Carrying On with Panache

Through the pandemic, New Delhi-based luxury leather maison Da Milano supported its most vulnerable – its workers. With online sales booming, and now in-store purchases at pre-Covid levels, the brand continues to launch innovative, artistic, and high-quality pieces, for fashion, travel, and the home. We speak to founder-director Shivani Malik about Da Milano’s latest collections, and the power of great branding.

Da Milano bag from the Quilting collection

At a time, when many were shuttering their doors – albeit temporarily – and putting their businesses on hold, Delhi-based luxury leather goods company Da Milano was strategizing, putting in the effort to save its workers from financial peril, and focusing on its biggest asset during the pandemic – its online presence. And now, as our cities open up, sales are thriving. Da Milano has also, in the meantime, launched a few collections, from bags and accessories to home décor, just perfect for Work From Home, or short trips from the city. We speak to Shivani Malik, who heads Design at Da Milano (she’s also a director in the company, and her husband Sahil Malik is CEO) about working during the pandemic, the brand’s new launches, the materials used to make the pieces, and her picks for the season.

Shivani Malik, Director, Da Milano

How has the pandemic treated you at Da Milano?

Initially, we were badly hit. Everything was shut down, just like every other brand. We were trying to figure out which stores to shutter, what to do with our employees – it was a bit chaotic. In June, we were pleasantly surprised by our e-commerce sales, that was growing at a pace which we could not have imagined. So, the one thing that saved us was our very own e-commerce website, and the other online channels.

And when stores started opening, our high street stores such as the ones in Khan Market, and South Extension, and even in other cities, picked up very quickly. By October, our Khan Market outlets were back to last year’s sales. People were initially too scared to venture out, but now, just look at Select CityWalk and DLF Promenade; they are out and about. This is the power of our branding. When you work on your brands as much as we do, a customer is actually coming to the market just to shop at Da Milano. This, at a time when other brands were forced to shut down. We were lucky that many of our stores are back to last year’s levels of sales. Even though ours is not a need-based product – it’s a luxury product – the brand has commanded that respect.

Quilting bucket bags by Da Milano

When you say online, are you talking about sales from smaller towns as well?

Of course, we are able to reach those places where we are not physically present. For me as a consumer, I never used to shop online before, but Covid-19 has taught us to satiate our urge for shopping online. There’s a huge surge in customers who’ve never shopped online.

Our website has been active since the last five years. A lot of designers have just begun their online presence, that that wasn’t our case, as we were already geared for online retail, and its logistics. In fact, our warehouse is right here in Kapashera. But this year online traffic has gone up, so we had to hire double our online team during lockdown. Earlier, we were focused on physical stores, and now we are a phygital brand. This will be the survival of the fittest. We have all fallen, but let’s learn to fall forward.

A men’s briefcase from Da Milano

How did you take care of your skilled workers during the pandemic?

Initially, we were badly hit. We didn’t know whom to retain. By the time the second month came around, it became difficult to sustain. We had to figure who can take a salary cut and who can’t. It was easier to handle educated people than those who worked in factories. We tried not to let our factory workers get affected, and so we took the loss onto ourselves. People on minimum wages should not get affected. Obviously, the higher the salary the more impacted you were. We were thankful to all our employees who supported us during this time. They understood our pain, given the circumstances. Once everyone stands up together, things will be back to normal. Their support for us made a huge difference. So yes, we were able to retain our workers. We had shifted our factory to Udyog Vihar, and our workers shifted there.

Another model in the Quilting collection by Da Milano

Your procurement of materials must have been affected during that time…

If you look at our leather (it comes from Italy) – it was impacted anyway for one season, and production was stalled. From procurement to designing, to selling, when things picked up, they picked up together. We were initially selling whatever was left from last season. When we restarted production, I wouldn’t say things were the smoothest, but they weren’t too bad either. Now all the leather from Italy has started coming in again.

Bags from the Quilting collection by Da Milano

You have so many styles for men and women. Your Quilting collection is really different from the rest – how did you get into this new technique, how did it come about?

At Da Milano, we follow fast fashion. We try and come out with a collection very quickly. So by the time one collection is out, we have already moved on to the next collection, like the Snakeskin collection. So we follow international trends, and pick up cues. We have our design team – of which I am a small part of (laughs) – that sees how we can fit these trends into our women’s and men’s collections. Finally, I go with the colours and styles that are to my personal liking.

Da Milano Quilting bag

How difficult is it to make a quilted piece?

You need a special type of leather that is not too thick, and a special machine to do the quilting. Not everyone can make quilted bags; you need workers with that special skillset. Sometimes we have designers and technicians from factories abroad come to our factory and upskill our workers.

