Radhika Dhawan, 26, has always been a fashion follower. “Not necessarily donning it, but being up to date with what’s going on,” she says. She went to the UK for a postgraduate course in retail management. “All my projects were skewed towards fashion,” she says. After returning to India, she joined the Italian fashion brand GAS as a buyer and merchandiser. Dhawan loved her job but wanted to do something on her own.
Wallet-friendly: Radhika Dhawan sells designer clothes through exhibitions. Bharat Sai / Mint
Having attended many sample sales in the UK, she knew that organizing sample sales of designer wear could be a viable project. “I’m not reinventing the wheel here. This concept exists internationally, but not in India. So I thought I should try it out here. That’s how my company First Row was set up in July last year,” says Dhawan.
She started fleshing out the idea—of selling finished samples, stocks from previous seasons and export surplus of designer clothes at heavy discounts—with the help of her mother, who used to be the head of corporate communication at Raymond, and her father, who is a manufacturer and exporter of leather goods. She then took the concept to fashion designers, such as Shantanu and Nikhil Mehra, Ashish Soni and Raghavendra Rathore, who were family friends. By July 2008, she had quit her job to concentrate on this full time. When these designers agreed to give her full support, she knew First Row had a shot at being successful. Soon she had seven more designers on board and her first exhibition was held in October at Mount View, the only five-star hotel in Chandigarh.
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Now she also sells clothes by designers such as Narendra Kumar, Gauri and Nainika, Gaurav Gupta, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Rohit Bal, Malini Ramani, Mandira Wirk and Varun Bahl. For Dhawan, it’s important to re-create an exclusive store experience during the one- or two-day exhibitions. Formal invites are sent out along with text messages and emails. The banquet hall of an exclusive venue like a hotel or a club is made into a store for that day.
She has had six exhibitions, and broke even for the first time after her fourth exhibition.
“I didn’t get into it thinking this won’t work. I want to make this work anyhow.”
Dhawan says the big cities are saturated with designer wear and it’s the small towns, that have the purchasing power and awareness, which need to be tapped. She’s learning on the job. “And I get to wear great designer clothes for less.”