From fashion to tech: 12 powerhouses who are at the forefront of change


No matter how large, change often starts with small steps: like democratising a field that’s traditionally considered high culture, fighting for equal rights, promoting local textile industries, or even urging us to rethink how our cities are planned.

From fashion and technology, to the arts and social entrepreneurship, Neville Bhandara finds 12 powerhouses who are at the forefront of major shifts in their fields, and have used their talent and determination to become the role models we need.

Styling: Divya Gursahani

Illustrations: Priya Dali

Art direction: Mrudul Pathak Kundu and Vidhi Mirpuri

Jiggy George: Licence to dream


Jiggy George, founder of Dream Theatre, India’s first independent licensing representation agency, has worn a lot of different hats over the years. He’s been a fashion designer, music critic, advertising salesman and marketer before making the move into entrepreneurship. But it turns out the first job he ever wanted to do involved selling tickets on a crowded BEST bus.

“I was always interested in the idea of management, and I was just really impressed with someone who had so much control over the chaos of a Bombay bus,” says the 47-year-old, leaning back in his chair. It’s a late Monday evening and we’re meeting at his office in Santacruz West, Mumbai.

George laughs as he remembers his childhood ambitions. “It was this balance that I thought was so cool, making sure everyone was seated and also taking their money.”

Books line the wall opposite his desk, which also features a mural depicting many of his major influences, including The Beatles, Muhammad Ali and Shah Rukh Khan. Hanging on the wall behind him are two paintings by a friend which, he says, represent his personal journey towards becoming an entrepreneur (the paintings feature two important dates—when he quit and when DT officially started).

The son of a government prosecutor and a homemaker, George grew up in a traditional and regimented Malayali Christian household in Mumbai. Everyone in the family was either a doctor, engineer or a lawyer, and it was expected that George, who studied at St Stanislaus High School in Bandra, would follow a similar career path.

But he had other ideas. After completing his bachelor’s degree in sociology and economics at Mumbai’s Elphinstone College, George decided to see if his skills as a writer and an artist could translate into a creative career. In 1991, he applied for a position as a junior fashion designer at apparel brand Zodiac. “I didn’t have a degree in fashion, but I could draw fairly well,” he says. “So I went with a sketchbook full of drawings to this very serious interview about fashion design. I got the job, but it took me a few months to realize that was because they were just being nice.”

Fashion, it turned out, was not George’s calling. During his nine months at Zodiac, all he designed was men’s socks. He then joined The Times of India’s (TOI’s) ad sales team. But even here, convinced that he could do a better job than the writers on the media company’s payroll, he talked his way into being allowed to review books and music for TOI’s supplements, Metropolis On Saturday and the Independent.

In 1995, George enrolled for an MBA at the Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research, thinking it would allow him to leapfrog a few steps up the corporate ladder. The plan was to get a job in a media or entertainment company when he graduated, but there was one problem. No media company turned up for the campus placement event.

“So I found the phone number for the then managing director of MTV, Sunil Lalla, and called him up,” he says. “I said ‘Sunil, you don’t know me but if you meet me, you’ll hire me on the spot.’ He was in one of his indulgent moods so he called me to the office and patiently listened to my long monologue on what I thought they should be doing.”

A week later, George had an offer letter. At MTV India, he joined the consumer marketing department as marketing coordinator where he worked on the channel’s on-ground campaigns, including the MTV VJ Hunt in 1999 and an attempt to get into the Guinness Book Of World Records by hosting the longest ever dance party.

A couple of years in, the higher-ups asked him to look into setting up a merchandising and licensing vertical for MTV. George jumped at the opportunity. “I thought that this was a new business in a new industry, so I’d get to learn a lot of valuable stuff,” he says. “And MTV was a really aspirational brand at the time, so I thought it would be easier to bring them into the lifestyle of young people.”