Our chains, the hardware – this all comes from Hong Kong and China – and their supply naturally got affected. We are trying to get similar hardware from India, but it’s a struggle.

The Quilting collection by Da Milano features stunning silhouettes

You have played with many interesting shapes, like a Celine-inspired bag…

Yes, we do what we had not done earlier. We try and introduce a new shape with each collection. We focus on shape, colour, and technique – these are the three things that define our collection. We’ve had rose pink, grey, beige – all classic colours in our Quilting collection (all the leather is dyed in India), so that our customer finds something new in everything we do. The point is to provide so much variety that there is something for everyone. No one should feel disappointed.

A briefcase by Da Milano in embossed leather

We use embossed leather, for example what you see in our snakeskin and Croco collection. In India you are not allowed to have any animal skin except cow. That’s why you need to emboss the leather, be it crocodile or snakeskin.

Wallets in embossed leather by Da Milano

We buy finished leather, and tell them about the colours we want from the shade card. And as I said earlier, none of our leather is Indian. And since the skin has so much character, we decided to make the shape simpler, and more classic. We always aim to balance things out.

Obviously, with the changing times, demand changes as well. People are more focused on the home these days, rather than stepping out. Our Work From Home collection is a bespoke collection of desks, lamps, dustbins, portable bars. People are entertaining more at home, and this will be the next big category. These are portable bars with wheels, and come in different sizes.

The season's fave bags - the sling bag Da Milano Quilting sling bags

And what are your favourite pieces from Da Milano these days?

You can catch me only wearing Da Milano sling bags – I am not in a formal mode these days. I like to wear the sling bag from the Quilting collection, with an Art Deco touch. It’s lightweight, and best paired with anything. I am in a lazy mode right now. I even took it with me to Jim Corbett! Some bags are easy to pair with. Snakeskin and Croco are more formal, but quilted bags can go with everything.

Luggage and stroller from Da Milano, with leather piping

Can you tell us about your luggage collection?

That is fairly new; we launched it two years ago, and it’s doing really well. It’s not completely leather, as we like to mix it up – for example we use canvas or different textiles with leather piping for a better look. We also give a small tracker with the trolley, so you can track your luggage. These weekend stroller bags and overnighters are doing well, and are perfect for those short trips or weekend getaways.

In which department do you want to evolve or create your own niche?

We are already doing marketing for our brand, so our next big focus is e-commerce. The opportunity there is immense, and the growth will be unimaginable. We can ship anywhere in the world. Da Milano is our baby – we have two kids, and we are raising it as our third.

(Da Milano employs around 400 people and is today present in 12 cities in India. The brand has more than 85 stores including showrooms at 21 airports in the country, five showrooms in the UAE and one in Nepal. Shivani Malik is responsible for brand’s global acclaim in the Gulf, and has received several entrepreneurial excellence awards. In 2010, she co-founded Rosso Brunello, a leading footwear brand in India and UAE.)

Wallets and porte-feuilles by Da Milano in embossed leather Da Milano Quilting bag in white


Priya Kumari Rana

Lifestyle Insider is a kind of junction point, connecting people with diverse interests that touch on the more luxurious aspects of lifestyle – fashion, design, travel, food and spirits, art, watches and jewellery, cars, yachts, and aviation, and technology. People today don’t fit into boxes and categories. In our individual ways, we are interested in diverse themes, products, and the challenges that face our world today. You will judge how well this effort of mine caters to your passions and proclivities.

Lifestyle Insider is a showcase of all that is beautiful and luxe. Behind every creation, is a designer, chef, entrepreneur, or a design maison. I have delved into my own appreciation for objetsde luxe that I have admired over the years – be it a love of fashion from the world’s top Parisian and Italian fashion maisons and their ’90s muses, or the care that goes into sari and Indian textile collections in my own family. Growing up on four continents, as the daughter of a former Indian Ambassador, I’ve seen a remarkable array of historic places and met a myriad people. My aim is to bring my world view into this website, a curation of what I find particularly stunning, unique, and newsworthy.

It’s an exciting time for brands all over the world. With change comes opportunity. With the global ‘reset’ and uncertainty on many fronts, there is a chance to write a new script. Let’s be those pioneers.

A bit about me:
A luxury and fashion journalist with 25 years of experience in publishing and magazine journalism, I have edited some of India’s top fashion and luxury magazines. I got my BA in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley, and went on to receive my Master’s in English and French from the University of Strasbourg, France. I have also studied German and Film. I live in Gurugram, India, and look forward to once again exploring our world with a new-found freedom.

Priya Kumari Rana

Founder and Editor

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