When we entered India ten years ago, people called us Saraswathi,” Sanjay Sharma, head of Swarovski's Elements business in India, says with a laugh. Once they got lodged in people's hearts as Saraswathi, they became Swarovski on the tongue. “We've learnt how to take our product forward,” says Sharma, who was in Chennai recently for a company do — a fashion show of Swarovski-embellished saris, other apparel and jewellery by designers and destination stores in Chennai and Bangalore, where some master craftsmen of Kanjeevaram saris were also honoured. Elements is Swarovski's brand of crystal components that can be used to create and decorate, among other things, apparel, accessories, jewellery, interiors and lighting. The Austria-based €2.66-billion Swarovski also sells crystal figurines and accessories in India.
Sharma, who has been with the company for 13 years, set up Elements in India. Ten years hence, all such adornments are synonymous with Swarovski. “It's a great accomplishment we can be proud of, of being the Xerox of fashion,” he says. Not a cause for concern? Of course, it's a “double-edged sword”. “Some retailers try and cash in on existing brands with our name so we've started issuing ‘ingredient branding tags', so that people know it's original,” he says. The battle to protect one's trademark is not one you can win overnight, but consumers are beginning to question things now; Indians are very price-conscious, even the ones who can afford it, he points out.
A visit to a weaver's home in Kancheepuram about four years ago turned out to be a revelation — Sharma had heard that the weaver was using crystal and visited him, to find he had a unit employing 11 women to stick the crystals on the saris. While his success with selling these saris had given him a measure of success that included, “in a '70s set-up a huge, old-time radio, a Maruti car and a digicam that was more sophisticated than mine”, it exposed Sharma to the actual issue with other weavers. The lack of recognition and respect as a weaver, and weak returns on the exclusivity of the craft discourage the next generation from entering the profession. It needs to be labelled a national treasure by the Government to prevent this. The Kanjeevaram saris business is “estimated at Rs 200 crore, shockingly low,” says Sharma.
Swarovski Elements has been “extremely aggressive” over the last 10 years (during which import duty on its products dropped from 72 per cent to 27 per cent), making efforts to educate business partners about the techniques and the possibilities. The embellishment doesn't stop at apparel and lighting — it goes on to bathrooms, saddlery, paper and packaging, tableware, ceramicware, even chopsticks! Working with designers across the country, creations run the gamut from chic and classy to quirky and crazy, says Sharma.