In March this year, Nappa Dori opened up a shop in a prime location at Alserkal, Dubai’s dynamic art district. The lifestyle brand was born 11 years ago in a scooter garage in Delhi. Today, the brand has nine stores in India, one in London and quietly opened a store in this city earlier this year. Gautam Sinha, the founder and creative director of Nappa Dori, has a special connection with this city; his elder brother Gaurav Sinha moved to Dubai 35 years ago and is considered to be one the region’s top hospitality marketing gurus as the CEO and founder of Insignia Worldwide. “I do love Dubai; it’s given so much to my family. It is constantly evolving and there is a new energy emerging as a generation of young people who have been born and brought up here are changing the social fabric of the city.” These observations encouraged Sinha to bring Nappa Dori to Dubai. His choice of location, the art district of the city, was one he was clear on. “There is no better place than Alserkal for us. Nappa Dori is more than a store, I do not consider our stores a point of sale but more of a point of experience, we want to be integrated with the design and culture of the city.”
Building a community
So far, Nappa Dori has not held an official launch event but there’s word of mouth that it has become a hub for Alserkal regulars, thanks to Sinha’s first approach to retail. While some describe Nappa Dori as a leather brand, others see it as a lifestyle brand. Sinha feels Nappa Dori started as a “leather goods company but now has morphed more into a lifestyle brand”. “It caters to a well-travelled, discerning individual with a personal style,” he says. “Our core philosophy is to create a minimal design language without losing our Indian roots but still have a global appeal.”
The name Nappa Dori loosely translates to “leather and thread”, and these are the two materials that have been Sinha’s constant muses. The brand’s core product range is handcrafted leather bags and laptop bags. However, it is the more unexpected products, such as gardening tools and letter writing sets, that have given Nappa Dori a unique perspective. For example, Sinha is currently testing a leather watch strap made for smart watches. While he wants to make his design timeless, he understands the need to be an agile-yet-responsible retailer. “We have been conscious about the environmental impact fashion has and have always tried to stay as close to sustainable means as possible, from vegetable tanned leather to using chrome-free leather. We do small batch productions; hence you will rarely find us going on discounts. We are also exploring vegan leather options and are studying the market constantly.”
They also offer personalisation services. It is a new-age brand that has an old-world charm. Being rooted in craft is what makes Nappa Dori special. Sinha’s whole approach is low key, he is not looking for celebrity endorsements but real customers. He is always thinking long term, which is why he believes in Dubai, a city that is often dismissed for having a “bling culture”. Instead he sees it as a city of the future. “Dubai has had its flamboyant lifestyle, which is a good selling point for tourism, but what people do not understand is that there is a deep underbelly of arts and culture which has been brewing for the longest time and once you live here, you understand it.” He points to the success of Alserkal as a cultural hub as proof of this.
He wants to build a community, not just clients and walk-in customers, which is why traditional malls are not his first option. Six years ago, Nappa Dori opened its largest space to date in Delhi’s Dhan Mill Compound, which at that point was not a retail destination. A true concept store, it was Café Dori’s first destination and a library full of design magazines. The Alserkal store seems modelled on this space, and Sinha will be looking at expanding Café Dori’s menu in his Dubai store. “I always wanted to create a space where one could come, immerse themselves around good design and get their creative juices flowing while enjoying a perfect shot of espresso,” says the 40-something entrepreneur.
LESS IS MORE
One of the few independent Indian brands that has managed to have successful store launches globally, Nappa Dori also has a strong presence in Scandinavia, and Sinha is exploring opening of a store in the Nordic region. “We cater to a well-travelled, discerning individual with a personal style. Our core philosophy is to create a minimal design language without losing our Indian roots but still have a global appeal.”
Sinha credits Nappa Dori for taking “Indian minimalism” to global shores. Though Nappa Dori is both crafted and born in India, he has not had to make any changes to his products when launching in new markets and this he believes has been key to his success. “Our design language is relatable to any market, and this is important to understand if you are trying to create a global brand. I feel a lot of Indian brands miss this element and are too heavily invested in the Indian narrative.” Not looking to open to many other points of sale globally, as of now he is concentrating on building the Middle Eastern and UK markets. He believes the Middle East will be a growing market for Nappa Dori, which is why you can expect to see a lot more of Gautam Sinha in the city in the next couple of months.