Denims are now an innate part of the Indian fashion scene. From metros to the most remote of small towns, this blue fabric is all pervasive today. It has become the go to fashion preference of individuals across all walks of life – irrespective of gender and age. Considering India’s proclivity to adhere to its cultural heritage, the popularity and wide usage that denim enjoys today in India stands as a testimony to this fabric’s timeless appeal.
Over the years, and more so in recent times, India has opened up to the western world and the inclination towards the western style of dressing – which has always persisted in the country – has grown exponentially. The shift towards denim has been witnessed due to various reasons, including the growing youth population and pop-culture influence – some of the main factors behind the country’s fashion revolution.
One of the biggest triggers for this shift in trends was the introduction of satellite cable television in India in the early 90s, which brought mainstream western entertainment and news to India which primarily influenced the youth of the time most. “Three decades later, the information revolution that has taken place with the internet, smart phones and social media brought along western ideas. Western fashion is no more alien to the majority of people in India and jeans in a way is the most iconic indicator of this shift,” says Saurabh Singh, Head of Design -Menswear, Being Human.As mobile devices continue to permeate deeper into smaller cities and towns, the nation has increasingly been exposed to the western world and this is ushered in a change in both perceptions as well as preferences.
This has definitely turned to denim’s advantage. “I think the openness to adapt to change among people comes more from the western culture, movies, celebrities, social media influencers, etc. People want to look good and feel good,” says Neha Shah, Assistant General Manager - Marketing, Pepe Jeans.
Denim has always been known for its fashion quotient. What makes denims a popular choice over any other bottoms is the comfort it brings coupled with a style statement. “The versatility of this clothing item makes it possible to dress casually, formally, or for an occasion by simply changing what you pair it with and how you style it. The comfort, durability and versatility of denims are unmatched, which again contributes to its growing popularity,” says Siddhartha Master, Denim Head, Spykar.
“Denim’s use as an all-weather and evergreen piece of apparel for all (men, women and even children) helped it get attention and created a large market which had never happened for any other piece of clothing earlier Another reason for its meteoric rise in popularity has been its durability and maintenance in the long run which actually turns out cost-effective for all,” adds Kewalchand P Jain, Chairman & Managing Director, Killer Jeans.
Comfort Over Style
Fashion, traditionally, has been more about style than comfort. However, times are rapidly changing with the opposite being true today. Fashion is becoming next-level functional, with consumers seeking comfortable, fuss-free styles that adapt to the moment and can be used while traveling anywhere. Just like the busy and aspirational lives they lead, consumers want clothes that work as hard as they do and are durable, comfortable, timeless and eco-friendly.
Parallel to the growing preference towards comfort, jeans are now acceptable office garb even in smaller towns in India. This is another major factor that has propelled denim into wardrobes across the nation.
“The startup culture and the companies which are evolving to meet the employees comfort needs has immensely led to making denims acceptable attire at work, adding to more number of trouser to denim conversions,” admits Siddhartha Master.
“Gone are the days when people’s perception of work wear use to be ‘what you wear is what you do’ wherein professionalism was always symbolised by a suit and tie/formal wear. People have evolved and are opting smart casuals for business meetings which also include smart denim wear, as business no longer happens only in boardrooms but at café shops, business events, etc.,” adds Neha Shah.
The Digital Boom
E-commerce and social media have dramatically boosted the growth of denim in the country, especially in the organised category. While the access to brands and discounts has opened up a new arena for consumers, it has also been instrumental in providing brands with a robust platform that promises both exposure and penetration to remote locations.
“E-commerce companies drove the greatest change in the retail industry. On-the-go shopping has become a popular trend; consumers have easy access to variety of products online instead of physically visiting a store. Businesses have been using social media platforms as a promotional tool as they are the most convenient and cheapest means of communication. They focus on increasing consumer involvement on an emotional level through content marketing stories. Influential marketing has also been helping brands create a buzz around their products and services and will continue to do so,” says Neha Shah.
