One might not able to locate where Manipur lies! Intellectuals have been even confused on several occasions on where about this state is as a foreign nation. Their assumptions seem a dream come true today! The youths and teenagers are fashion cognisant and that too not Indian apparel, but foreign lifestyles. The business of fashion in Manipur is more advanced than other cities of India, leaving those metropolitans.
Manipur is an extraordinary place, full of charm, beauty and creativity. It lies in the North-Eastern region of Indian Sub-continent, between 23.5 oN-25.3 oN Latitude and 93.4 oE-95.3 oE Longitudes, bordering Myanmar in the east, Nagaland state in the north, Assam and Mizoram in the west. Encircled by nine hill ranges, Manipur is marked out by a picturesque valley in the midst. The total area of Manipur is 22,327 sq. km. Out of this only 2,238 sq. Km are valley while the remaining areas are covered with hilly tracts.
Manipur, a small state which lies on a melting pot of culture is regarded as one of the world’s beauty spots. The Rasa Lila, a classical dance of Manipur is world famous for its gentleness and serenity. Modern day polo was first played here as royal sport. Thus, the world credited the state as the home for polo game.
The place of surpassing attractions include superb panorama of evergreen hill ranges, the soil of Khongjom soaked with sacred blood of martyrs, the first battle of Anglo-Manipur war of 1891 at Kangla, the erstwhile capital of Manipur Kingdom. The Loktak lake-the largest freshwater lake in the North East, natural habitat of Brow-antlered deer at the Keibul Lamjao National Park-the only floating National Park in the world, the I.N.A. Memorial at Moirang where the first tricolour flag of Indian Independence was hoisted by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, the Siroi Lily found only on the Siroi Hills, the symmertical two Second World War cemeteries, exquisite handloom and handicraft products of world fame.
Manipur is famous for the ‘Ema Keithel’ – women’s market at Khwairamband bazaar- the only and the largest market in the world run by women, the gold-domed Shri Govindajee Temple, the Saheed Minar, the Khonghampat Orchid Yard, the Tharon Cave at Tamenglong, the Khanghui Cave at Ukhrul, the Kangla Park and the Moat surrounding the old historical palace of the Maharajas of ore-British period.
Manipur is not only the gateway to the North Eastern region but also a fascinating destination for discerning tourists. Legends say that the discovery of Manipur is the result of the delight the Gods took in dancing. It is this remarkable bid that gives Manipur a unique identity of her own. Blessed with a salubrious climate, famous for its distinctive cultural pattern and its evergreen scenic beauty, extend the tourists a cordial invitation to visit Manipur.
The shops and malls located here are flooded with foreign goods. From trousers, shirts to shoes and even caps – all are highly fashionable with excellent quality. Thanks to various factors – remote locations, border area, indefinite blockades and of course, the pressure from revolutionaries.
Two major shopping malls are very popular in Manipur. Gambhir Singh Shopping Arcade was established on July 17, 1998. The mall is a four-storey building with different plot sized shops. Unlike Mumbai and Delhi, it is not own by one proprietor or retail guru. Every shop owner is the owner of his own shops or plots. The first floor has around 25 shops with a vast area of 28 square metres each. Cost wise, each shop has retail value of Rs 7-10 lakhs. Second floor housed around 60 smaller shops with an area of 12 square metres. The top floor housed several offices and a cable operator, ISTV which is the sole cable channel in Manipur.
The second floor shops are rented for Rs 750 -1000 per month. Besides apparel and lifestyle cloths, there are beauty saloon, cosmetics and restaurants inside the Gambhir Singh Shopping Arcade. The name ‘Gambhir Singh’ is dedicated to the great kings of Manipur Kingdom who freed its people from the clutches of Burmese (present day Myanmar) invasion. Thus, people here used to say, the shopping mall freed from normal and orthodox lifestyles. Ever since the mall came, teenagers and youths here are fashion conscious and they could compete with any models and actors from Bollywood.
