To Lee or not to Lee

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Welcome to the edge, says the denim jacket of her scrapbook. Danger: extremely flammable, cautions her ad campaign on an apparel line.

Welcome to 34-year-old Suparna Mitra’s life. Her job is to make Lee part of every young adult’s wardrobe whose age is between 17 and 24. “The key in any sales and marketing business lies with the consumers. Understanding their needs help you design the products just right for them,” says Mitra, business head of Lee, who has a master’s in business administration from IIM, Calcutta. “Which is why we went for lightweight jeans, which is a rage abroad.”

And the second challenge is to understand what excites the consumer and design a communication strategy around that. “We are targeting people in college and young working professionals who have active social lives,” says Mitra, who also has an electrical engineering degree from Jadavpur University, Calcutta. “Our job is to also figure out what media to use because we have to cut through the clutter and advertising noise and communicate in a lasting way. And this requires creativity.”

An offshoot of one such a requirement resulted in the Lee model hunt that did the rounds of all major Indian cities. “It required a lot to be communicate effectively to youngsters and it ended up achieving just that… now we are thinking of making it an annual affair.”

The Bhilai-born’s first job was at Unilever. “I was a management trainee for a year and three months before moving to Madras as an area manager for a year,” says Mitra. Then she moved to Bangalore and joined Titan Industries as a product executive. “I was doing international marketing for its jewellery division. Then I moved to Tanishq as a product manager for a year.”

She went up the ladder again at her next stop: Talisma Corporation. She was director (product marketing) for a year. “My job was to sell a CRM product and I was the connection between the end user and what goes into the product. It was not so much communication with the consumer. Besides, it was online and therefore a much smaller set of people and the product was a much more rational decision. But at Unilever, which was into consumer goods, the attitude of the brand is as important as the actual physical product.”

And that applies to Lee, too. Which is why Mitra chose zero gravity apparel. “The norm abroad is 14 ½ ounce, but in India 10-12 ½ made sense because 8-10 months in a year most places here are hot. So people would prefer a lightweight fabric that’s not uncomfortable even in the rainy months. And the zero gravity line continues to be a bestseller.”

But what’s hugging Mitra well is Lee Multicounts. “In this, the thickness of the yarn varies. There is sandblasting, techno blasting and tinting to give it a unique look. Besides, it’s a very good fabric to wear and it gets better as you wash and wear repeatedly.”

When she’s not looking at the fashion parade on MTV and Channel V to know what her target group is up to these days, she is babysitting her daughter Shreya (5) and reading Rushdie. That is, when she is not thinking of adding a certain freshness to Lee and giving something new for today’s young adult to buy.

(Published in City Reporter, 2003)