“Digitalisation and e-commerce has led to increase in awareness and product accessibility. Also, the return policies offered by e-commerce giants have helped increase trials. Denim is primarily about fit, quality and durability – once people know a particular brand meets their needs, it becomes easier for them to buy online. The stickiness is high in this category. With the advent of Omnichannel, the buying process is even more friction less,” states Siddhartha Master.
The digital boom has also been a positive player for brands in terms of capturing newer avenues.
“Brands have been able to gauge the taste of the customer through e-commerce and set up physical presence in remote locations,” says Kewalchand P Jain.
A Highly Competitive Market
Denim is a high growth category among the domestic apparel market. The Indian denim market is exhibiting continuous growth over the years. With new technologies, trends and higher market reach, this sector has promising growth potential. Even in rural areas,denim is becoming highly fashionable with most men and teenager girls opting denim wear over traditional outfits.
So very naturally, the sector is compelled to accommodate a swath of brands, each with their own forte. This makes the denim market in India very competitive. Moreover, the denim wear market in India is extremely fragmented, which has further led to increased competition.
“Domestic players have to up their game when evaluating consumer preferences and insights and have a faster turnaround of their collections in order to gain the attention of style conscious Indians. Price points will inevitably be a major concern as more and more new brands enter, the customer will look for style and function in one at a specific price point. Another prominent development is the rise of private labels that are eating into the share of the already cluttered market,” says Neha Shah.
India’s promising consumer ecosystem over the past few years has opened its gates to some of the biggest brands in the denim world and their success has continually enticed others to explore the opportunities in the calmer Indian waters. But do these brands which pose competition to the domestic brands with their often higher quality in terms of fabric and design aesthetic? Let’s hear it from the experts.
“The competition is stiff between the global brands and domestic ones but there are distinctive advantages as well which sets them apart. In the premium and super premium segment, the global brands have an advantage, and which almost makes it impossible for domestic brands to break into these price segments while at the lower and mid segment domestic brands have an advantage with their larger retail presence across the country. The real competition or disruption comes from the large fast fashion retail chains which pose a challenge not only to the domestic brands on the price front but also to the global brands,” says Saurabh Singh.
It also has to be mentioned here that India is a value conscious market. Hence, premium and super premium serve a very niche audience here.
Currently, the Indian consumers are at par with their global peers. They are a lot more evolved with their shopping choices and are constantly seeking novelty in experiences. So in order to cater to these discerning consumer base, home grown brands are compelled to ante up their game.
“Domestic brands are fast catching up with their international counterparts where design, innovation and adoption of technology is concerned. The domestic brands who used to be behind west in offering fashion by more than a season are now following same trends as the west,” says Manjula Gandhi, Chief Product Officer, Numero Uno.
“The global brands as well as the domestic brands are becoming equally competitive with regards to launching new products fashion quotient, stretch and light weight fabrics, varying colors, styling, detailing, etc. Domestic brands are also matching up to their foreign competitors with new kinds of innovations in design, pattern, stitches and colors as per consumer choices,” asserts Kewalchand P Jain.
Innovation is a Compulsion In line with changing preferences of consumers towards comfort, brands have started making innovative materials, keeping in mind softness, weightlessness, stretchablity, flexibility, durability, etc. This has excited college goers, business travelers, daily commuters, holiday travelers and outdoor enthusiasts, as people are looking for multitasking apparels that can take them through morning to night without compromising on comfort or style.
“Over the years, denim has become seasonless and very versatile in terms of its wearability and comfort. With massive developments in technology, denim is no more restricted to its ruggedness. Today a pair of denims can look classy with a bit of sheen, feel supple to give you that feather touch feeling, can look rugged but can be super flexible, can behave like knits and still look and wash like denim. The market today has been updated with revolutionary denim products almost routinely,” says Manjula Gandhi.
Many brands are now re-positioning themselves in terms of prices too, so that they can cater not only to Sec A but also to the mid-level segment. Brands are introducing denims across all price segments to cater to a wider audience.
Also to stay relevant and carve a niche, brands in the denim segment are compelled to exercise rigorous innovations. As an environment friendly brand and a responsible manufacturing corporate, Numero Uno focuses on creating sustainable fashion denims without compromising on the aesthetics. The brand adheres to strict principles that direct it to avoid waste or spoiling of resources, recycling non-renewable resources like water, conserving energy and reducing the usage of harmful toxic chemicals during washing processes.