The other shopping mall is Leima Shopping Plaza at Governor Road, behind the Polo Ground. The word ‘Leima’ refers to ‘respected lady’ in regional language. Definitely, the plaza is meant for women in general. It has around 35 shops and others are in the final stage to be open for the public. The Leima shopping Plaza was earlier a huge movie theatre with modern Dolby system and other modern facilities, named ‘Friends Mini’. Hollywood box office grosser like ‘The World is Not Enough’ and Bollywood superhit ‘Hum Aap ke Hai Kaun’ were the last movies the Manipur cinemagoers could remember. But due to the revolutionaries ban on Hindi films in the state since last 4-5years, people stop viewing cinemas. The owners of the theatre had then converted it into the current plaza. Like the previous shopping mall, it is the hunting ground for the foreign fashion.
When a teenager wears foreign outfits, naturally the looks need to be transformed to match with his dresses. For this, several saloons and parlour exists within the plaza. One might wonder how this fashion trends starts in this small state. Reaching Manipur is not one’s cup of tea. It takes nearly 3 days from Delhi by rail till Guwahati, then another night journey by bus. Reaching Imphal by airline could cost heavy expenditure, around Rs.12,000-Rs.15,000 per person. Lack of communication and improper contact with other part of the country is hampering the Indian fashion to reach the mind of Manipuris youth staying here. And when films and other source of Hindi serials have been forbidden from the youth’s life, where do they get inspiration of latest fashions?
Although bans from viewing Hindi and its movies, these youths crave to imitate Indian models and actresses. They love to be like the King Khans and the pretty priety Zinta! Moreover, recent renaissance of Manipuri films has paved the way for fashions to revive again. Today almost two films are produced every month and the quality and the customs of such miniature efforts are the best in entire North East India. Big players like Assam could not match the quality, fashion and customs that are shown in Manipur cinema, though mega and super malls such as the Hub, Sohum and the Vishal Malls are located in Guwahati. Visitors frequency are meanly for business and shopping purposes only. Unlike the big malls in other cities of the country the two malls at Imphal have a highest conversion percentage of business volume, nearly 79%.
Credits are given to the small town fashion designers who return back to Imphal from metro cities to experiment. The successful trends of organising beauty pageants and fashion show since last decades have welcomed the fashion to mingle with the Manipuri youths. They watch the MTV Asia and other foreign channels like Koreans, Japanese, Arirang and other South Asian media to imitate their latest fashions. What is new to Indian fashion trends is outdated one for these fashion aware youths. Examples can be cited from Manipuri youths staying in various states of India. One could easily notice that the dress they wear and the fashions they follow are only foreign trends. Hardly they buy from Indian Malls for their shoes, jeans and T-shirts. Reason being Indian Apparels are unnecessarily high priced and lack of new trends in West, says few students studying in Delhi.
Earlier goods made in Thailand and Singapore came to Manipur. Such goods are excellent in quality and the fabrics are well knitted. Manipur designers and fashion specialists prefer such apparels to Indian brands. According to traders in the Gambhir Singh Shopping Arcade, now the manufacturing units and factories have been shifted to Beijing. This also is the reason why Nepal got foreign markets. Chinese made products are flooding the country, some are faked, others genuine and good quality. Such goods reached Manipur through a long voyage, from siliguri to silchar. Rapid bandhs and blockades on National Highway No. 39 forced the retailers and business traders to look out for Indo-Myanmar route.
