Sabyasachi Mukherjee: “When I held a Starbucks cup in my hand I felt validated, this collaboration is a testimonial to how far I have arrived!” on the latest Sabyasachi + Starbucks merchandise
Starbucks India and Sabyasachi launched their merchandise on 12th April in all stores across India and this collaboration caused an uproar on social media because collaboration between the two brands as big always sparks a fantastic line of creation. The collaboration comes as a surprise to us but for the brands, it came quite naturally. Them coming together was organic as they were fueled with the purpose of the collaboration. The CEO of Starbucks Sushant Dash and ace designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee sat down with MissMalini to talk about the collaboration, their relationship with Starbucks, social media, the need to be relevant, and the pressures of collaborating with two equally successful global brands. The conversation flowed as it struck a chord and made me feel just as emotional and smitten by their coming together as it was for them.
Sabyasachi Mukerjee and Sushant Dash with Mitisha Mavani from MissMaliniYou’ve been quoted as every girl’s dream designer. And similarly, Starbucks is known to be everyone’s go-to coffee house. Do tags add any pressure?
Sushant: I think it’s pressure in a good way because it makes you do your best.
Sabyasachi: I would say the same thing. One of the reasons we become who we are is because of what we do. And when two strong brands come together, we only do it better.
Over time improvisations and making new changes get tough, how do you keep up with trends? Does it get intimidating?
Sabyasachi: I don’t deal with trends at all. As a brand, we are anti-trend, we don’t say that we are anti-trend but we are. I come from a middle-class family and for me what I value is continuity. As a family, we have never thrown away clothes. My mom still has Kanjeevaram sarees that are thirty-forty years old. I don’t understand the term disposable. And
I find it very shocking that in fashion we create luxury only to say it is redundant in four to six months. I think it is somehow demeaning to the product and the integrity of the brand. And, I like keeping things classic so that people can use them again and again. And I believe, ‘Repetition creates iconism’. To say if Starbucks were to keep changing their brand colors or logo, or if we were to change our brand logo from a Tiger to an Eagle, it wouldn’t be the same. People pressurize you for change but also keep coming back to you for a constant. You just need to understand that and stay your course.
Sushant: I think for us it is the same. At the heart, it should be the same. It is about the brand, the art, the human connection, the coffee and you need to do it well and need to do it consistently. And that is what Starbucks is known for, And that is what brings the connection and empathy which makes the brand what it is.
Sabyasachi: Everyone forces you to change but they all enjoy routine and crave stability. Because after everything, at the end of it all, we like to come back home and that’s what it is.
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The collaboration of a designer and a coffee house comes as a massive surprise? What sparked the collaboration?
Sushant: It was a natural thing, why does it come as a surprise? (laughs) It’s about what you want to give to your consumers. The idea was to create iconic merchandise and we had to do it with a brand that adds value. And two brands coming together has to be greater than the individual brand and that’s how we approached Sabyasachi. Speaking for him, I think the purpose excited him more than the collaboration. And that is what we are looking to give to our consumers not just the collaboration of two iconic brands but the purpose that fueled the collaboration. And it doesn’t just allow the consumers to be a part of two iconic brands but also allows them to be there for a cause and understand the purpose behind it.
Sabyasachi: I think Sushant is being slightly modest here. I grew up with Starbucks. When I was in Newyork, it was my breakfast every morning. It is such a massive brand and sometimes, it is an honor to collaborate with a brand that you have grown up with. It’s almost like coming back home. On a personal level as a human being obviously, the purpose fueled the fire but for me to be able to work with a brand that I grew up with just means everything and the cherry on the top is creating a support system for the education of so many girls in the country. I have always stood up for education, so it means a lot to me.
Sustainability is gaining a lot of importance over time and people are understanding its value. Do you think inculcating it in the minds of Indians can be difficult?
Sushant: For us, it is a very critical part of what we do. Globally, it is one of the pillars of what we stand for and what we do. On a corporate level, we have made a public statement that by 2030, we’ll reduce carbon footprint, water usage, waste, and landfill usage by 50%. We are being transparent about it and allowing the consumer to be a part of the journey and see what we are trying to do as our bit to help the larger ecosystem. It requires us to do a lot of things, with green coffee, the supply chain and all. But it also stands for the things that you do personally, like reusable cups. On 2nd October, we gave away 40,000 reusable cups free, so that people bring them back to the store and we can completely reduce plastic waste and consumption. We are also trying to use compostable straws and wooden cutlery. But that again, I believe is your responsibility as larger brands where you can do your bit but also create awareness about the same.
Sabyasachi: I approach sustainability slightly differently. For me, a lot of it boils down to consumption. What we do with our brand is that we convince our customers to buy less but buy better and hence, we do not follow any fashion calendar. Like other fashion houses, they have 6-7 drops a year. We try to stick to just 2. We aim to create timeless, classic products where that can be used again and again. Our system also obviously tries to source better materials, reduce carbon footprint, and so on. But apart from that what we try to do is, we try to raise quality. So, once you buy something, you wear it again and again. It is quite an oxymoron how fashion talks about sustainability but we are constantly trying to convince people to buy more. Be sustainable but buy more. For instance, if a short skirt is in today, they will make a long skirt tomorrow, so you can buy more. What we tell our consumers is that, buy mindfully. We don’t promote panic buying. We try to create timeless products that you can wear over and over. Eventually, if you consume less, you are making a case for sustainability.
