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With online shopping charting new paths and patterns of consumer behaviour across India, especially in smaller towns with restricted access to multi-designer stores, fashion websites have upped their game. They not only sell fashionable clothes and accessories but market “trendiness" itself—like a worldview through styling tips, blogs, fashion news and updates by experts. The attempt is to make a fashion website a one-stop shop for those curious or serious about fashion.

That’s how Stylista.com would define itself. When it launched in November with pricing ( 1,050-5,950) that urged a relevant debate about the democratization of designer wear, it became clear that the manufacture of fashion garments needn’t be purely designer-controlled, even though the design itself might remain exclusive.

Stylista’s chief operating officer (COO) and fashion director Anjana Sharma, a seasoned name in Indian fashion, tells us how the exhaustive process of getting all the variables right—pricing, sizing, payment options, return policies, packaging, as well as styling videos and pop culture updates like music, along with design relevance—will determine the nature of turf wars. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Has Web-buying of fashion really become a craze or is it a lot of hype?

You only have to read business papers to know that the fashion e-commerce space is extremely hot and competitive right now. Apparel has a 21% share of the $16 billion (around 96,528 crore) Indian e-commerce market currently, and the biggest players today are talking billion-dollar valuations with serious investment poured into it across the board. So no, it is not hype. Moreover, increased Internet penetration, availability of quality branded clothing and accessories online, more payment options and convenience have all fuelled this growth in buying fashion online. This craze is not just in the metros, but also in tier 2 and 3 cities where branded clothing is not easily accessible. Considering how large this market is, there’s space for everyone—be it traditional ethnic wear or Western prêt.

How would you define Stylista’s edge in an atmosphere of competitiveness?

I think our biggest differentiator is our unique business model—i.e. limited-edition designer clothing at guilt-free prices. Being a vertically integrated company—which means we produce all the garments at our in-house production facility—allows us to have strict control over quality and pricing. Our garments reflect Indian sizing as opposed to European sizing. More importantly, we maintain uniform sizing across designers. Our packing is one of the best in the business and akin to an international luxury brand.

Also, our website and blog Stylista Insider has a former fashion editor heading content to produce writing on fashion trends and culturally relevant news, including films and music, apart from leveraging relationships with designers to get exclusive information that’s fun for our readers. A lot of women need help to decide what to buy and how to wear it, so we give them tips on how to style every outfit in our product descriptions. We even have a video that goes along to give shoppers a 360-degree view of every garment showing how it fits and falls—these are small but important things that make one’s shopping experience more enjoyable.

Every retail website now has a trump card. Rohit Bal for Jabong, for instance. This takes fashion democratization to another level. Do you agree?

Well, democratization of fashion is the only way to go today. We’re a young nation with increasing spending power, but we’re still extremely price conscious. We use clothing as a form of self-expression, but prohibitive prices prevent a huge percentage of people from enjoying this. Moreover, Western wear has overtaken Indian wear in day-to-day clothing, but few Indian designers are catering to this need for affordable, everyday clothing. This is why international high-street brands have flourished here. Indian designers have a unique talent and aesthetic but so far haven’t been able to exploit it because of production issues and not-so-sensible pricing. I think they’ve all wisened up to that fact now though. Also, brick and mortar stores, while important, can never match the scale and reach of an online store. At Stylista, we give designers the opportunity, creative freedom and accessibility to tap into a pan-Indian audience of first-time buyers who could turn into loyal consumers of their full-price range in the future. Who wouldn’t be excited about that?

How do you choose the designers you feature at Stylista?

We launched with six designers in November, including Wendell Rodricks, Nishka Lulla, Priyadarshini Rao, Tanya Sharma, Yogesh Chaudhary and Rinku Dalamal. Our second round includes Masaba Gupta, Neeta Lulla, Shivan & Narresh, Kallol Datta, Sailex and Nikhil Thampi, apart from the first fashion line from indie musician and actress Monica Dogra. We work with designers we believe in and not just established names. Which is why, our designer mix includes hot, new emerging talent. Also, each of the designers has a unique aesthetic so there’s something for everyone in all our collections.

Do Stylista designers monitor their lines from beginning to end?

I don’t think any of the designers we work with would be comfortable with just a one-time intervention. From the beginning of the collection right till it goes live on our site, designers are involved every step of the way. We have multiple meetings between designers and the merchandisers after sketches are received, fabrics selected, and before sampling starts. Once samples are produced, the designer has to approve it and is free to make amendments. The designs then go into production and one piece each from the collection is sent to the designer for further approval. It is an exhaustive process. We even ask each designer to give us a clear brief how they want the garments styled to ensure that the designer’s core brand values are carried forward.

How are designer garments marked down to become affordable?

Right from fabric sourcing to printing, dyeing, embroidery and sampling, all of it is done at our international standards production facility located in Mumbai. This takes the onus of production, distribution and marketing away from the designer, allowing them to just design clothes while giving us greater control over the quality and pricing of all our garments. Moreover, since we’re online only, we cut out the middlemen and the mark-ups associated with traditional retail to bring down the cost significantly.

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