His work for MTV, which included an MTV branded credit card with Citibank and an apparel licensing deal, caught the attention of Cartoon Network, which hired him in 2002. Here, he got a chance to play with some of the biggest characters in the world, including the Powerpuff Girls, Dexter, Johnny Bravo and the Hanna-Barbera roster. George and his team pioneered the idea of promotional licensing in the country and set up the consumer products programme for Cartoon Network in India in 2006. He was also involved in a short-lived project to set up Cartoon Network theme parks in India, as well as their joint venture with Sesame Street. “My sense of getting bored easily, coupled with the very entrepreneurial spirit at Turner at that time, allowed me the latitude to do a lot of different stuff,” he says. “And that really fuelled my entrepreneurial dreams again.”

George’s love affair with entrepreneurship dates back to Bon Jovi’s Mumbai concert in 1995, organized by his elder brother Joji. “One day, he decided that he was going to bring Bon Jovi down and I thought it was just a crazy idea,” remembers George. “But he managed to pull it off. It was amazing to see that gig come together and I remember thinking, ‘man, you can dream something big and make it happen’.”

In 2009, as he completed his seventh year at Turner, he realized that he was running out of time. His wife was pregnant, he was struggling with ennui and if he didn’t take the plunge now, he never would. So he quit. “I told my team first and they turned around and said, ‘we’re coming with you’,” he remembers. “It ended up being this Jerry Maguire moment, people just started putting in their papers.”

Five members of his team left with him, and together they started Dream Theatre out of a Bandra coffee shop in 2010. A couple of his former clients at Turner came with him, but the first year or so were still very rough. People he had worked with for years would suddenly not take his calls and prospective clients would not take them seriously because they couldn’t afford an office. “But there were also a whole bunch of people who were exceptionally supportive in this journey,” he says. “And I was really lucky that the guys who came with me are far more nimble than I was in moulding themselves into the entrepreneurship role.”

Today, Dream Theatre is a premier independent agency in a billion-dollar industry that is expected to grow at an exponential rate. They have partnered with everyone from Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Dreamworks, Fifa and Real Madrid. They also have a presence in the content licensing and syndication space, where they work with Disney, Turner and Viacom. Along the way, they also expanded into the merchandising business. But George says this is just the tip of the iceberg. “We have a vibrant entertainment economy and a large consuming class, what’s not happening is retail intersecting with licensing in the most meaningful way,” he says. “That will change as organized retail grows. The next 5-10 years are going to be really important.”

Earlier this year, George—along with Kwan entertainment—launched Mojostar, a new joint venture that aims to create new celebrity-led brands in white spaces. They have already launched fitness apparel brands with actors Jacqueline Fernandez and Tiger Shroff, and there’s a lot more in the works. “It’s a lot like the early days of Dream Theatre, but this time we started with seed money and a valuation as high as $10 million,” he says. “That’s a big validation of the concept we’re built around.”

When he’s not busy running two companies, George tries to balance his many other interests. Fitness and meditation are an integral part of his day, even though he claims to hate exercise. “I do it just for one reason,” he says. “I should be physically and mentally fitter than all the young guys coming into my office.”

He’s also an avid reader (“I read The English Patient again and again”) and a long-time music aficionado who plays the guitar. He says that if he didn’t enter the corporate world, he would probably have been a writer who played music on the side. Perhaps that’s why he spends his weekends pushing his nine-year-old daughter to learn how to read music and play the piano.

“I’m very Chinese dad about it,” he jokes. “I also want her to learn Indian classical music. (That and reading music) are the only two skills that I wish I had, possibly my only regret. I wonder what would have happened if I’d trained in music earlier in life,” he adds.



Jacqueline Fernandez unveils a new active wear brand, ‘Just F’

Jacqueline Fernandez and Mojostar have unveiled the active wear brand exclusively on Amazon Fashion for Prime Day.

Jacqueline Fernandez along with Mojostar recently unveiled the Just F collection exclusively on Amazon Fashion for the eagerly awaited Prime Day! Just F will be available on Amazon Fashion for pre-booking on 16th July on the occasion of Prime Day with an official launch on 17th July.

Comprising innovative, trendy, and stylish active wear outfits for the modern Indian woman, the Just F collection offers over 100 styles on Amazon Fashion curated and handpicked by Jacqueline that includes sports bras, tops, shorts and skirts, tights and tracks, dresses, sweatshirts and jackets. The brand aims to democratize modern active wear for women without compromising on quality, and has priced all its products between INR 1,299 and INR 3,499.

