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The Indian Innerwear Market – still hidden

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Indian innerwear market is the only market that has more number of brands for men than women! To avoid this gender bias, points out major factors that need to be targeted.

It is no more hidden that the Indian innerwear market is the only market that has more number of brands for men than women! To avoid this gender bias, Harminder Sahni points out major factors that need to be targeted for serious growth of women’s innerwear market.

The Indian innerwear market is certainly one of the most unique markets amongst the major markets of the world today. In all likelihood, it is the only market in the world wherein men’s innerwear brands are larger than women’s intimatewear brands. Also, men’s innerwear companies spend much more on advertising than women’s innerwear brands. In fact, the men’s innerwear brands are in existence in India for a very long time whereas women’s lingerie brands have just surfaced in the recent years. There is probably no major Bollywood actor who hasn’t been a brand ambassador for men’s innerwear brand. In fact, in recent years, this phenomenon has only accelerated. On the other hand, women’s innerwear has scarcely been advertised even in print media and rarely on TV. It is only recently that a couple of brands have released their TV advertisements.

Based on very basic analysis, we can say that the issues for this gender bias are more cultural in a male-dominated society. There are hardly any brands that focus only on women; it is because they historically have not been the real consumers and also because they have limited access to discretionary spending power in the household. Even the product categories that are meant only for women like sanitary napkins or personal care items have achieved a certain scale only in the last few years. Even today, the size of cosmetics brands in the India market compared to the population of women is rather insignificant.

Nevertheless, the challenges that women’s innerwear market faces in India are not limited to culture; it has to do with the market forces. While the cultural issues are complex and they would take their own time to resolve, we as marketers should focus on what is in our control. In my opinion, there are three areas that need to be targeted for serious growth of women’s innerwear market – product, communication, and retail.

In case of product, the Indian woman has been starved of any serious product offerings from most Indian brands. These brands have only focused to fulfill the basic needs of the consumers and have failed to expand the market beyond that. It is only with the arrival of brands like Triumph that Indian women learned about variety and about basic stuff like sizes. These efforts not only led to some triggers in the demand but also shook incumbent Indian brands to add some variety to their stagnant offers. Yet, the market is tiny as compared to its potential.

Secondly, communication is harder to address due to high cost of media and other means of brand building. Since communication, in this case, requires educating about functional differences, fashionability and the of a particular brand need serious spending and that too on a sustained basis. So far, not many brands have shown that boldness and courage. Also, I don’t think one or two brands can change that equation. It would be great if there are at least a hundred odd brands like in the case of men’s innerwear that start communication campaigns all at the same time and for years; that is when the market will really explode.

The last challenge revolves around the lack of availability of quality retail space. Even international brands could not bring in or offer their full range in Indian markets due to distribution and retail constraints. India is probably the only market where women used to and still buy bras in packs of six. The reason is that the whole experience of buying innerwear used to be, and continues to be, so bad that most women wish to get over with the buying process quickly.

Also, since most women don’t know what all different products are and what is the differentiation, they rather buy tested and proven ones all the time and keep repeating the brand, size and style. This is certainly not conducive to the growth of this category.

The good news is that online retailing offers answers to all the three issues mentioned above. An online retail store allows a brand to explain the product in as much detail as required with no limit on copy or column space. Also, an online retail store allows showcasing as much range as a brand would like to show without worrying about the retail rentals and related costs. Above all, the consumer gets the convenience of shopping any time avoiding the prying eyes of sales people at stores; they even have the option to pick from never-seen range, and trying out stuff that they didn’t even know existed. It is a dream situation for women’s innerwear category to have found solutions to its most challenging issues in online retail.

I believe that just like buying tickets, buying intimatewear will move 100 percent online in years to come. However, it will require many more players to open online stores and reach out to the women of India to offer them what they truly deserve.

About the author:

Harminder Sahni