They’re the names behind the flourishing leather accessory brand, Da Milano. Together, Sahil and Shivani Malik make an on-the-go couple that is committed to their goal of establishing a brand that is synonymous with high fashion and great quality. With more than 80 stores across India, Dubai and Nepal, they aim to expand in Singapore and Europe in the future. Here, we chat with the dynamic duo about their work, how they strike a balance between their professional and personal lives, and what it means to be an ideal parent in this day and age.
What began as a brand dealing in leather accessories has gone on to become one of the country’s most popular ones, with over 80 stores in India. What accounts for this success?
Over and above everything, it’s the determination and commitment towards a goal, which is exactly what has been delivered by the Da Milano team since its very inception. When Da Milano started its journey with one store in Connaught Place, Delhi, one thing we were sure about was to not compromise on quality, and to focus on refined design curation. There were plans to expand, as we had faith in the uniqueness of the brand. Its Italian origin is infused in each design, and no other brand could compete with its quality.
Slowly, we expanded across the country and were well-received by the target market. This created a cycle; we created stores, which increased our sales, which in turn led to more store openings. From a mutual relationship of a dedicated workforce and a loyal customer base, Da Milano was able to grow and flourish.
What are the challenges you face in this rapidly changing industry?
The style and design market is very dynamic yet tricky; it never stays still. The thrill of working in this business is its ever-changing mood and momentum. It is important for us to have a good understanding of consumer tastes and what makes them vary.
As important as it is to have a great product and an exceptional design team, it is also criticalto have a quick and capable marketing team, as a product is only as good as how it is marketed and received by the market. Research, application and portrayal is essential here to facilitate and come out with a great product whose purpose is clear and evident: to be of utility to the target market.
Having an authentic Italian design team, and styles that satisfy all changes in the tastes of our consumers help us stay relevant. We provide value to our customers not just through the product and an efficient sales team, but also by providing after-sales value and support through a lifetime warranty policy on all products.
How do you keep up with changing trends?
We produce new products almost every day. Currently, we launch over 300 products every season to stay on par with the latest trends. Our international design team in Italy works closely with our design team in India to keep everything in sync with changing trends.
How do the two of you divide your roles?
We each have our set roles. Being the Marketing Director, Shivani handles everything to create brand awareness, reach out to the target audience, and strategically plans the medium to do the same. This includes creating awareness about new product launches, new stores and managing the team. As Managing Director, I work on everything from expansion policies to ensuring smooth functioning of the ongoing business.
Who’s the principal designer for your brand?
The design is done by our international team in Italy, who work closely with our design team in India.
How are things different in the market now compared to when the company was formed, in 1989?
The 90s brought on great fashion trends that are resurfacing now. Daring, risky and bohemian styles were gaining momentum. The luxury market was also being discovered and it was a good time to enter the market and make a lasting impression.
Around that time, things were more focused and somewhat limited as well, which meant the major fashion players at the time did not face heavy competition. Now the fashion scene is broad and varied, and also quite accepting. Style has come to mean a representation of all our varied personalities, and as society has become more accepting and has embraced diversity, so has the fashion market. The way we face fierce competition is by sticking to our brand message and original style.
Today, the customers are well-informed about each brand in the market, thanks to social media platforms. Of course the number of marketing channels has increased, but the number of brands has also grown exponentially, creating cut-throat competition in the market. Having said that, competition has proved to be an excellent motivating tool for companies to improve and diversify their products.
What do you do differently in business compared to your father?
I was handed over the business when there was only one store – the one in Connaught Place. I always wanted to make it a brand and expand it across the globe. The idea of creating a brand was novel to my family. And I had to prove myself by making this model a success.
Was this line of work always what you desired?
It always fascinated me, as the fashion industry poses a challenge due to its dynamic nature. It wasn’t just about fashion but also business, which is an important skill to have nowadays. I studied fashion design and information technology from NIFT, so that I could learn how the industry works. I had a vision; always wanted to grow the business.
What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur?
It takes sheer determination, skill through experience, and utter belief in yourself and your product above everything else. It’s the job of an entrepreneur to motivate others by dedication in the business; to be learned in the business through experience; and to convince stakeholders about your product through belief in your product and yourself. This combination makes for an entrepreneur that can make it in the business, as long as hard work and commitment is followed like a religion.