Just F is a women-focused active wear brand, designed and created with the modern Indian woman in mind. It puts women and what they want at the core and looks at fitness and active wear from their perspective, rather than the lens of the men’s domain. A key differentiator is Just F’s approach to construction, sizing, and styling. All Just F products are specifically designed for the Indian female body type and are imbued with crossover styling to bring fun back into the mix, even as it helps women fashionably achieve their fitness goals.

Speaking on the product launch, Jacqueline Fernandez, Co-creator and Co-owner – Just F, said, “I am super excited to bring Just F to the doorsteps of women from all across the country with Amazon Fashion! The timing couldn’t have been better as everyone is looking forward to the second edition of Prime Day. The core idea behind Just F is to highlight that fitness can be fun, fashionable, and unabashedly feminine.” Sharing her thoughts on the exclusive Amazon Fashion partnership, Jacqueline further said, “Women professionals, especially those hailing from urban areas, are extremely comfortable with shopping online. Given that e-commerce is the primary launch medium for the brand, partnering with Amazon Fashion will make Just F products more conveniently accessible and available.”

Jiggy George, Managing Director & Founding Partner – Mojostar, added, “Active wear in India is still largely serving the needs of male consumers, both via product offering and communication. Just F fills this gap by presenting a stylish, fun, yet functional proposition that places women first. The products have been designed keeping in mind the specific needs of our target audience – their body type, fitness goals, and active lifestyles. Our exclusive partnership with Amazon, with its pan-India presence and robust logistics network, will only serve to amplify Just F’s reach.”

Commenting on the launch, Arun Sirdeshmukh, Head – Amazon Fashion said, “Post receiving an overwhelming response on our handpicked selection of fashion brands during Prime Day last year, we are committed to bring together an even more exciting line-up this year. We are delighted to launch the much awaited Just F by Jacqueline Fernandez exclusively on Amazon Fashion for our Prime members across the country. The new customers shopping on Amazon Fashion are definitely in for an extravaganza with Jacqueline’s signature brand coming to their doorsteps with free Prime enabled next day delivery.”

In the world of smileys

What once originated with typewriters, has now invaded the very essence of communication like wildfire

Smiley has become an integral part of digital conversation in our daily life. Originated with typewriters, it has invaded into computer and mobile communications like wildfire.

However, the origin of smiley is not clear and it seems that it first appeared during the early 1960s. In 1963 there was an American children’s TV programme called The Funny Company, which featured a crude smiley face as a kids’ club logo. At the same time, Harvey Ball – a commercial artist in Worcester, Massachusetts – designed a simple Smiley for a local company, State Mutual Life Assurance.

The classic Smiley arrived in the early 1970s. Within a perfect yellow circle, there was the simplest, most childlike depiction of a happy face: two vertical, oval eyes and a large, upturned semi-circular mouth. This is when Smiley was invented by Franklin Loufrani.

In September 1970 two brothers based in Philadelphia, Bernard and Murray Spain, came up with the classic Smiley design to sell novelties. Adding the words “have a nice day”, the Spains shifted at least 50 million smiley badges in 1972.

From early-70s fad to late-80s, smilieys change like a constantly mutating virus. Written during 1985 and published in 1986, Watchmen used the Smiley as a visual metaphor for a narrative that examines guilt, failure, megalomania and compromise with a corrupt power structure.

In 1997 Nicolas Loufrani created the first 3D Smiley and starts exploring different creative variations of it, which made its way on the screen of a cell phone for the first time in that year after licensed by The Smiley Company to Alcatel. Loufrani remembers in 1997, how he noticed the world was in the midst of a technological revolution and that people were using expressive emotions made from punctuation marks for text messaging and emails. Hundreds of these had been created as an art form but only 🙂 and 🙁 were really understandable and being used. “I started experimenting with my father’s Smiley to create thousands of icons that corresponded to these pre-existing emoticons. I knew that I was onto something big, so I registered all these icons as copyrights and then launched a new brand SmileyWorld, that expressed thousands of emotions and which could also be applied to a variety of products. In the 20 years since then, the Smileys that I created have been featured on tens of thousands of products, which have been produced by more than 800 licensees and generated over $1.5 billion in retail sales. This unique invention of my Smileys has gone on to influence pictorial language and the way we communicate and express ourselves today and I am really proud of this,” Loufrani said.

