Only six months since it launched, Pernia's Pop-Up Shop has become an immensely popular online destination for designer togs. Priyanka Sharma chats up its founder Pernia Qureshi.
Chanderi saris embellished with elaborate buti borders by Sabyasachi Mukherjee, anarkalis in rich silk by Anamika Khanna and embroidered jumpsuits by Pia Pauro, an upcoming designer, line the shelves of a cluttered basement in New Delhi’s tony Defence Colony. The small, barely 500 sqft space is the inventory room of Perniaspopupshop.com, an online shopping portal for women’s designer wear and accessories. The website showcases over 50 labels, among them Ritu Kumar, Gaurav Gupta, Namrata Joshipura, James Ferreira, Shantanu & Nikhil, Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla, Rohit Gandhi-Rahul Khanna and Shivan & Narresh.
And the number of designers is increasing by the week, says a cheerful Pernia Qureshi, founder of the website, clad in a strappy Savio Jon dress (available at Pernia’s Pop-up Shop for Rs 8,600) and comfortable sandals. From a corner office, Qureshi keeps a vigilant eye on her 20 employees, among them a gaggle of young fashion design graduates who do her bidding — furnish press notes, update her Facebook page and organise meetings with designers. The 27-year-old fashionista, who has styled actors Sonam Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha and Asin, launched her eponymous label at the Lakmé Fashion Week this August.
Qureshi launched the online store in April this year. Her decision to take the “e” route was a clever one, given that she could save on the high real-estate and operational costs of brick and mortar stores, and also price her wares at rates that compared favourably with those at established multi-designer stores such as Ogaan and Kimaya. Qureshi, of course, is not just serving the consumer by offering designer garments at great prices, but she is also helping the Indian designer by giving him the opportunity to expand his market without making huge investments. Besides, Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop offers designers fatter margins on sales.
For designers, the portal also presents an opportunity to build their brand. Take Mukherjee, one of the best-selling designers on Qureshi’s website. Yesterday, Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop launched “The Sabyasachi Stories”, which will have the designer’s loyal buyers sharing stories and images of their favourite Sabyasachi sari across Facebook, Twitter and Google+. All links will be redirected to Pernia’s Pop-up — which translates into higher traffic for the website and targetted publicity for the designer.
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A year ago, when Qureshi approached established designers with preliminary ideas and designs, convincing them to showcase their garments on her website wasn’t difficult, she admits. This was a major victory because designers are often finicky about how their outfits are stocked and displayed. Family connections may have helped here. Qureshi comes from a wealthy family — her father Moin Qureshi (who has invested in the website and is a director) runs a large meat-exporting business. Qureshi says she has known many of the designers since childhood. The launch soiree of Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop was attended by many designers including Joshipura and Kallol Datta, besides Gayatri Reddy, former owner of Deccan Chargers. “Pernia has grown up around great style and has forged her own identity which I first spotted when I roped her in to style a shoot for me a few years back,” remembers Tarun Tahiliani, who will soon launch his collection on her website.
Styling celebrities, says Qureshi, was not something she had planned to do. She was studying law at The George Washington University in the US, when she stumbled upon fashion while doing a summer internship at Cosmopolitan. “I realised that I had a flair for fashion and wanted to be associated with it.” So she did an internship with Elle magazine in New York. At 21, Qureshi bagged an apprenticeship with established French designer Catherine Malandrino followed by another internship at Harper’s Bazaar. “I learnt fashion the right way,” asserts Qureshi.
Her return to Delhi in 2009 was perfectly timed — Harper’s Bazaar launched in India that year and she joined the magazine as a stylist. But she quit soon. “I realised that not only was I underpaid — which is fine, because no one pays well in fashion; I’m the only fool who pays my employees well [laughs] — but also overqualified for the job.”
Qureshi’s claim to fame, she confesses, was styling her “dear friend” Kapoor and the cast of Aisha (2010). At a time when Vogue India Fashion Director Anaita Shroff Adajania was the only high-profile Bollywood stylist, Qureshi’s refreshing and elegant take on high-end couture found favour with critics and actors. Aisha introduced Atsu Sekhose to the Indian designwear market, and also led to a surge in sales of Anamika Khanna’s lehangas and the classic Lady Dior bag that Kapoor carries in the film.
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Designers want a website that represents them to display their garments elegantly and have an easy-to-browse interface. And Qureshi, who shops regularly at international designer wear retailer Net-a-Porter (which sells Alexander McQueen, Christian Louboutin and Valentino, among others) knows how to keep them happy. Gaurav Gupta who showcases his coral saris with kat dana detailing (Rs 28,000), and a range of accessories, is one such satisfied vendor. “Pernia has a great blend of creativity and business acumen. She is effortlessly chic and this is reflected in her website and clothes.” Be it his ornate suits or sweeping dresses, Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop, he adds, does justice to his brand with its beautiful images, timely shipment and cautious handling of the merchandise.
Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop’s database of buyers is growing not just in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai but also in smaller cities like Lucknow and Dehradun, says Qureshi. “And the web traffic is highest during office hours,” she adds with a laugh. As for any problems Qureshi has the customer feedback email configured on her Blackberry.
The website has a conversion rate of 0.25-0.35, says its CEO Prabhakar Shastri. This means that if 10,000 shoppers visit the website every week, at least 2,500 of them make a purchase. “These figures are growing steadily. Sales grew by around 150 per cent at the end of the first three months,” says Shastri. Two of the fastest selling items on Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop, says Qureshi, are an Amit Aggarwal beige and gold armadillo jacket (Rs 28,600) and a Masaba cow-print sari (Rs 26,000).
While prices are mentioned along with descriptions of the garment, sizes are limited to ‘small’, ‘medium’ and ‘large’. “I will expand soon and add more sizes,” says Qureshi. Prices are decided after negotiation with designers — Qureshi doesn’t reveal what her mark-ups are nor does she divulge her investment in the venture. She also keeps a tight control over the merchandise, sending out a team of buyers to fashion weeks and designer outlets to find designs that catch their eye. “They weed out the junk for me. I decide what goes up on the website,” she says.
Orders are generally dispatched the same day they are booked (Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop has tie-ups with Blue Dart and DHL) and delivered in five to six days. If a buyer doesn’t like a garment or it doesn’t fit, she can return it; the money is saved as “store credit” which she can use at any time to buy another item.