20 years on, this Made in India luxury brand is fashioning a global empire for itself
After graduating from NIFT, Delhi, Sahil Malik decided to pursue a marketing course in London. There, he was fascinated by premium handbag stores — a sight alien in India at the time.
“India didn’t have any premium women handbags brand stores and consumers had to rely on international companies to meet their desire of having a luxury handbag,” Sahil tells SMBStory.
The third-generation entrepreneur always had a keen interest in fashion and accessories. So, he decided to start a luxury handbag brand to cater to niche customers in India and launchedin 2000.
Today, Da Milano has 75 stores including 15 airport stores and clocked a turnover of Rs 143 crore in FY 19-20. Sahil says while his stores are located across India, his customers are mainly from the north and east India.
The journey from Delhi to pan India
Sahil’s family business was already into leather goods exports, so starting the production of handbags wasn’t a difficult task.
Da Milano launched its first store in one of Delhi’s frenetic shopping spots in Connaught Place and continued to grow its presence in the city for the first three to four years. This also helped Sahil observe client acceptance as the entrepreneur says Da Milano’s target customers were not the masses — but a very niche category of people.
The brand offers a ‘lifetime warranty’ for all its products, which helps it maintain the trust of its customers for the price they are paying. Sahil says this has garnered praise for the brand.
“Your customer must trust your brand and providing good after-sales services is the best way to gain that trust and retain your customer,” he explains.
After opening three stores in Delhi, in 2004, Sahil took Da Milano to Chandigarh’s posh Sector 17 market.
“We realised that after Delhi, entering Punjab was the right choice and we did that,” says the entrepreneur.
He adds that he has a simple approach while opening a Da Milano store — choose the busiest street of any city. Sahil says,
“To open up my store, I follow the approach of McDonald's, which works on the principle of having the right real estate and I firmly believe that. Even though it takes time, your store must be in the prime locality — be it in a market or mall, where there is footfall of your potential customers.”
Da Milano handbags range
The way to international markets
Da Milano’s manufacturing units are located in Himachal Pradesh and West Bengal, where a highly skilled workforce operates state-of-the-art machinery under the guidance of Italian technicians. The brand also has an in-house team of designers to design the products.
With leather handbags as its primary product offering, the brand sources its leather from Italy and Brazil. In India, it procures leather from Chennai. Its other raw materials including hooks, buckles, chains, etc., are sourced from China and Hong Kong.
Besides various kinds of handbags, Da Milano also offers other products like computer bags, backpacks, wallets, belts, money clips, briefcases, luggage trolley bags, and more. In accessories, it offers jewellery cases, pen cases, key chains, leather mirrors, etc.
In 2013, Da Milano entered international markets and is currently present in Kathmandu, Qatar, Bahrain, and Dubai. Last year, it also opened a store in the Dubai Mall.
COVID-19 and its impact
Sahil claims that Da Milano was on a rising curve until the pandemic hit India in 2020.
“COVID-19 brought an immediate closure to the business. The lockdown closed our stores in malls and I had never incorporated an online selling model in the business as I wasn’t a believer of selling products that need to have a touch and feel on the internet. But I was wrong,” he says.
As soon as the nationwide lockdown was imposed last March, Sahil decided to explore a D2C approach. Once the restrictions were lifted for non-essential products, he claims the brand saw tremendous demand from customers.
“It was like a V-curve for us. The business steadily picked up,” he adds.
Now, with the ongoing second wave, Sahil says there is a loss in business, but he is hopeful that business will pick up later in the year.
Competition and the way ahead
According to Statista, revenue in the luxury leather goods segment amounts to $1,651 million in 2021. The market is expected to grow annually at a CAGR of 8.49 percent between 2021 and 2025.
But Sahil says Da Milano’s exact market is undefined, adding, “We don’t have a competition in India as we are leading retailers of affordable leather luxury goods. There is no other brand in the luxury leather handbags in India that serves in our price point.”
While brands like Hidesign and are prominent in India for their leather handbags, Sahil says that the price points they operate in cater to a separate audience.
Going forward, he is planning to launch another brand that would have a mass-centric customer approach. Da Milano aims to expand rigorously in the international markets by entering the UK and Singapore by the end of this year.
It is also planning to launch more categories of products, including travel kits, card cases, and more.