He recalls starting out in the luxury goods business, playing a key part in the transformation of Ozwald Boateng from a market trader on Portobello Road to becoming an internationally renowned Saville Row tailor. “In 1996 my father Franklin finally persuaded me to join Smiley and try to revolutionise it from its very traditional ‘nuts and bolts’ consumer merchandising licensing model. It was personally a very difficult career move to leave the luxury goods industry, which was my passion, but I knew that I could use my knowledge of trend, cutting edge design and the fast evolving world of technology to revolutionise Smiley forever,” he says. By 1999, Nicolas created 471 smileys in categories such as emotions, weather, nations, flags, parodies, sports etc.

Also in 1999, Shigetaka Kurita of NTT Docamo created his emojis. However, the original designs bare little resemblance to the modern emoji phenomenon, which was inspired by smileys and the work of Loufrani, who launched The Official Smiley Dictionary in 2001, which announces “The birth of a universal language”. The Dictionary contains 393 smileys with categories such as animals, colours, countries, celebrations, flags, food, fun, occupations, moods, celebrities, planets and moods. The Smiley Dictionary also held an extensive directory of 640 ascii emotions.

“It was my strategy to start looking into creating collaborations on the catwalk with some of the world’s leading couture houses and upscale fashion designers to keep Smiley in the spotlight of the leading buyers, press and celebrities. This strategy has really paid off and the trickle down has resulted in us having today collections accessible to the mass market through some of the high street’s most popular multiple retail chains and at the same time collections in the world’s leading boutiques, department stores and on the catwalks all over the world,” he recalls.

In 2003, The Smiley Dictionary was renamed SmileyWorld and contained 887 smileys including new categories such as celebration, celebrities, clothes, fancy, flags, flowers, food, in action, instruments, mood expressions, mood hands, nations, nature, numbers, objects, occupations, religion, science, signs, sports, transportation, weather, zodiac. The Dictionary is published for the first time as a book and the Smiley is licensed to leading phone manufacturers Motorola and Nokia.

“We are a licensing success story because we have a completely unique brand message, which is that ‘we make the world a happier place” and this is the starting point for everything we do as a business. We also have an enviable brand positioning that places us at the epicentre of three of the most important consumer trends in popular culture today; happiness, music and Smileys. These provide our partners with unique opportunities to leverage our authentic brand message, when they partner with Smiley,” said Loufrani.

Apple launched its first iPhone in 2007 and emoji icons were available only to Japanese users. Emoji is a Japanese word for pictogram and reproduce the concept of icons sorted by categories and have a set of emotions inspired by smileys but with a very different art direction.

According to him the Smiley Company prides itself on co-creating with partners, to ensure all leverage not just Smiley’s brand equity. “But also collaborative design and commercial expertise to ensure we create best-selling collections, driven by market insight and that are supported by marketing best practice. We want our partners to know that when they work with Smiley, it’s about entering into successful long-term partnerships, that will grow over the course of time,” said Loufrani.

From 2010 onwards, some emoji character sets were incorporated into Unicode, a standard system for indexing characters, which has allowed them to be used outside Japan and to be standardised across different operating systems.

“The team at Smiley continues to be a key component in driving the business’s growth globally. We have a dedicated team of 40 people and specialist brand teams coming from licensee specific industries, this allows the company to understand the needs of each and every partner and offer them professional advice and guidance,” Loufrani explains.

Today there are 1088 emoji, used by billions of people everyday thanks to Unicode. Emoji are distinct from the original Smileys but the explosion has fulfilled Nicolas Loufrani’s vision to create a digital universal language, understood by everyone.

“Smiley also adopts a global outlook but takes a local approach, with national sales teams speaking a wide range of languages we can guide partners towards the best products for them and their markets in order to drive more sales,” Loufrani said.

