Like most first-generation entrepreneurs, Gurgaon-based metalware designer Mukul Goel, built his company Designwise India from ground zero.
Instead of pursuing a career in engineering, which he was trained for, Goel decided to follow his heart and produce upper-end luxury goods for contemporary homes.
A course in design at the National Institute of Design was followed by creating products for India's famous signature product designer, Michael Aram.
After six years into product development and designing for stores like Tad in Milan, Balvi in Spain and Anthropology in the US, Goel is now keen to promote his own signature brand -- Mukul Goel. "I will not dilute my designs to suit somebody else's taste and my products will go under my own brand name," he says.
And Fusionz, the Chicago-based store, has given him the opportunity he was looking for. Fusionz will sell his product range under the Mukul Goel brand name for the first time. Even the domestic designer showrooms are warming up to him.
In the last two months, he has secured contracts from stores like Bungalow 8 in Mumbai and Cinnamon in Bangalore to carry his name on his designs.
So are Indian product designers selling under their own brand names overseas? The answer is yes, if you go by the acceptance of designs and not volumes. While Michael Aram, currently in China to promote his brand, may have been selling under his own brand, others are also being recognised.
Mandira Malik's Manna brand, launched three years ago, has been fairly successful. It is currently being sold at Lara Palmer boutique in London's Bond Street and in the US.
Says Malik, who works with glass and metal: "Ninety per cent of retailers and wholesalers come to India to buy a commodity, and not a design." Malik should know. For, she has been running an accessories buying agency in Delhi called Something Else. However, products under the Manna brand have been accepted by the Shangrila Hotel in Hong Kong.
But Goel and Malik are not the only ones whose signature brands are being accepted abroad. Devi Design's Anupam Poddar says that all their products, ranging from metal to paper, are being exported under their brand name.
Designer Vibhor Sogani, who uses wood and stainless steel, is also negotiating to retail his products in Dubai. In India, Sogani has a marketing tie-up with retail outlet Vis-a-vis.
Even Atul Aggarwal, a self-trained designer, wants to promote his brand Portside Cafe at designer stores abroad. Currently, he makes leather accessories for retail stores like Armani Casa, Mufti and Conran Shop.
While designers may have ambitions to sell their brands overseas, there has been a growing demand for contemporary designs in the domestic market. And the hospitality sector is leading the way. Malik, for instance, recently supplied 2,000 products to the Hyatt Regency in Mumbai.
Sogani, supplied 600 products to the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Delhi and is retailing his goods at The Park in Chennai. Biswajeet Mitra, Hyatt Regency's material manager, says that earlier hotels did not change accessories for several years. "Now accessories are updated every three years, fuelling the demand for designer stuff," he says.
But pricing for designer goods will continue to be a sticky factor. Say G V Sethi of the design company, Design Laboratory: "Since a lot of money is spent on developing the product, we have to stick to a price to be commercially viable." Add to this other infrastructure problems like lack of power that adds to the cost of the final product.
Besides, designer goods are a low-volume business, which means that new design lines have to be constantly created to continue to interest its buyers.With a price tag of Rs 100 for a glass coaster to Rs 12,000 for a vase, Malik feels Manna offers something to suit every pocket. "But the more important thing is that the buyer has to identify with the product. That's when the product is a success."