Skipping to manage the family business, an ‘accidental’ model understood the wealth locked in Kashmir’s brand deficit but faced resistance at home. Eight years later, Adnan Shah runs a 26-unit network of multi-brand apparel chain, Fashion Fiesta, and is jumping into areas left untapped by situation and time, reports Syed Ahmad Rufai
In college, when Adnan Shah toyed with the ideas of exploring untapped markets in Kashmir’s periphery and selling branded apparel at discounted rates, the first opposition came from the family and his vast friend circle. It took him a good time in repackaging the idea and selling it to his near ones.
Eight years after he got a go-ahead to launch his Fashion Feasta, Adnan now has 26 outlets. The target is to have 50 units by 2023. The last eight years have been a backpacking journey for Adnan in establishing a brand and creating a network. He sees his brand as a major fashion network and knows its future.
Birth of An Idea
Shah was in the last semester of BCom at Cardiff University at Bangaluru, when he shared his idea of starting a venture dealing with surplus stock of premier apparel brands with his friend. The same night, they named it Fashion Fiesta, the festival of fashion.
Now, Adnan runs the chain from a small cubicle of 20 x12 from his Rajbagh office. Before reclining on his black office chair, he routinely drives to his store to check customer satisfaction.
Adnan created a successful model and invested in the brand and in the follow-up, he got into sort of a shareholding and created the chain taking the franchise route. He manages the supply chain, decides the products and keeps it properly stocked and lends his name.
Hailing from Pampore, Kashmir’s, saffron belt, Adnan’s family was already in business. They would grow and sell the world costliest spice. Though he did not spend much of the time with his father but he knew the idea of money-making. In the early days of his life, Adnan said he used to collect the Wazwaan during the wedding and take it home – not to gift it to them but to sell it to them! “It was my first business with zero investment,” he reveals as he laughs over those childhood days. He would “park” his earnings with his uncle and would issue the cheques in his sisters’ names, every time they required small money.
Adnan’s great grandfather, Haji Rajab Shah had started his Saffron business but at his fag end it nearly collapsed. It was successfully resurrected by his son, Farooq Ahmad Shah. In between Adnan would a crash course of how to manage a business.
However, he remained a shy and silent student in his classroom, with a routine cycle of life – wake up, go to school, study, come back, play, sleep. After his matriculation, when Adnan went to Bangalore and enrolled in Jain University, a new phase of life started – a new culture, a lot of independence, new people and newer idea. He admits the stint in college was a “king-size life” but a great “confidence booster”. There, he rubbed his shoulders with cricketers Mayank Agarwal, Manish Pandey and many others. Eventually, he emerged as a college celebrity and jumped into Bangaluru’s fashion industry as a model. He endorsed many local brands.
Once a commerce graduate, Adnan felt the requirement of seeking a bit of advice from his parents about the way forward.
A Reluctant Model
His family owned a Kashmiri Art showroom in Bengaluru’s Leela Palace Hotel and he was exposed to the fashion industry. In 2006, he said he was attempting to understand the business when the modelling came as an incentive.
“The hotel used to host fashion shows, and one fine weekend we were invited to watch such a show organized by the Fashion Guru of India, Prasad Bidapa,” Shah said.
After the show was over, Prasad approached Adnan. “Are you a model?” Prasad asked Adnan. “No,” Adnan replied hesitantly. When he was asked if he was interested in modelling, Adnan declined. “My cousin standing on my right pinched me, which Prasad noticed,” Adnan said. “Prasad gave his card to my cousin and told us to sleep on it.”
A few days later, Adnan was sitting in Prasad’s studio in Bangaluru. Soon, he was endorsing various brands that Prasad was associated with. he did TV commercials, hoardings, print shoots and fashion weeks for brands like Myntra, Maggi, Paytm, Foster drinking water, Libas, and Kalyan Jewellers. He even hobnobbed with Bollywood biggies including Amitabh, Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Hrithik Roshan, Katrina and many more. “On ramps, I have worn outfits of Karan Johar + Varun Bahl, Riyaz Gangji, Ramesh Dembla.”
