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Published on: Oct. 19, 2020, 10:55 a.m.
D2 International sets a new trend
  • Rajiv and Diksha Bhatia: D2 offers timeless classics for every season; photo: Sajal Bose

By Sajal Bose. Deputy Editor, Business India

Leather is a widely traded item in the international market, with India being a prominent exporter of items such as raw-hide skins, finished leather, leather goods, leather garments and leather footwear. The total export from India is worth about $6 billion, of which leather goods and accessories constitute about 20 per cent.

Excellent craftsmanship has secured a significant place for Indian leather goods in the global market, though this expertise is largely used to copy international products by small exporters, who work as low-margin fabricators and offer long credit periods. It’s this fact that made a Kolkata-based businessman realise that nurturing the talent of workmen would bring quality and reputation, while others thought this was difficult to accomplish. So, Rajiv Bhatia, moved into the space in 1994, by setting up D2 International and changed the game, becoming a niche player in the leather goods segment.

Bhatia was born in Kanpur, where his father worked in the ordnance factory. A science graduate, Bhatia also took a postgraduate diploma in sales & marketing from Kanpur University, before venturing out to seek a career. An avid cricketer, he had demonstrated his skills in club-level matches, dreaming of emulating his idol, Kapil Dev. But, as the eldest son, a sense of responsibility forced him to abandon his passion for cricket, and, in 1988, he joined Modi Xerox in Delhi, as a management trainee.

He then shifted to Yes Original, a US-based footwear company, as quality control officer in Kanpur. When the company wanted him to shift to Wenzhou in China, he declined and moved to Wilson Leather, another US company, which sourced leather goods from Kolkata. So, Bhatia moved to Kolkata in 1991. “It was a great learning experience, starting from raw material to finished products,” says Bhatia. He also learned German at the Max Mueller Bhawan in Kolkata, as Germany was the number one importer of leather goods from that city. The language still helps him in canvassing business. 

“At the end of 1992, I saw an advertisement of Tata Exports in Business India magazine, looking for people in a senior position,” Bhatia recalls. “I was interviewed at its office in Dewas.” The company offered him a job, with a 25 per cent enhancement in his current salary in Wilson. “When I informed my American boss in Wilson about the job offer, he suggested that, if I was quitting, then I should go ahead on my own, with the experience I have gained. He also assured me support, with orders from his company,” reminisces Bhatia. 

Entrepreneurial journey

Bhatia soon realised that nothing big was going to happen in his professional career, if he continued with jobs in Kolkata. By then, he too had developed a zeal for entrepreneurship. So, he finally left the corporate career, where he had gained much experience and set up D2 International from a 300 sq ft location at Lansdowne, in central Kolkata. His journey as an entrepreneur began with the supply of 100 belt pouches worth $600 to Wilson. He also secured raw material supply lines with tanneries and 30 days credit. The order quantity from Wilson multiplied and soon D2 had gained other customers too. His substantial contacts in the field, in India and overseas, also helped.

From such a small beginning, with a first-year turnover of Rs1.50 crore, D2 International has grown to be one of the largest leather accessories exporters in eastern India. After some glitches with funding in the initial years, the company demonstrated it was capable of producing an innovative product range, which has been widely recognised. It has not looked back. D2 achieved a turnover of Rs121 crore in 2019-20. It employs 2,000 people, of which 40 per cent are women.

Bhatia has trained his workmen on quality and contemporary designs of an international standard. The company produces and exports the finest collections of leather bags and fashion accessories for the high-end niche market. It pays strong attention to aesthetics and offers a range of timeless classics for every season. All this has not gone unnoticed by famous international leather product brands that source their products from India.

Today, D2 is considered a top-class designer of products that are mainly handcrafted. The company is an international OEM for some powerful global brands and world-renowned departmental stores like Emporio Armani, Piquadro, Adolfo Dominguez, Harrods, Radley, Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, House of Fraser and Myer, among others.

D2’s bouquet includes handbags, purse, laptop cases, briefcases, messenger bags, totes, holdalls, wallets, passport cases, phone cases, etc. Ladies’ handbags, the highest selling product, constitute 70 per cent of the company’s total revenue. “We are the largest exporters in the eastern region in the segment,” claims Bhatia, 54, from his sprawling 4,000 sq ft display centre at Bantala Leather Complex. “Our USP is ‘finest quality and timely delivery’”.

“D2 is a fantastic partner,” agrees Jackie Hay, chief product officer, Radley & Co, London. “We are delighted with the energy, hard work and talent that goes into the production of the beautiful bags and the innovation that makes design dreams become reality.”

In 2017, D2 had invested Rs25 crore to set up a large integrated manufacturing facility for leather goods. The state-of-the-art plant situated at Bantala Leather Complex, has 150,000 sq ft of production area, capable of producing 60,000 handbags and 75,000 SLGs (small leather goods) per month. Its skilled craftsmen use the latest machines in the industry, sourced from Italy and Germany. 

“Our craftsmen are the best in the country and this helps us to deliver high quality products to our customers,” says Uday Sharma, director production, D2. Bhatia takes pride in this facility. “Size and infrastructure are important to satisfy our customers,” he contends. 

The company sources its leather and fittings materials through imports as well as indigenously. “We mainly use cow hide, which Kolkata has in good quality,” explains Bhatia. “We import 30 per cent of our total requirements of hides from Italy, Spain, Korea and Thailand. Size of the cow hides in the US and Europe are double the size we have here. So, a seamless bag can be produced better with that. The average Western hide size is 40-50 sq ft, as against 24-28 sq ft in India.”

Superior quality

As a technology associate of BLC Leather Technology Institute, UK, the company follows stringent product quality parameters at par with international standards. An in-line quality control manager monitors all assembly lines. The company also has overseas designers based in France and in the UK constantly helping to stay up to date. Its R&D team works alongside the designers to develop new products. Jean Clenet, a well-known French designer, has been working with D2 for the last 15 years. The company also participates in major international leather fairs.

Bhatia’s wife, Diksha, joined D2 in 2016. With a master’s degree in Computer Applications, she also did a course on footwear from Ars Sutoria, Milan (Italy) in 2015. As a director of the company, she now works closely with its design team to introduce ladies’ footwear and a full range of leather accessories in the price-sensitive domestic market under the brand name Jioia (Joy), an Italian name. “There are a few domestic brands, but not many with the right quality and affordable price,” claims Diksha. “We offer better colours, contemporary design, good quality and affordable pricing.” 

The company will compete with Indian brands Hidesign and Da Milano, is now going through the registration process.

The Bhatias’ twin sons Viraj and Vashisht, have also joined the family business. Viraj has a BBA degree from Lancashire University, UK. He lives in London and manages the European market for D2. Vashisht has a BBA from NYU Stern School of Management, New York, and is now learning the nitty-gritties of the leather business. The Bhatias are also looking to acquire a known European brand and establish its own label. 

“D2 is the leading exporter in the eastern region and among the top ten in the country,” says Tapan Nandi, chairman, Indian Leather Products Association (ILPA). 

Due to the Covid pandemic, several leather exporters have faced cancellation of orders from the US and Europe, which has affected exports adversely. “In our case, the execution of orders, though delayed, was never cancelled,” says Bhatia. Nandi sees tension between China and US is an opportunity for India’s leather exporters. At present, China controls more than 50 per cent of the global market, as against India’s four per cent. “Companies that have been buying from China are now looking seriously at India,” adds Nandi. “We are now a team of four and are looking for avenues to grow and want to move towards our goal steadily,” Bhatia affirms. 

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