What do you see as Da Milano’s signature style?
Da Milano’s style is specially curated and specific, with close attention to detail. The brand is dynamic with a lasting and solid brand message and theme.
What’s the future of your brand?
We now have more than 80 stores across the county, three stores in Dubai and one in Nepal. And we’re working on opening in London, Singapore and a few more in Dubai. We aspire to open multiple stores across the globe and reach out to discerning clientele of all age groups and income levels. To that end, we have recently launched a new brand, Wooba, which targets the younger audience. The products are designed and priced to appeal to college-going girls or young working women.
How do you balance your work and personal life?
Managing my work and personal life is simply about priority and placement. Work has always been done in a continuous flow, and I have a great team that supports me and I can rely on completely. As for my personal life, I enjoy my fair share of hobbies – including cricket and football – which I play with my two children. Our family enjoys travelling, which is a great way to bond and rewind.
What are the traits of your parents that you try to emulate?
My parents have always taught me to stay humble and express gratitude for everything I am blessed with. I get my dedication to work and work ethics from my father.
How different was your upbringing compared to your child’s?
As a child, I only spent time with my father on the weekends. It is my mother who I spent maximum time with, so I make sure that I spend quality time with my children every day. When both parents are working, it is very important to share the responsibilities at home.
What’s it like to work with your husband?
It is great to work with my husband. Being partners in both work and life ensures that we understand each other and have created an efficient routine in both. We are both committed equally to the business as well as our family.
Do you carry work home at all?
It is inevitable that being in office all day and working hard to make a mark in business, some of our work travels home with us. However, we are aware of our actions at home and make sure that any work stress does not affect the family. On the other hand, sometimes we tend to project parental stress at work as well. Therefore, it is important to draw a line and separate the two aspects.
If not for this, what profession would you have chosen?
I would have been a professor, as I love teaching. For many years I also used to teach underprivileged children near my house.
Is there any celebrity you would like to style with your products?
We have styled many celebrities in the past; Madhuri Dixit-Nene, Jacqueline Fernandez, and Dia Mirza are some of them. We aspire to style more Bollywood celebrities as the brand offers a wide range of products to suit every personality in B-town. We are proud that veteran Bollywood actress Hema Malini shops from Da Milano very often.
What are the challenges you face as a working mom?
It is without doubt challenging to be a working parent. There is a lot of adjusting and balancing involved in being there for your children as well as the company. It is first and foremost important to understand that as working parents we work for our children, to give them a better life and future. As parents, we are also role models for our children, and seeing us committed and passionate about work motivates them to be passionate in their work and education as well. Balancing both requires you to segregate the roles and draw a hard line between the two.
Where do you see your brand 10 years from now?
We are working on expanding the brand internationally. We already have three stores in Dubai and one in Nepal, and aim to open multiple stores in London and Singapore. We would also like to be seen on the high streets of European countries 10 years from now.
When it comes to parenting, what do you feel are the mistakes that today’s parents make compared to the previous generation?
This generation’s parents are extremely intimidated by today’s open and exposed culture. Information is available all-round and not edited to be appropriate for young children. We need to look at this as a positive thing as well, as knowledge and information is always a good thing. What we as parents need to do is get ahead of the information, be aware of what our children are viewing on the net, and present them the information in a better and educational way.
We should encourage our kids to be more knowledgeable and gain substantial experience and information out in the world. Apart from that, parents are making everything available to their children very easily. When we were kids we had to earn everything we wanted.
Do you think being a strict parent is the way to go?
In my opinion, you cannot be friends with your children if you are a strict parent. It is very important to be their friend so that they are comfortable with you and do not hesitate to come to you with the troubles they are facing at school or anywhere in their future.
What are your thoughts on the growing dependency on technology in today’s children?
We all are very dependent on technology and cannot imagine our lives without it. It is good to be tech-savvy to compete in the outside world and know what’s happening around. So we cannot restrict them from accessing it either. But at the same time, some control over what they are doing with the technology provided to them is very important. Technology should not replace outdoor activities, sports, and other hobbies like reading, dancing, music, etc.
- as told to Niharika