The first show done by Adnan was for NIFT Bangalore in which he had to change his attire 14 times, Adnan remembers. “I had to wear 14 different outfits during the show, it was very challenging,” Adnan said. The show earned him Rs 4000. “After selling ristas and kababs collected at weddings, this was my first earning of life.”
Modelling was his hobby but soon it evolved into a sort of profession. Three years later, he had to give up the ramp and go for higher studies.
In 2011, the reluctant model was home to seek the advice of his parents about further studies. “It was always in my mind to do business but it was very hard to let go the fame and reputation that I had made from scratch in Bangaluru,” Adnan said. “I was sure, the moment I leave Bangalore, my name will get dissolved.”
Eventually, he went to Cardiff University in the UK for his MBA. There, he focused on business studies. “After completing my graduation, I got a job in a UK Bank,” Adnan said. In Oct 2012, he was home again. It was time for choosing a career.
When Adnan was employed as the first in-house model for the Myntra website, he got a hang of how the businesses run surplus stock sold on discounted rates. “I aspired of such endeavours in Kashmir, where one could wear branded clothes at huge discounts,” he said. Then his London days faded the idea. As he was back home, he started reliving his dreams. In Srinagar, while making a purchase, when he landed in an embarrassment over pricing and quality with retailers, he got into des[peration to fill this void.
“I knew how surplus stock is sold, on discount, not on MRP’s,” Adnan said.
That is when Fashion Fiesta was born in 2013.
For five years being in and around designer clothes all the time during his modelling phase, Adnan’s fashion sense had developed. He started reliving the days, this time for his customers.
“At Fashion Fiesta, Adnan initially, used to cater to each customer but as the clientele base expanded, personalised care became difficult. “We train our employees to do that,” Adnan said, he personally takes them to his Rajbagh outlet to enhance his staff’s fashion sense.
With an outlet’s launch, the issue still in the deficit was to get in the branded stuff. He used his modelling days connections.
“The surplus stock is original and brand new but a season old manufacture,” explains Adnan. “Showroom’s of different brands send back apparel at the end of the season to its warehouses, to replace it with new stock and garments. We collect that stock at warehouses.” He said his chain buys the branded surplus stock at cheaper prices and sells them at a discounted rate.
Adnan deals with high-end brands including Levis, Tommy Hilfiger, GAP, Nike, Puma and many more. Some of the brands are exclusively available at Fashion Fiesta like Calvin Klein, Superdry, Armani, Hollister, A&B, Ralph Lauren Polo, and True Religion.
Over the years, it has given the chain a satisfied clientele and demand for franchisees. Bollywood actors such as Warina Hussain, Rimi Sen, and various models and fashion designers have also shopped from Fashion Fiesta.
When Adnan came up with the idea of dealing with apparel, he was stoutly opposed by his family and relatives. “You went to Cardiff so that you would sell clothes?” Adnan’s family remembers would ask him. Adnan’s father was of the thought that he would take over the family business.
However, Adnan’s wanted to start with a new business venture, not an inheritance. But for following his dreams, he required investment some basic investment. When he approached his father, the request was declined.
“I spent all my earnings from the modelling, of around Rs 7-8 lakh to buy stocks,” Adnan said. “Over the years, it had multiplied many times and it was a decent amount.” This is how he created his own brand.
A Store On Rent
In February 2013, Adnan rented a store on Srinagar’s Residency Road and launched Fashion Fiesta. When Adnan’s only employee at the store would be on leave, he used to mop the floor himself. “I could have easily escaped hardships and continued my family business, but that is not what I aimed at,” Adnan said.
Interestingly, his family still do not acknowledge that he is doing well in this business.
In December 2014, he launched is the second store at Rajbagh, now his office also. His brand started getting noticed with the second store. “ I invited Natasha Suri, Miss India and Ramesh Demla, Fashion designer to inaugurate the second outlet,” Adnan said while explaining the importance of advertising a brand. “I spent a good amount on promotion and advertised my brand that helped Fashion Fiesta make a whopping sale.”
The New Model
Adnan had never imagined owning multiple stores and that too all over Kashmir. “I wanted to have a big showroom of mine, that I was successful in building at Rajbagh,” Adnan said.