The Smiley brand is now active in over 13 industries, like fashion, food, toys and publishing. The Smiley Company works with some of the world’s largest retailers and most iconic brands to spread fun and happiness through creative products and engaging marketing activities. With sales of $265 million in 2017, Smiley has become part of the top 100 Global Licensors edition.

“We operate across 13 product categories in total but there are limitless opportunities when partnering with Smiley. I wouldn’t rule out any category as long as it was related to spreading our message of happiness and positivity and a positive lifestyle. Our major product categories are; Fashion, footwear and accessories, back to school, gifting, greeting cards, homewares, stationery, digital, promotions, publishing and Toys,” Loufrani says.

Talking on his plans for India, the company said, “India is definitely key market and Dream Theatre are very focussed on making Smiley a comprehensive and very successful licensing proposition. In fact the brand is very relevant in India with a 40 per cent share of Smiley’s fans on social media and an already active licensing program with Lifestyle stores and a partnership with Archies covering a whole host of gifts and novelties. We are now adding new categories and have product launches in bags, loungewear, toys, back to school and a major promotions with a prestigious FMCG company. From a strategy perspective, Fashion and Apparel will be the core proposition in India as well, where we will collaborate with top designers, brands, and retailers for a greater apparel portfolio which will offer Smiley fans more options to choose from designer collections to mass market. In addition, we will have fashion accessories, homeware, foods, toys and games, retail activations roll out, for which we are currently in advanced discussions. In the next 3 years we aim to become Rs 150 crore portfolio at retail.”

Mojostar and Jacqueline Fernandez team up to launch a female-only fitness and fashion brand


Co-created and co-owned by Mojostar and Jacqueline, Just F is a move to redefine the female active-wear space in India

With an aim to bring the ‘F’ factor back into feminine fitness, Mojostar has recently joined forces with leading Bollywood superstar Jacqueline Fernandez to launch Just F, a female-only fitness and fashion brand. The launch of Just F marks the second co-created brand launched by Mojostar, which has been consolidating its position as a world-class ‘house of brands’. Mojostar is founded by two industry veterans – Anirban Blah, founder and MD of KWAN entertainment and Jiggy George, founder and CEO of Dream Theatre. It also marks the launch of first fashion brand created by Jacqueline, who is already a top style, fashion, and fitness icon in India.

Co-created and co-owned by Mojostar and Jacqueline, Just F is a move to redefine the female active-wear space in India. A combination of fresh design, functionaility for fitness and trendy fashion JUST F’s offerings are unabashedly feminine. The products have been developed to meet the specific requirements of the style-conscious, trendy, and free-spirited 20-something Indian women.

Speaking on the launch, Mr. Abhishek Verma, CEO, Mojostar, said, “Active-wear trends in India are still heavily dominated by the needs of male consumers. Brands in this space still have a primary share from male consumers, leaving gaps in the offering for young Indian women. Just F is our way of giving female consumers, products which cater to their needs and sensibilities.”

Just F will launch a range of stylish athleisure outfits, covering a range of trends and use cases such as: monochromes, floral infuse activewear, club-inspired active wear, functional sports bras, colour blocking etc. The brand has also paid great attention to detail in terms of construction and sizing, designing products which are better suited to the body type of Indian women. Crossover styling across the range helps women to fashionably achieve their fitness goals while bringing the fun back into the mix.

“Inputs and insights from Jacqueline, who is not only a leading Bollywood star but also a style icon and a very vocal promoter of wellness and healthy living, have played a big role in defining the brand identity and product design. We are confident that these products will be well-received in the market, and will help meet the need of young Indian women,” he added.

Jacqueline Fernandez said, “I have always believed that fitness and fashion are not destinations, but fun-filled journeys. They are, to me, a way of living, and as such I want my active-wear to reflect my personality and complement my lifestyle. Launching Just F, a feminine take on fitness from my perspective is a big moment for me. I am confident that the brand will meet and exceed the expectations of young women across India, who want to fulfill their fitness requirements without breaking the bank or compromising on style.”

Star Wars keychain, a GoT bandana, anyone?



