Abhishek Agarwal of Purple Style Labs on the changing face of luxury e-commerce in India and how brand acquisitions are the future of fashion.
In the past year, we’ve noticed fashion’s bend towards commercialisation. After years of being run as independent design houses, established fashion brands are now looking for outside investors and collaborators as a means of growth. In this changing cultural environment, it’s important to pay heed to Purple Style Labs (PSL) – a luxury fashion house comprising of multi-designer platform Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop and fashion labels – Wendell Rodricks and Hemant Trevedi. Founded by an investment banker, Abhishek Agarwal, PSL is building itself up to be a global fashion house, perhaps the next LVMH or Kering. We talk to Abhishek Agarwal on the ground realities, his acquisitions, investments, and what’s next for the Indian fashion and luxury sector.
Abhishek Agarwal of Purple Style Labs on the changing face of fashion and luxury in India
The reason behind the switch from aerospace engineering and banking space to luxury fashion?
Luxury fashion has always been of personal interest to me. When I was planning to leave banking and start a business on my own, my vision was to build India’s largest luxury fashion house. I started Purple Style Labs (PSL) with the same vision in 2015 and started working with designers to help them scale their business. For the first 3 years, I spent a considerable amount of time understating the challenges faced by Indian fashion designers and realised the lack of an aggressive multi-designer platform in this space. We acquired Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop in 2018 and scaled it over 50x in the last four years transforming it into the largest omnichannel multi-designer platform for Indian luxury fashion.
Tell us about your journey with Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop and how it changed the face of luxury e-commerce in India?
Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop was the pioneer in the Indian luxury e-commerce and market leader since its inception in 2012. Post the acquisition, we infused all the elements needed for faster growth and have grown the online business alone by 30x to a 200 Cr+ run-rate now, making it the largest luxury e-commerce website by a huge margin than the competitors. We also expanded the same into a chain of offline experience centers called Pernia’s Pop-Up Studio in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Kolkata, and also with the first international location in London. The studios also contribute another INR 150 Cr+ run-rate to the overall business making Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop an INR 350 Cr+ (~$50Mn) sales business today.
What made you (Purple Style Labs) acquire the Wendell Rodricks label? Post the designer’s untimely demise, how has the design and other aspects of the brand evolved.
As a broader goal of building India’s largest luxury fashion house, we are constantly looking to invest and acquire brands that have the potential to become large businesses in themselves. Wendell Rodricks Label is one of the iconic brands built out of India and deserved to survive and grow beyond borders. We acquired the brand about a year ago and have already grown it to INR 10Cr+ annual sales run-rate brand with 3 stores in Mumbai (Juhu, Kalaghoda, and upcoming in Palladium). In the resort wear and linen-based casual category, the brand has always been way ahead of its time and we believe that in the next 3 years, we can easily scale Wendell Rodricks Label to a 100 Cr+ sales brand.
Corporates acquiring large portions of fashion brands is a recent development in India that is gaining a lot of momentum. Your thoughts on this trend?
It is a great boost to the industry because it will allow designers to grow much faster with financial support. As the largest multi-brand distributor in this space, we are happy with the momentum as the industry shifts from unorganised to organised.
One of your investments, the House of Masaba recently got taken over by Aditya Birla Group. Your thoughts on this move?
It is definitely a great boost for younger designers who sometimes are apprehensive about taking on an equity investment in their journey. Masaba is one of the top-selling brands and that was primarily the reason for our investment in the brand in 2019. With the baton passed on to Aditya Birla Group now, we hope that the brand would scale further to new heights which shall benefit the broader industry as a whole.
PSL has been instrumental in helping fashion labels set up their e-commerce channels and websites. What has been your role and support in this journey?
It started with our investment in House of Masaba, where we were managing their website and demonstrated 10x growth in sales within a year. When the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020, we extended the same offering to more designer brands including the likes of Tarun Tahiliani, Rohit Bal, Amit Aggarwal, and partnered to operate and market their brands’ own e-commerce websites. Today PSL manages more than 40 designer websites in this business arm called Purple Web Store.
What challenges do fashion and luxury e-commerce face in the country?
The Indian luxury fashion industry is primarily driven by designer brands which is a highly fragmented and unorganised space. This creates a bottleneck for a hypergrowth platform like Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop because of supply-side constraints. But we have been actively working with designers since the acquisition to work at a deeper level with them to sort the root level problems in the longer term. This led to our equity investment in the House of Masaba in 2019.
What’s next for Purple Style Labs?
Our focus has always been to keep growing Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop business as a priority and we hope to scale the same to an INR 1000 Cr+ sales business by 2024 from the current INR 350 Cr+. The next two years would see more international stores opening in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Singapore apart from the current London store. We are also looking to both invest growth capital in younger-term designer brands and acquire mature brands in the journey for the longer-term vision of making PSL as India’s largest luxury fashion house.