Rajesh, an engineer student from Imphal, based in Delhi has said, ” Every time I wear any T-shirts brought from Manipur, and friends will ask is it from US or UK. I feel proud to reply them that its from Imphal. Looking at the price, they will request to order for them too.” Yes, the quality and cost factor is one prime factor that forced the Manipuri youths to opt for foreign goods. Fashions need to keep on changing. New product launched in the market is latest fashion. Unfortunately this kills the brand image. No one can predicts which is the best brand after every 3-4 months. Latest trends will arrive anytime and earlier fashion will dumped. This doesn’t happen frequently for Indian goods. Shirts like Park Avenue or Arrow will cling on its own finishing and cuts, that too for several months. In addition, price keeps on hiking. The MRP of Red Tape and Picasso shoes in neighbourhood mall at Guwahati ranges from Rs 1395-2095 and Rs 1495-1595 respectively, whereas All Stars and Valentino from Franch are available in the margin of Rs 200-Rs 700 in the Gambhir Singh Arcade. Fashionable youths will pick up these shoes which are latest in trends and new to them at cheaper prices.
The above table shows some brands of shoes which are available in both the Shopping malls and latest trends currently. Women’s shoes are limited, so some opt for Indian brands. Here, it is worth to mention that branded companies too established their small shops in and around Imphal to meet the requirements of the people. There are outlets of Nike, Reebok and Adidas. But the volume of business is not sound as compared to foreign shoes. Ida is the latest trends of women’s shoe these days. Among men, All Stars is the highest seller.
Most of these trousers are Bangkok or Singapore made. Among men’s brand, Phat Farm is the highest seller, followed by Mad Fish and Sha Bao Lu Jeans. ADL tops the women’s brand. Women Tops are mostly combination of imported and Indian brands. Popular among women shirts includes Ether from Bangkok, Sea Red, Idea and ANJ, Looks, Udare and Madame from India. Ether is available for girls from 12 years to middle aged housewives. This is the highest selling brand these days.
Evidences of the teenagers picking up latest in fashion much ahead of their counterparts in other cities of India are seen from latest Bollywood movies. The Cargo pant that Saif Ali Khan in Hum Tum and his new dresses in Salam Namaste are not new to the Manipuri teenagers. They have been wearing the cargo pants since 3 year. Some brands of cargo pants which are very fashionable and trendy in the region includes GAP, AND, DYD, US Army. And the price ranges are very cheap, which starts from Rs 380 – Rs 650. Ladies Pencil shoes like Tipper from Thailand are the models delight for a catwalk on ramp.
Clearly the teenagers lead the frequency of visits in both malls, contributing to the safety and secure to shop. Manipur, a land under fire due to the black laws of the government as well as the threats from revolutionaries always lag behind in development. If these two malls were not opened, then the fashion business might not been what we are witnessing today. Streets shops and brand shops are often visited by Women who look for big bargaining options and the aged men who cannot part away their teenaged memory since their early days. Another advantage of shopping in the mall is that these teenage can hang out and enjoy their time in café or restaurant after the shopping has been complete. A wide selection of desired apparels is also possible in such malls only. Manipuri girls are very beautiful and conscious of latest fashions. This has promoted the opening of many beauty parlours inside malls.
Customers don’t see the brands, they look for latest trends in fashion. The stretchable women jeans from Bangkok are excellent in cut and fabric. The finishing is well made and it cannot be found in any other Indian brands. “Teenagers mostly depend on fashion. What is latest fashion in Singapore and Bangkok arrives soon here. In such condition brand image building is a difficult to them,” said Romeo Sairem, owner of Smart Ready Wear Garments. The potential buyers are teenagers. They spend around Rs. 10,000 during lean seasons. This could goes up to Rs. 30,000 during festive seasons like Holi, Ningol Chakouba, New Year and other community celebrations. Among men, brand is top priority; they look for brands in their choice of selections.
In the latter part of 90’s, a strong movement was instituted to abolish the improper street markets from the congested Imphal city roads. Such changed of the city policy necessitates the opening of malls. Another reason was the freedom and peace from frequent tensions from traffic police officials who are exploiting those shop owners. Earlier it was unorganised retail mode of business. Now the malls are a good revenue to a large section of businessmen residing in Manipur.