33-year-old software engineer Shraddha Sharma is a movie buff. More so a Hollywood buff and never fails to catch the latest releases. She also likes shopping for products inspired by movies and her recent collection includes Star Wars backpacks, The Last Jedi mug, Game of Thrones t-shirts, phone covers and tea coasters. She also has a red satchel inspired by Beauty and the Beast. She uses these products on a regular basis, often carrying the satchel to work and using the mugs and coasters at her work desk.

Just like Sharma, several professionals are embracing merchandise inspired by movies, sports and celebrities wholeheartedly. Hitherto relegated primarily towards children, the market for licensed merchandise is fast enveloping the youth and adults, those with a zest for sports and movies and a yearning to shop.

“The wide adaptation of pop culture, easy access to global trends and content across genres, high levels of brand awareness, and the increase in average disposable income are major factors why the (licensed merchandise) industry has shifted its focus from kids to adolescents and adults,” says Jiggy George, founder & CEO of brand management and licensing company, Dream Theatre.

Estimates suggest that the licensing market is worth $1.3 billion in India and is growing at a healthy rate of 10-12% every year. Of this, the market for adult merchandise is roughly 45%. India is also regarded as one of the top three developing markets for licensed merchandise, set to grow exponentially in the next five years alongside other emerging markets such as Brazil and China.

“And of the total Indian licensing market, fashion holds much sway, comprising $731 million, followed by entertainment at $401 million,” says George.

With the Indian retail market touted to scale upwards of $1.1 trillion by 2020 (as per Assocham), it will directly impact the demand for merchandise inspired by entertainment and sports, feel experts.

According to brand consultant Harish Bijoor, having a collection of merchandise associated with entertainment, sports or films is perceived as making a lifestyle statement. “There is an entire generation of people who have grown up on brands such as Star Wars and Beauty and the Beast. Today these adults are fascinated by merchandise inspired by such films that are iconic. Shopping for the merchandise elevates their mood and status in their social circuits,” says Bijoor.

“The Disney collection was aimed at adults with memories of Disney and those who still love fantasy,” says Dilip Kapur, President, Hidesign, which introduced a special collection inspired by the movie Beauty and the Beast; and which consisted of premium leather bags, wallets, stylish totes and satchels that had the movie characters fused with Hidesign’s leathers.

Experts say earlier, licensing in India was largely rooted in animation and hence what hit the stores mainly focused on school-goers and included toys, kids apparel, school bags and other knick-knacks.

“Character content is no longer focussed on kids. Movies such as Batman, Superman, Hulk or Spiderman are no longer made just for kids but cater to a family audience. Even animation movies have a broader appeal. So a child who grew up watching Pokemon in the early 2000s is today playing Pokemon GO and has a nostalgia connect with the property and a range of Pokemon t-shirts to choose from. Likewise, design programmes of hitherto kids’ properties like Mickey and Minnie (mouse) now have art programmes made for adults that have aspirational quotients,” says George.

Brands look towards merchandise as a noteworthy channel to reach out to a newer set of consumers and thereby expand their target consumer base. Kapur says the Disney collection helped them reach beyond the existing world of Hidesign, “inspired by careers and travel, to the Disney world which is much larger. It’s not surprising that it was a great success, with sell-through that went beyond an average new collection. It shows clearly that a creative collaboration, as long as it fits into the brand value of the two collaborators, works in expanding the customer base through licensing.”

Experts say sports licensing is also driving growth in the adult market for merchandise in India. “We have seen a massive spurt in business for our sports properties like Real Madrid and FIFA 2018 (in the adult space) with categories like apparel, gifts, sporting accessories, bags and more. The adult merchandise market is coming of age in India,” says George.

Smiley Company has designs on India


Mumbai: Smiles are contagious, and no one knows this better than Nicolas Loufrani, who in 1997, created the first-ever 3D smiley. Two decades on, his Smiley Company, which is known for nearly 1,000 emojis and smileys that people share on social media, has big plans for India, which it sees as a market with immense potential.

Says Mr. Loufrani, CEO, “I am here, which indicates that India is at the top of my priorities. We are seeking new partners for more collaborations.”

