How Chennai is changing the fashion dynamics of the country?

Manish Kawlra, founder and managing partner of Chennai-based leather brand Tohl sheds light on the growth strategy of the company.
Manish Kawlra

The luxury leather market in India was pegged at $3.4 billion in 2016 and is believed to be one of the fastest growing sectors. As more millennials and young urban buyers become aware about leather products and will to spend on luxury, India is turning out to become the top destination for affordable luxury. In a conversation with Indian Retailer, Manish Kawlra, founder and managing partner of Chennai-based leather brand Tohl, shares insights on why online marketplace is a mix of boon and bane, how technology is breaking down geographical barriers and what trends will takeover the industry. Excerpts:

You have been in the industry for more than two decades. But how did Tohl happen and what was the idea behind rebranding Tohl two years ago?

Well, I have worked in the leather industry for more than 25 years. During this time, I realised that the market space lacked a brand that could provide high quality and well-designed leather accessories at an affordable prices. This idea was the foundation for launching Tohl.After working for Gaitonde Group for some years, I branched out and set-up Shoeline in 2002, and in 2012, I established The Sac and Satchel Company. Though Tohl was conceived in 2006, we formally introduced the leather accessory brand only in 2013 in Chennai. Two years ago, we decided to redefine the brand by entering the digital space. In this regard, we launched an online store in August last year.

Why is there a sudden boom for aspirational luxury, especially luxury handbags in India? How are you tapping on this growing demand?

Yes, there has been a shift in the way people perceive luxury brands. A year or two ago the market was facing losses, but the tables have turned today. When buying luxury, people only want high-quality and authentic products. I think that is where the shift is. What’s attracting people towards to our brand is that we present only authentic leather products.The demand is growing, and we are keeping up with it. We manufacture around 60 to 70 bags per day.

 Are customers for aspirational luxury products only limited to Metro cities or is the demand increasing from other cities as well?

Metro cities, of course, are better exposed and aware of luxury brands, but the demand is not limited by geographical boundaries. Thanks to technology, a brand can reach far and wide and customers also add from different regions.

As makers of luxury handbags, what do you think are the industry challenges and what gaps do you see in the market?

There are various challenges within the industry from organising financials and human resources to constantly trying to be ahead of the competition, everything can be challenging. However, we have been continuously working on innovative ideas and strategies to overcome these challenges.

With deep discounts, seasonal offers and fierce competition in online marketplace, is the platform boon or bane for luxury products?

I think it's a mix of both and you cannot have one without the other. An online presence will give brands more accessibility, but that also means massive competition. At the same time, there is growing demand for luxury products, so the market is somewhat balanced. To remain ahead in the market, however, we produce high-quality products and we are particular about the material. Such factors always work in our favour.

What are your offline and online expansion plans?

Right now, we are concentrating on expanding offline. We want to create a strong presence in large format store, MBOs and specialised boutique stores. Besides this, our ultimate goal is to open our own line of stores and create a franchise.    

What are your targets for this year?

Along with creating a strong offline presence, our team is planning to create a strong footing in the international market. We have plans of entering the Middle Eastern and South East Asian market.  Further, we aim to reach the European market as well.   

Are you looking at launching more products in different categories to expand the brand?

Yes, besides handbags and other accessories, we intend to introduce a number of categories. A few of these categories would include light-weight leather garments, leather home furnishings and we are also thinking of incorporating corporate gifts. 

Going forward, what do you think will be the trends in luxury fashion market in India?

Moving on, I think people will indulge in more luxury brands in the coming years. From clothing to home decor, there will be an increase in demand for high-quality luxury products. 


Manish Kawlra