As chairman and managing director of Raymond Ltd, the flamboyant tycoon has amassed an estimated personal net worth of $1.4 billion through The Raymond Group. The firm exports textiles and apparel to over 55 countries, and includes a much-loved men’s suiting brand called Raymond with a network of over 700 retail shops across India.
When Singhania joined the family firm, he quickly restructured it, selling off Raymond’s non-core businesses of synthetics, steel and cement. Under his leadership, the group shifted its focus to fabrics, apparel brands, men’s toiletries and KamaSutra condoms — which gained market traction in the 1990s with a risqué advertising campaign by late fashion and fine art photographer Prabuddah Dasgupta.
Another reason for Singhani’s success, says GQ India’s fashion features editor Shivangi Lolayekar, is that “the Raymond [brand] once served an older gentleman [but] has changed their marketing and strategy to include a younger audience.”
Today, Singhania is just one of 121 Indian billionaires in India, around 20 per cent of whom have made part of their fortunes from the fashion industry. The wealth generated by the likes of Singhania is a product of India’s booming fashion market and the country’s rapid economic rise. The apparel category alone is forecast to grow at an impressive 8 percent annually, reaching $59.3 billion by 2022, and India’s dynamic middle class is estimated to grow 19.4 percent annually during the same period.
Flashy Playboys and Discreet Gentlemen
Such is the one-upmanship among some of India’s fashion billionaires that their rivalry is changing the actual landscape of cities like Mumbai. Singhania has built a mega-mansion with a skyscraper nine stories taller than Mukesh Ambani’s. The soaring mansion, called JK House, combines a private residence and textile showroom.
However, Ambani, who last year overtook Alibaba’s Jack Ma to become Asia’s richest man with a net worth of $45.2 billion, is in a different league. The chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd. gained global attention as his 27-story-high mansion Antilia rose in Mumbai and was crowned one of the most expensive private homes ever built at a cool $1 billion. More recently the fact that Ambani hired Beyonce to perform at his daughter’s lavish wedding in Mumbai, reinforced the sheer extent of his wealth and influence.
By most estimates, India now has the fourth highest number of billionaires trailing only the US, China and Germany.
Ambani’s firm Reliance is well known in fashion industry circles because its fashion division has partnered with high-profile designer brands. He has also recently announced he will take on Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart with a new high tech e-commerce offering of his own.
According to Priya Tanna, editor in chief of Vogue India, Ambani’s success in the fashion sector is down to the fact that “Reliance’s portfolio [caters] to every consumer in the mix,” from mass market players like Reliance Trends and Project Eve to their e-commerce venture Ajio. “They also [formed a joint venture with] Marks & Spencer in India, which along with their current portfolio…marks their foray into high street fashion in a big way,” she adds.
Reliance has direct partnerships with brands like Ermenegildo Zegna, Diesel and Bally for the Indian market and the firm recently upped its stake in Genesis Luxury Fashion, a group that boasts a joint venture with Burberry and distributes brands such as Bottega Veneta, Giorgio Armani, Michael Korsand Coach in the Indian market.
Ambani and Singhania are not alone. By most estimates, India now has the fourth highest number of billionaires trailing only the US, China and Germany. Many of India’s billionaires own sprawling diversified conglomerates that operate in fashion manufacturing, the apparel trade, distribution, retail and textiles. Based on BoF’s analysis, around 20 percent of India’s top billionaires can thank the fashion business for part of their fortunes. There are many centimillionaires who are also betting big on fashion.
While it is fascinating to pick apart their portfolios, the wealthy moguls themselves can be even more interesting. Fashion insiders will be familiar with the likes of Escada’s chairperson and managing director Megha Mittal, whose father in law Lakshmi Mittal is a steel magnate with a net worth of $14.1 billion. Yet, India’s other billionaires are less known to the European fashion crowds. There’s the investor Rakesh “Big Bull” Jhunjhunwala whose net worth is estimated at $2.8 billion. His most valuable holding is watch and jewellery maker Titan Company (a subsidiary of Tata) worth close to $700 million.
Or take former taxi driver Micky Jagtiani (net worth $4.8 billion). With his wife Renuka Jagtiani, he co-founded Dubai-headquarted Landmark Group, which counts 2,300 stores spread across 22 countries in the Middle East, Africa and India. They own apparel retailer Max, which as well as thriving e-commerce operations, has over 160 stores in 60 cities across India.
Then there’s Radhakishan Damani, a reclusive billionaire whose $12.2 billion can be traced back to the 2017 IPO of D-Mart, his chain of 160 stores across India selling fashion basics and home goods.
The scions and heirs of these storied families tend to be low key about their wealth, rarely appearing in the pages of India’s Hello or Verve magazines, unlike their more flamboyant counterparts the Ambanis and Singhanias. Maintaining a public image of rectitude and respectability is important in India where all too frequently, big business is embroiled in corruption scandals. The recent downfall of celebrity jeweller Nirav Modi who first came to prominence in 2010 is a salutatory example.
Another reclusive tycoon whose fortune is inextricably entwined with the booming Indian fashion market is Pallonji Mistry (worth $14.7 billion). The horse and whiskey-loving billionaire is the largest individual shareholder of Tata Group’s holding company Tata Sons. Although Tata is famous for tea, steel, cars such as Land Rover and Jaguar, and heavy industry, fashion too has its place in the empire. Tata International is a leading exporter of leather products, supplying major global brands such as Zara, Mango, Marks & Spencer and many more.
Through its Westside retail chain, Tata also has 132 department stores across India and, through its subsidiary Titan, distributes international watch brand licenses from the likes of Esprit, Kenneth Cole and Timberland. Not least, Trent (the retail hand of the Tata Group) is the company responsible for helping Spanish retail giant Inditex gain a foothold in India through a joint venture with the fast fashion behemoth.
Factory Dynasties Meet Instagram Fame
While international fashion and luxury brands have only relatively recently been eyeing India, a number of long established, home grown fashion players have local market knowledge and all important consumer loyalty. Tata and Birla are the two Indian industrialist families most associated with massive wealth and all pervasive brand recognition in India, and both have significant interests in fashion retail.
With an estimated net worth of $11.9 billion, “cement king” Kumar Mangalam Birla is the fourth generation head of the $44.3 billion (revenue) Aditya Birla Group, which he took over when he was just 28 years old. The group is a national leader in cement, aluminium and financial services and owns one of India’s largest telecom firms, Vodafone Idea.