The Gambhir Singh Shopping Arcade and the Leima Shopping Plaza has been able to deliver what people wants with good space to shop and international standards apparels. Teenagers could dress fashionably like the Westerners and other South Asian youths. Looking at dresses and fashion trends in Manipur, one cannot decide the economic breakdown of this state. All has been made possible due to cheaper apparels at lowest possible price range.
The marvellous mélange of variety is a major part of Sunday markets along the street of Imphal city. Some shops keep branded products in apparels, cosmetics or lifestyle accessories. Others more typically offer whatever is trendy, the entire latest consumer desire and looking for. Serendipity waits at stalls where customers always find a surprising item they never thought they needed, but were suddenly sure they could never live without. And such market is much more tourist friendly, with enough room for favourable bargaining.
What one witnessed in Manipur is that certain incredible points of attraction developed very rapidly, particularly among young people. They tend to completely take over a place, and after a while they lose interest. Thus, swift to new trends always happen in this small state!
Gambhir Singh Shopping Arcade is really important because it introduced the concept of retail excitement by enclosing the mall. What is lack in these malls are modern escalators and all other things which can create a very stimulating environment, so that finally there was something almost as exciting as the city! But one never bothers for such amenities when one could get what he wants after climbing dozens of staircases.
Before the mall concept, Indian goods rule the Imphal market. Political and economic situations were also not a big headache for the businessmen and retailers. Foreign goods enter here, but in less and quantity. Fashions and apparels were not so important in last few years.
It is not easy to bring foreign fashions in this high alert state. The game is a difficult one if one does not take stringent measures in this business. Romeo added, ” We heard about the Free Trade Agreement with other South Asian countries. We also learnt about BIMSTEK and trade promotional policies. Unfortunately, we are spending 50 per cent of the total investments in useless expenditures. Excise officials and police authorities take undue advantages from us.” “Nevertheless, we are happy with our business ventures and profits,” he continued.
Such goods are lost frequently in the hands of corrupt officials. Adding further problems from the revolutionaries and other gangs who demand hefty taxes and ransoms. One has to fly to Bangkok to order the goods in bulk. Although it is legal to import such goods, according to new trade policy, retailers need to follow traditional and dangerous way to procure such products. In Bangkok, a retailer will order his choice of products and returns back. The concerned person will carry all responsibilities to transport the goods till Myanmar border. From here, the owner will import goods. Bringing from border to mall shelf is a combat for these poor retailers. “This is the only way we do business, no other route to bring foreign goods,” Kennedy, owner of Style Zone lamented. He further added, if we were based in other Indian states, our business would do great profits. “Army who are posted along the highway tortured us and confiscated our goods whenever they like. We do not have other means than submitting to their tyranny. If we are to do business, we have to suffer,” Kennedy added. Another proprietor named, Mani expressed his anger against the state and centre government for not allowing free trades. ” The government does not like to see us prosper, that is the reason why they do not open the orders physically. In media and in front of global meetings, these talk of a free trade policy and economic co-operations. Why they are exploiting us then?”
Advertisement and media campaign are absolutely nil, owners does not need to spend their investment on such campaigns. This is a bonus to them. Anand, another shop owner from the Leima shopping plaza said, ” Our goods are the best, so we don’t need extra effort to reach the customer. It’s simply word of mouth. Whenever a new fashion arrives, people throngs in and it starts doing business.”
Unlike big bazaar and mega mart, which offers freebies, discounts and buy one get one free promotional scheme, the malls in Manipur does not offer anything except the very best quality at reasonable amounts. Every year, both the malls celebrate their Inauguration Day where shop owners offer some valuable gifts to every buyers, be it T-Shirt or Women’s Tops.
Anand continued, “What we lack is full support from government in our trade. We would like to do business across India. We need to build a common platform for distributing /retailing such foreign apparels to other Indian cities.” Exactly, if the business of fashion is supported by the changing Indian trade policy, foreign goods could be flooded to every part of Indian cities. By doing so, Indian fashion scenario will get a new blend of South Asian origins, much cheaper and more fashionable than the present image of fashion.