“All this comes at a cost but that is our chosen path and the way forward to save the planet. We will continue to enlarge our portfolio of sustainable denim collections in future and will educate and encourage our customers to buy more of these,” assures Manjula Gandhi.
Big Business in Small Towns It’s no news that India’s retail revolution is gaining momentum in the country’s smaller cities. A huge base of aspirational consumers, lower estate cost and plethora of other factors have culminated in compelling fashion retailers to make a beeline for Tier II and Tier III towns.
“Big and small brands are now heading to these smaller cities with multiple formats. Retailers have started leveraging e commerce which would enable them to spend less money on real estate while reaching out to more customers in Tier -II, -III and -IV cities making it easily accessible in these cities. Similarly, the marketing strategies also have to play a big role, when it comes to targeting customers in these regions as well as creating awareness for the brand. It is essential to be aware of these cities that are gaining momentum because of real estate development; it’s only a matter of time till investors understand the market dynamics and returns they generate; thereby making them the future of retail,” says Neha Shah.
The Tier -II, -III and -IV cities and towns have been equally fashion conscious and demanding from brands as their counterparts in other towns and cities. If a brand needs to grow it needs to cater well and become an all - encompassing brand in the Indian scenario to achieve a long-term growth story, as majority of the domestic customer base is concentrated here.
“The Tier -II, -III and -IV markets are developing at rapid pace and likewise is the demand for fashion apparel from these emerging markets. With increased availability of internet and penetration of mass media there is an increase in awareness of prevailing fashion trends. An overall increase in-demand for western wear by youth has led to a growth in demand for denims in these markets. Basic mid-value denims characterized by quality and style quotient is the preferred choice of such customers,” asserts Manjula Gandhi.
Especially for the denim segment these small towns hold immense potential. Traditionally, these places were dominated by the unorganised sector. As exposure grew over the years, consumers have exhibited a high inclination towards brands. “Thanks to Internet penetration – the fashion exposure of the lower tiers is growing exponentially. The limited access to brands makes them even more aspirational towards lifestyle products. The market here is not saturated unlike metros. The demand is huge here – hence, we see brands expanding in these regions. In denims, the unorganised market has a larger share here. However, things are changing with more brands setting up their stores here. The pride of association with the brand is high here. With the versatility, comfort and the style statement the denims off er – owning a branded piece of this apparel is more assuring to the evolving lower tier customer,” says Siddhartha Master.
The big unorganised market poses as the biggest challenge in the denim wear sector in India. “In my opinion, the two major challenges that play a hindrance to the growth of denim wear in the country are the unorganized players in the denim segment and the discounting they and other brands off er to the customer. Being a major roadblock, they have actually not let this segment get the growth it actually deserved and therefore, the compromise on quality and other crucial aspects which a brand needs to take into account while being in the market. The unbranded denim products constitute to about 70 percent of the market share and this trend needs to change with regards to domestic market,” says Kewalchand P Jain.
The Road Ahead
In this globalised era, the denim wear segment in India, like many other traditional product segment, is undergoing an astounding change of perception as well as evolution. With India’s expanding economy, booming consumption, urbanizing population, and growing middle class income, denim wear has a huge potential and opportunity to grow.
Until a few years ago, denim was popular in the urban cities only, however, it has now gradually become popular in the semi-urban and rural markets also. Growing awareness and an increasing affinity for global fashion have led to this development. “Visible shift towards western wear in the Tier -II, III and -IV markets is a key growth driver of denim wear in India. Large youth population with rising disposable income and awareness towards fashion will catalyse the growth of denim wear in the country,” says Manjula Gandhi.
Denim is evergreen! It holds a bright future in India in the years to come. But competition is high in this sector and innovation is a compulsion. Brands will need to constantly innovate with technology and the fabric for comfort, durability and sustainability. Easy accessibility, variety and maintaining a competitive pricing point is crucial to be on top of minds. It is also critical for brands to study the evolving market, changing consumer preferences and patterns and incorporate this insight when working on the larger brand growth strategy.