From London to New York, Australia to USA and finally, the latest landing
is India. To leave India, the dingy and willowy streets in order to set up
something more challenging requires a strong belief system, hard work and good
fortune. You don’t have to necessarily close your eyes and day dream, believes
Hiten Manseta, Owner and Creative Director, Tusk. The international leather
goods label which has been making ripples all over New York has made its way to
India at Ensemble, Tina & Tarun Tahiliani’s store. The top grain luxury
leather brand has created a buzz and that too quite a fashionable one world
over. Here’s an exclusive with Hiten Manseta, the man who made Tusk what it
stands for today. He opens up about the story of the brand, the luxury market
and the changing face of India.
1. Tell us about your journey from Mumbai to NY highlighting the
growth of Tusk.
My Masters brought me to the US. After finishing up my MBA, I
joined my cousin and dabbled in business. Together we exported goods from India
and soon my cousin was the first Indan in the apparel business. Earlier, I used
to look into the production and marketing aspects of the business which helped
develop a great learning experience. In an effort to ‘try’ something out, I
started with manufacturing leather accessories as the demand for it was on a
rise. In those days, quality products were never considered to be made in India
and we helped to change that.
The name was aptly chosen as it didn’t signify a person, designer or
anything specific. The broader, the better was the concept and ‘Tusk’ paid
complete justice to the brand.
2. How challenging was it for you to start of retailing leather bags with
strong Indian designs to an international market?
The whole idea was to
bring-in the product to the international market. In the beginning, the leather
was sourced from India and later we moved to Italy. The ‘no duty’ tag from Italy
on leather imports made our growing business less cluttered and taxable. Tusk
retains Indian designs and it’s rich heritage but is made for the design
sensibilities for the west, who are so taken by leather. It was not so much of a
challenge; it was more of a perception change that we had to cater to. The place
where we came from (India) had to be taken seriously as there weren’t so many
Indian companies set up in the international market then.
3. How has the brand awareness for Tusk come about considering there
are very few stand alone stores? Though there is global awareness in places like
London, Japan, China, Australia, USA and India, it's more so because of pop-up
stores. Why the decision to not have stand-alone stores?
Tusk started off as a wholesale company and we have always believed that
the quality of the products will stand for itself. The celeb culture was not big
those days and a celebrity was rarely considered as a prop to market a brand’s
goods. Retailing brings about its own set of challenges. Brand awareness aids
the longevity of the brand. Tusk is not a big brand but I’m often surprised as
to how many people know about us! Carrying a Tusk handbag is a total package and
it’s not some showy product placed in a museum. Tusk caters to functionality,
wear-ability and trend.
4. What do you expect from the most recent association with
Our association with Ensemble is a very fortunate one! We were
looking to be a part of a growing brand that nurtures quality, promise and a
sense of worth. We know the profile of our customers and wanted something that
would help us retain and grow the brand image. Ensemble has been stocking some
great designer labels which are both functional and entirely wearable. So,
together with Ensemble we’re looking at building awareness using a platform with
5. What are the trends that you foresee in leather accessories for both
men & women?
We, as a brand are following our own trend. The expectations
of our customers are met with, each season. I’m not pitting the brand with a
Prada, Chanel or LV because we’re different from them. Our designs, colours,
shapes and sizes aren’t seasonal. We go less by trends and more by the market or
user’s needs. Citrus and plum are two hot colours for women. Men in China are
experimental while those in Europe are classy and those in US want mere
functionality. So, depending on the market needs we build our accessories.
6. Indians have finally become aware of the importance of accessories.
What are your expectations from Indian consumers?
It’s the same situation!
It’s a challenge because we haven’t had quality wear in a while and also for
lifestyle reasons. The simple, vanilla-flavoured lifestyle is gradually changing
and people are coming around. Globalization, travel and exposure to various
forces have contributed to evolution and led people to give importance to
wearing accessories. Tusk is not here to change the world! We just want to offer
great quality and trendy design wear to all our users.
7. What are the expansion plans for the brand
For Tusk, US is still a major market. Seeing
the growth of Asia and the international role it has been playing over the past
few years, that also seems like the place to tap into. We’re looking at setting
up few more standalone stores. However, currently we’re still evaluating the
debatable real estate versus the internet and if it can ever wholly replace
brick and mortar!