She might just select one of the less conventional looking bags after all,” Sahil Malik, CEO of Da Milano made a little prophecy about a lady browsing the shelves in search of the perfect bag, at his store, which is located in South Delhi’s Select CityWalk mall. His guess was right. The lady, possibly in her 50s, picked up a bright mustard tote, which was part of the brand’s autumn/winter collection and has been one of its best selling pieces, the store manager quicky commented. As for Malik, there’s not just a guessing game. He has made a constant effort to study his customers’ behaviour ever since he joined his family business in the year 2000. The brand was started by his father Surender Malik in 1989 and he knows that being in sync with his customer’s preferences and taste is one way to take it forward.
Contrary to what many would believe, the ‘bag’ company that turned 25-year old this year, started by retailing leather garments and accessories apart from exporting leather to European factories. After an Italian family—that sourced from them since the 80s—suggested Malik should start retailing, Da Milano’s first store was set up in Delhi. “There were leather jackets, wallets and belts in our maiden collection displayed at our first boutique in Connaught Place. Bags came much later,” Malik reveals. The NIFT-graduate Malik not only pushed the retail presence of the brand in the years to come but also concentrated at diversifying into other realms, and constantly reinventing the brand’s image to keep up with changing times and trends. In 2009, the company started manufacturing products in the travel category with prices starting from `15,000. Shoes were added the same years, under the brand name Rosso Brunello. The shoes, tagged as affordable luxury, are priced between `3,000 and `10,000.
“For a long time, most of our customers weren’t aware that we’re actually an Indian company. It is easy to get confused by the Italian influence in our names,” he points out. Italy is more than just a symbolic connect, or a mere inspiration for the brand name. Not only is the leather imported from Italy but the collections are also designed in Florence by a team of designers and trend forecasters. The result: 300 unique designs in the women’s category and 120 fresh designs in the men’s category in a year that include totes, sling bags and laptop bags. About 150 new designs are added to the wallet and belt categories every year. Once designed, the samples are created in Italy under Mario Puchi, the brand manager based in Florence. The samples are then shared with a team in India that oversees the production in the unit located at Nalagarh in Himachal Pradesh. The accessories and hardware imported from Hong Kong are then added to the bags. The products are sent to brands’ 47 exclusive boutiques in Delhi & NCR, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata and Ahmedabad, among others.
“Although we are Italian in the spirit of leather manufacturing and designing, our heart belongs to the Indian consumer,” he beams in pride.
Targeting women and men aged 25-40, the bags are priced at `8,999 and above and the wallets go for `3,999. “By next year, we’ll launch allied impulse accessories too, like scarves, watches, eyewear and fragrance,” he points out. The brand that targets to reach the 50-boutique mark by the end of the year opened its 47th store in Raipur, in September. “We’re also eyeing international markets like the UAE, other parts of Middle East, South East Asia and Europe,” Malik says. While the young and energetic CEO tries to make his brand global, the international brands have made a beeline to India. “We aren’t competing with them, just playing by our own rules,” he says.
In a market flooded with Louis Vuittons and Guccis, the Indian bag lover doesn’t mind shelling out a good amount for a Da Milano bag. A quarter of a century in the business and the Italian looking Indian brand has become synonymous with colourful leather bags that are detailed with shiny clasps. Sahil Malik, your plan seems to be working.