The Smiley Company will enter new categories here, and foresees volumes coming in from FMCG, fashion, toys, school products, home decor and footwear. The company is already into fashion products in India through its licencees Lifestyle Departmental stores and Archies Gift shops. Mr. Loufrani says the company will introduce new collections in India from its global portfolio. “We want to grow four-fold in three years here to a retail revenue of to $20 million from $5 to 6 million.”

Last year, the company appointed Dream Theater as its representative to enter into new partnerships. Jiggy George, Founder & CEO, says the licensing industry is at an early stage in India but is poised to grow exponentially. “Our strategy is to be present at more retail chains and forge alliances with fashion and lifestyle brands.”

The Smiley Company is one of the top 100 licensing companies in the world, with over 310 licensees globally. The Smiley trademark is registered in over 100 countries. According to a recent Toluna survey, it has 97% recognition across the world as a symbol of positivity. “Last year, our licensees sold over $400 million worth of products globally across 13 different industries.”

The idea, says Mr. Loufrani, is to “spread smiles throughout the world.”

“When I started developing the digital smiley in 1997 and started the official smiley dictionary in 2001, I had said it was the birth of a universal language. My slogan then was to create a new form of communication that people could use to bring more emotions into their communication and replace words with the images.”

How the Smiley became pop culture’s biggest celebrity


How the Smiley became pop culture's biggest celebrity

Trends may come and go, but the Smiley face is clearly here to stay. Nicolas Loufrani, the man responsible for taking his father’s creation and making it into a brand, talks about how the Smiley transcended being an emotion to being an icon. The simple yellow face with its unique set of features spreads its message of happiness after years of hard work, effort and strategy. Loufrani, the face behind the face, credits business vision to the popularity of the character. Currently in India, along with Dream Theatre, Smiley is all set to spread the cheer after the Smiley X ONLY capsule collection sold out in record time.

How did the Smiley become pop culture’s biggest celebrity?

Nicolas: “Smiley wouldn’t live without the products, it lives through products and marketing campaigns that are spreading the message. All these brands like Zara, Moschino, or Lifestyle in India, they like the values of the Smiley brand, that’s been around for 46 years spreading this message of the smile.”

The best selling product with the Smiley face on it?

“If I look at it through the decades, it’s always been T-shirts in apparel that carry the smiley. And then in food, it’s the potato chip — the potato Smileys. But last year, it was water. Two hundred million bottles of water with the Nestle group, that was the product of 2017.”

The oddest place you’ve ever seen the Smiley?

I’m very open-minded, so nothing is weird to me. I think even if I was seeing a Smiley on a coffin it would look normal to me. I haven’t seen it, maybe it will be on my coffin…”

What do you think about the smiley on runways?

I always like to create collections with fashion designers and put them on the catwalk. To be in the cooler stores as a way to create very iconic pieces even celebrities would wear. Pop singers are going to wear only very creative pieces, like the line we created with Jeremy Scott. We like to be aligned with the music scene. Music makes us very happy, it brings happiness in people’s life, I think.

So why is the Smiley yellow?

Yellow is the colour of the sun, it gives us life, it’s the colour of the brand. But in terms of the product, it can be anything; black and white, sequins, in colours. But we don’t change its features. We have a very unique way of drawing our Smiley, it’s not like an emoji.

Did the emoji make the Smiley more popular?

Emoji is basically a copy of the Smiley, we have our own art direction. They’ve followed our concept of a universal language for communication. But it was originated by me in 1997 as a project and emoji has taken it to a different level. I think it’s a positive thing for us, I always say when you start an art movement or a fashion movement, it’s the best proof that you’ve created something unique and created an impact on the world.

What’s your favourite rendition of Smiley?

There’s this French designer, after his shows he always comes out with his red beanie hat. So we created a Smiley for him wearing the hat. It’s the collection I wear the most.

If Smiley were a person, who would he be?

That’s me. The original Smiley is my father, a larger-than-life character. The Smiley was launched two weeks after I was born, we’re twin brothers.

In India, where would you like to see it?

Actually, I was asking about charities. We have the Smiley fund, I was asking what are biggest foundations in India. I would like to align with them and our own foundation. And do real good. We spread happiness through our products and the real life aspect of it is doing real good and spreading happiness like that.

