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A degree of style

Pradipti Jayaram, Hindu Businessline
Bangalore, 21 November 2014

If you’re someone who has for long harboured the dream of studying at prestigious universities abroad, such as the University of Oxford, Harvard or UCLA, or even someone who just wants to make that impression, merely by owning merchandise from those institutions, there is good news for you.

The University of California and Los Angeles’ merchandise is already available at Lifestyle stores across India. Harvard University has been selling its merchandise online in partnership with Myntra. Likewise, the University of Oxford recently tied up with Franchise India and US-based Bradford Licensing to produce and sell Oxford LLP merchandise India, 2015 onwards. This includes apparel, back-to-school products, mementos and other memorabilia.

Why do these institutions, which don’t have campuses in India, sell their wares here? According to Srinivasa Rao, Head-Marketing, Lifestyle International Pvt Ltd, UCLA-branded goods are popular and are doing very well in terms of sales. “Based on our experience, over the last two years, we feel that this category has good potential and will continue to grow,” he adds.

“University gear began as a means to inculcate a feeling of belonging, fellowship, and college pride among those associated with the university,” says Devangshu Dutta, Chief Executive at consulting firm Third Eyesight. He believes this feeling extends not only to current students, but their families, as well as alumni and their families. “For the more ‘desirable’ campuses the pull even extends to customers who have no direct connection with the university,” he adds.

For Ankit Kapoor, a New Delhi- based high school student, if he could get his hands on some university merchandise in India he would surely buy it. “Harvard and Oxford have an awe-inspiring reputation in India. Many prominent Indians have studied there. I hope to study at either of them, too, one day,” he adds.

“The University of Oxford enjoys a worldwide reputation and could be considered to be as famous as luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren in terms of brand awareness,” says Chris Evans, managing director of Oxford Ltd, the university’s commercial arm, to a news agency.

“We launched UCLA’s gear in India when we realised that collegiate wear, growing in popularity, was an under-serviced category. There is a substantial section of the upwardly mobile urban population that patronises such collegiate wear, as it offers a relaxed wear option with a premium appeal and helps them connect with the institution’s brand,” says Lifystyle’s Rao.

Slice of the pie

In India, the number of current and past students of these foreign universities and their families is too small to form a target group, says Third Eyesight’s Dutta. “The addressable market, therefore, must include consumers without a direct connect, a group that any other international brand is also targeting. Many fashion brands already use faux university logos on their graphic t-shirts, sweatshirts and jackets, as a design feature. So it is reasonable for genuine university merchandise to aim to get some of that business,” he elaborates.

However, he believes that it is the pricing, availability and visibility that will determine the success of such college gear, as it does for any other brand.

According to a recent article in BusinessLine, the apparel range of Oxford University will be placed in the “mid-to-premium range” and categorised in the affordable luxury segment.

“The job of a brand is to create an additional pull, perhaps, provide a price premium or extra margin to the brand. At this time, it’s an open question whether the college logo will pull consumers in the same way or more than an established premium fashion brand, if the college merchandise is priced at par or higher than competing fashion brands,” he adds.

Better visibility

What about alumni of these institutes who wear their foreign education as a badge of pride and revel in the exclusivity it confers? Are they indignant that a mere piece of apparel can smooth over the difference, even though it’s only in appearance?

Rahul Advani, a Singapore-based musician and University of Oxford alumni, says it’s a positive trend and that more people, irrespective of their association with the University, should have greater access to such merchandise. He believes it will contribute to further enhancing the reputation and prestige associated with the universities, and can possibly help attract and increase funding and donors “which universities in the UK need, given the recent cuts in government funding”.

“The more that people know about Oxford, the better,” he adds.

Having said that, don’t these universities’ brands, like all brands, run the risk of over-exposure? For the answer to that one, stay tuned…

(Published in Hindu Businessline)

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