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As a creative person, how do you manage a creative block?
Sushant: He (Sabyasachi) is the creative person here. He should answer it.
Sabyasachi: You’re running a business, it needs a lot of creativity (laughs). I strongly believe that when you are going through a creative block, just allow yourself to go through the block. Many people would not agree but I would say, never sail the ship in choppy waters and just stay safe. When you are having a creative block, just forgive yourself for being human and go ahead with it. A lot of people’s blocks get longer because they panic. I would say, it’s the best time to take a holiday.
Sushant: No, I completely agree with that. Just let it be. If you try fighting it, you end up getting more entangled in it. It’s best for you to just step back, take a break and not try and solve it. And the best thing, just have a coffee! (laughs)
Follow-up question, we live in a world where hustle culture has been given a lot of importance and relevance, and in a world where social media has taken over everything, does it add a lot of pressure to just keep going and continually produce newer things day in and day out?
Sabyasachi: I’ll answer that for you. My brand is on Instagram, I am not. I don’t even have a secret account that I use to stalk people. I made that decision 3 years ago. A lot of your decisions are not made out of need but out of the fear of missing out. And that sometimes leads you to make wrong decisions for the brand and the brand has bigger turnovers but smaller bottom lines and that is not a healthy way of looking at your business. A lot of times we say we are mindlessly trying to expand our business because we can’t stop looking at what the neighbors are doing. And for a creative industry like ours, even when you’re watching other people’s work because it corrupts your vision of how you view your work. And singularity of vision is so important for an industry like ours because you know people don’t come to you to buy a product, they come to you to buy philosophy, and if your philosophy is not getting entangled with other people’s vision. And people will not come back to you. I deal with it in a way where I just don’t use social media.
Sushant: From a brand point of view, it has always been doing what is right for the consumer. And it is not about what others do. Everyone has their way, space, and pace at which they do things, and as long as you’re doing things right and you’re clear about what you stand for, which in our case is the connection and the coffee. It stands out.
Sabyasachi + Starbucks MerchandiseWhat are your favorites from the launch?
Sabyasachi: You are asking a parent to choose between their children. I like the mugs because they are such classics but I also love the tumblers. The reason I say that is because the tumblers are more mobile and more of a testimony to the changing times and you always have something to sip on.
Sushant: Oh yeah! I will not be politically right. I like black mugs. They are my favorite.
What has been the most priced part of this collaboration?
For me it’s very simple, it’s personal. It reminds me of that first cup of coffee, being middle class, standing in New York in Manhattan, and feeling cool. Feeling like you have arrived, feeling like you’re a part of a greater democracy of people. You just feel like you have evolved. And sometimes, that little cup of coffee is your testimonial that you have come so far. It has happened to my mother right now. My mother used to shop at a small Kirana store and now she pushes the cart in an air-conditioned shopping mall wearing sneakers and she would wear chappals. And I remember my mother that she could ride an escalator. For me to see that and feel that like when I watched Sridevi in English Vinglish when she buys that Metro ticket for herself and she suddenly feels empowered. For me, standing in that line, getting my Starbucks Coffee, and not being intimidated by the accent and the hustle of it all. It is a validation of how a middle-class person has come. And you know one day, how they say your life comes full circle, that same company reaches out to you for a collaboration and I think it’s just beautiful and it’s very fulfilling from a very personal point of view. For the brand it’s great, but for me, it means a lot because of my personal story.
Sushant: That’s a beautiful story, I think you should end with that (laughs). For me, it was the ease that came in with the collaboration, the cooperation, and how it all turned out so beautiful.
Sabyasachi: I’ll also tell you the most terrible thing about this collaboration is that all of this has happened online and we never met. And the fact that such a great body of work can happen sitting across each other with screens separating us is a testimonial to how precious this is and how well it worked out.
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Go to Starbucks Drink
Sushant: Short Americano
Sabyasachi: Caramel Frappuccino, that’s easy!
Chai or Coffee
Sabyasachi: I prefer both. Chai, because I have grown up having Chai and Coffee because I can’t function without them.
Authenticity or Trends
Sabyasachi: Old School
Go-to fashion staple
Sushant: T-shirt and Jeans
Sabyasachi: White Chinese Collar Shirts from Uniqlo. I live in Uniqlo.
Favorite Starbucks Outlet in the world
Sushant: A tough one, the Taj outlet, the one behind Taj Mahal Palace. The view is everything,
Sabyasachi: For me, it’s very simple, I don’t think I have visited any Starbucks outlet as much as I have visited this one, it is the one at the Mumbai Airport. I go there so often, I have a relationship with everyone there.
Coffee with Sugar and No Sugar
Sushant: No sugar
Sabyasachi: Loads of sugar