The growth of Indian Licensing is linked to a spurt in organized retail


jiggy-jeorge-founder-and-ceo-dream-theatre-pvt-ltdThe Indian industry, over the years, has warmed up to the idea of licensing. The fact that it is moving to new genres and shifting focus from kids to adults, owing to shows like Game of Thrones, Batman, Superman and host of other big franchises is a testament to this. At the helm of the licensing industry is Jiggy George, Head of The International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association and Founder of Dream Theatre. Exchange4media caught up with George who shared his insight on the licensing industry, the reasons behind IPs not being able to leverage success in the merchandising front and more.


How has the journey been with Dream Theatre and how has venturing into jewellery and digital licensing helped the brand?

As a company, we have always been in the forefront of driving change. We’ve been growing the market from being a kids-and entertainment market to a more encompassing one. We’re driving the strategy for Angry Birds which was India’s first successful digital property, not based in the TV, to become one of the hottest licensing properties in India with a slew of products and FMCG promotions. We also explored new areas of licensing like a jewellery collaboration with Mrinalini Chandra for Candy Crush – a collaboration that brought together a new age digital property with India’s jewellery legacy using craft techniques like Meenakari and Jaali. In yet another first, we represent two YouTube phenomenon, ChuChu TV and Gummy Bear for global rights.

Being the pioneer in the industry, can you tell us about the kind of growth that the licensing sector has witnessed? How much is the industry pegged at?

It’s a sea change! The pre-licensing era was the pirated, parallel imports days without any active legitimate licensees or play in the market. And today, along with Brazil and China, we are the emerging market of the world in licensing, valued at US $1396 million of retail sales as of 2016. It’s a market teeming with opportunities across multiple licensing genres and a solid base of property owners, licensors, representative agents, licensees, retailers and allied firms at play.

While there is a latent demand for products, has retail addressed the penetration and have knock offs reduced?

One of the tick marks for licensing to success in any market is organized retail and this is one place India lags behind woefully. Organized retail is still less than 10 per cent of the market and therefore there is a massive gap in demand and supply of authentic licensed products. The result is piracy. India now has a strong set up of licensees which are able to create world class products at prices that work for India, but we still have a long way to go to reach every consumer and every fan. E-commerce has managed to address this to some extent; licensing will really flourish with the growth of retail.

What are the reasons behind IPs not being able to leverage success on the merchandising front?

India has had some great success stories with home grown IPs like Chota Bheem which also has a very successful licensing program. While there are some massive hits of local IPs on TV, most of them have not been able to leverage the same success on the merchandising front. Licensing needs a long term vision and strategy and needs to be a part of the blueprint when a property is being created.

More often than not what we see in India is that after a property becomes a hit on TV, its quickly extended into licensing as an afterthought. For instance, Dream Theatre is the global licensing partner for ChuChu TV, but before embarking on the licensing journey, we worked closely with the team to set the vision, the strategy and got the property license ready. This deep dive into planning the licensing objectives, life -cycle and the strategy is what most Indian IPs lack and are therefore not able to reach their full potential.

How does licensing help in elevating campaign presence?

Licensing based campaigns are clutter breaking and effective. We are so used to seeing the same principles and communication strategies at play for years that they are now falling on blind spots. Using licensing to align the communication message or product DNA can really help create stand-out communication, more-so in the digital space and this is one area which marketers and agencies need to push harder. Licensing has delivered solid results in promotional licensing across FMCG players versus same old generic promotions and it has the same potential for delivering the message and achieving the objectives for marketing.

What is the way forward for Dream Theatre and your recent venture Mojostar?

For Dream Theatre, we see massive potential of the overall business in India and will continue to consolidate our leadership position in Entertainment, Sports and Lifestyle. 2018 will see a special focus on growing Lifestyle brands and DTRs in retail and a lot more engagement at retail. On the international front, we are in discussion with a few iconic properties which we will be announcing soon. Our quest for doing more, pushing the envelope, bringing the best of international to India and vice versa will continue through 2018.

In India, there is an obvious market opportunity for celebrity brands but the authentic approach to celebrity brand creation has not yet matured. And this is where Mojostar is laser focused and envisages creating three to four celebrity partnered brands in the next five years.