what they ask for but there’s a thin line between exceeding expectations and overstepping. We try to maintain our side of our bargain by being very professional about our services.
What have you learnt in your 12 years of experience? What are the things that have paid off for you?
We have close to 100 permanent employees with inputs coming from all the departments. We have given them liberty to come forward and speak of any changes they wish us to adopt.
We have a very busy production period from October until January. Buyers’ selling time starts in April so they have to catch-up with the shipment process quickly.
Delivery is our most important priority. If you are delivering the goods on time, the buyer has a different level of confidence in you. If your product is good and is going through all the processes of checking, finishing, packing, labelling, quality control and is packed beautifully – there is no point that the buyer would want to leave you.
What was your turning point in your career?
Visiting the Paris show for the first time in 2009-10. It was an eye-opener for me. It was there that I realized what all we can do when it comes to running a business.
Here at Mariko Plus, unlike other fashion manufacturing units where manufacturers run the business, the design team has started the organization so somewhere there is a difference in approach, passion and creativity. It is not that all our experiments are appreciated. It’s about what clicks with the buyer.
What tips will you give to buyers who want to work with Indian fashion manufacturers?
India is a beautiful country with gifted people. We have a good mix of every kind of skill in fashion manufacturing. It takes time to understand how we work but once you do, you are sure to fall in love with the kind of work we do and loyalty we have. Due to lack of exposure, we have not been given the right platform to showcase our work. But, that hasn’t stopped us from giving the best results to a buyer.
Be patient and you will see wonders with the factory you work for.