As he actually got into the purchase of bulk branded apparel, people started approaching him to supply garments. In 2015, a Baramulla shopkeeper came to him with the idea that he would run his store under the Fashion Fiesta brand and sell its products only. Adnan got a model for expansion.
Subsequently, Fashion Fiesta opened its units across the valley. But after agreeing on opening two franchise units, Adnan devised a set of rules for people to open up the Fashion Fiesta franchises. Now Adnan’s brand has 26 outlets across Kashmir at Rajbagh, Sara City Centre, Residency Road, Pampore, Budgam, Shopian, Baramulla, Karan Nagar, Awantipora, Hazratbal, Sopore, K P Road, Kupwara, Hyderpora, Zainakadal, Chadoora, Nigeen, Tral, Dooru, 90 ft Road, Ganderbal, Magam, Khrew, Gojwara, Jawahar Nagar and Kulgam.
Adnan shares his brand with partners at a cost, supplies the inventory, advertises the chain network, and get part of the profits.
All stores follow one mutual rule – clothes bought at one outlet can be exchanged at any other outlet of Fashion Fiesta all over Kashmir. They all have the same inventory.
Fighting the family wish, however, sounded an easier option than operating in a fragile market like Kashmir. “Only eight days after I threw open my first outlet, Afzal Guru was hanged, it was a hard break for me as I had just started,” Adnan explained, still figuring out how could he survive.
When things started falling in place again and Adnan’s family also started accepting the reality that their ward had his own ideas, he thought of expanding his business in September 2014. But devastation came to Kashmir ahead of his expansion, in the same month. Kashmir lost property worth Rs 100 thousand crores, almost equalling the budget of Jammu and Kashmir.
For a fortnight, his Residency Road outlet was under the water that turned his inventory intro crap. “I had to delay opening my second outlet and sell all the clothes with a tag of flood on less than half rates,” Adnan sighed.
In the subsequent seven years, businesses in Kashmir witnessed a crash, the mass unrest over Burhan Wani’s killing in 2016, then the Article abrogation in 2019 and now the Covid19 lockdown in the second year. All these years impacted Fashion Fiesta growth.
“It is not just the period of time that you are under lock and key that is wasted, it takes much more time to revamp then,” Adnan explained. In these eight years of Fashion Fiesta, Adnan counts three years to be an utter loss for various reasons. “If these three years would have not been lost, I am sure we would have been inaugurating its 50th outlet this year.”
Admitting that this situation is a huge “stressor”, Adnan said he, however, avoided getting his staff to take its impact. “We had no salary cuts even though we were shut for three months,” he said.
Understanding the responsibility towards society, Adnan said his Fashion Fiesta partners with Ehsaas International to work towards the needy. “Every Eid, Fashion Fiesta facilitates free clothing to the underprivileged class,” Adnan said, offering no numbers, however. Besides, the company provides scholarships to school students, sports players and football teams. Funds required for organising fashion shows come from the company’s CSR budget. For his work during Covid19, Adnan was designated Covid19 warrior and awarded by Lt Governor, Manoj Sinha.
By mid-2022, Adnan expects to open Fashion Fiesta’s 30th franchise if the situation remains tranquil and the business functions normally. It will be only after creating the 50-unit network that Adnan plans to consider moving out of Kashmir.
Fashion Fiesta apart, Adnan located the deficit areas and initiated some new start-ups. While in the UK, Adnan noticed that adjacent to small departmental stores there were Café’s where families would grocery shop and then a stopover at the Café to let their hair down. He replicated the same model in Kupwara as Kiryaan Store and Mecca Café in 2019.
“To relax, a person should have a place to do so,” Adnan said about his next venture, The Pavilion, launched last week. “We already have play zones for kids in Kashmir, but there is no such play zone for adults,” Adnan said. The Pavilion is a gaming zone where they have the facility of bowling, VR and arcade games and many other attractions.
While doing all this, Adnan said the family has started looking at him positively after years of struggle and tension. He gives the credit to his mother, wife, Snober Shah and daughter, who were behind the off-store turnaround.