A quick peek into an urban women’s wardrobe in India will accentuate the fact that Indian ethnic wear is facing stiff competition from western wear. Western wear has made strong inroads into the Indian woman’s closet, not just in Tier I cities but in Tier II cities and towns as well.
Having said that, it is comforting to also learn that Indian ethnic wear brands have taken it on themselves to revive the genre and give it a fresh and modern twist thus attracting women from different classes and strata of society.
Today, the ethnic wear genre is here to stay and going by recent trends, it plans on leading the way for women’s wear in India. We track the dynamics of ethnic fashion in malls today…
With the likes of the Zaras and the H&Ms which have entered into the country, would it be right to say that fashion is becoming synonymous with western wear and that women in India are giving a cold shoulder to ethnic clothes? A walk in a mall may perhaps answer to question. Where western wear brands stand tall in malls with huge sq. ft. space, there is an undercurrent of ethnic wear brands too. Until a decade ago, ethnic wear was more or less restricted to bespoke clothing where the neighborhood masterji aka tailor had women coming to him to get suits stitched.
However, all this changed when brands like BIBA entered the market and led way for other brands to gain a foothold. Gradually, not only formal and festive wear, but also casual Indian wear found standalone stores – both branded and non-branded.
The Game Changers
When the mall revolution began, in the initial days, exclusive brand outlets for ethnic wear were hard to find, but things rapidly changed. Leading the game were brands like BIBA, BIBA Girls, W, Global Desi, Soch, FabIndia etc. Not all of them offer pure ethnic wear range but the portfolio is more tilted towards desi fashion with a modern twist.
Rima Pradhan, Senior Vice President, Marketing at Viviana Mall shares, “It would not be incorrect that the kind of brands that we have in the ethnic wear category is one of the reasons behind keeping ethnic fashion trendy among youngistaan.” She further brings in the point of how the cult of Indo-Western wear is proving to be a boon for ethnic fashion. “Customers are willing to experiment which has increased demand for Indo-Western wear, fusion wear, etc. This is the prime reason that even ethnic wear brands are creating a variety of options that customers can explore for their special functions.”
Siddharth Bindra, Managing Director, BIBA, encapsulates the changing ethnic wear fashion dynamics seen through the lenses of his brand, “Fashion landscape has undergone major transformation over the last few decades. Owing to people are fast changing fashion preferences, brands are constantly curating new designs and trends be it bold colours, new styles, fabrics and prints. For instance, BIBA, in 1998 started with designing Salwar Kameez Dupatta (SKD), which became extremely popular. Today BIBA offers a complete ethnic wear range which includes formals, semi formals, Mix and Match as well as heavy occasional wears. BIBA has also expanded their bottom line range which includes leggings, skirts, different types of pants and palazzos. In 2010, we launched Biba Girls, a dedicated range for young girls aged between 2-12 years old and decided to cater to slightly older girls within 15 years of age group because of increasing demand. To further strengthen its existing portfolio of ethnic wear, BIBA forayed into accessory segment aiming to provide a ‘complete look’ to its patrons.”
Rajneesh Mahajan, Chief Executive Officer, Inorbit Malls echoes the thought on ethnic wear gaining a momentum post brands adding in a touch of modernity to the collection. He says, “Fashion is an ever evolving and vibrant segment. Indian consumers are getting more and more conscious regarding their looks. Their preferences have grown towards ethnic apparels but with a touch of modernity. According to us, a contemporary fashion trend which is getting popular in recent times is fusion wear and now days it is a preferred choice of people of all ages.”
Bindra further says, “Mix & Match collections have become a dominating category in the modern ethnic market. Modern customers have become more fashion conscious and opt for chic looking outfits for their regular activities. Women always do not like wearing for complete ethnic sets and prefers creating looks which gives their attire a contemporary twist. This change in the customer behavior has helped brands evolve its collection keeping in mind the prevailing fashion trends.” It is interesting to note that BIBA has 245 stores across the country today. Bindra adds, “Our growth rate has been steady, and we are growing at 30 per cent CAGR. Promising markets- top 8 cities- Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Ahmadabad.”
Indian festivals and occasions like weddings demand dressing up the ethnic way. Hence ethnic wear scores higher in the formal category as compared to casuals. Pradhan explains, “Gone are the days when a lehenga would be sufficient for wedding. Now, each ritual has a different outfit – mehndi, sangeet, haldi, wedding, reception … each event needs a different outfit and with each outfit the accessories change. Also, it’s not about repeating the same dress or style that one saw his/her best friend wearing for their wedding. Everyone wants to look unique and different for their functions. Today’s generation wants everything perfect and this demand has made ethnic wear brands to think out of the box.”
Mahajan adds, “Ethnic fashion brands during specific times in a year deliver huge brand campaigns and introduce new merchandise. One such time is the wedding season when brands spend on TVC’s, OOH and also run promotional offers and schemes in malls.”
Bindra further says, “We see an increase in sales during wedding and festive seasons. The sales jump approximately around 20-35 per cent during that time. “
At Mumbai’s Viviana Mall, Pradhan highlights that with increase in demand for ethnic wear, the number of ethnic wear brands has increased too. She says, “Currently, we have 18 stores in our mall like Ethnicity, Manyavar, Global Desi, W, Soch, Jashn, Nalli, Cotton Culture, Biba, Go Colors, Indifusion, L’effet, Kalki, Aurelia, Hastkala, Meena Bazaar, Cotton Village and Suloch. We have added brands like Indi Fusion and Go Colors in the last two years in the ethnic wear segment.”
All put together, at Viviana, ethnic wear stores occupy around 20,560 sq. ft. of space. What accentuates the growth of ethnic fashion is the fact that most of the brands in this category are seen increasing their footprint and there are host of new brands entering the category as well.
Mahajan states, “At Inorbit, we have brands like Fabindia, Biba, W, Soch, Ethnicity all requiring bigger stores. We now have Global Desi and Fusion Beats who sell ethnic fusion wear. Both these stores didn’t have EBOs (Exclusive Brand Outlets) in our mall earlier. We recently opened an outlet of Hastkala Sarees, which is a 21-year-old traditional ethnic wear retail chain offering a range of sarees, lehengas etc.”
At Inorbit, the ethnic category occupies around 40-45 per cent area of the apparel space.
Where the ground floor is usually allotted to a multi brand store, we see the presence of western wear brands across the malls. The ethnic wear brands in majority of the malls though are all zoned together. According to Pradhan this is based on the demand of the shoppers who prefer “everything in one go and one place and hence we have zoned our mall in such a way that a customer knows exactly where he/she will find a particular category of product in the mall. We have carefully zoned our ethnic wear brands on right hand side of first and second floor”.
Mahajan adds, “An ethnic brand will be a better fit next to a brand offering similar assortment and complementary products. The focus is on helping people make easier buying decisions and not necessarily zoning similar categories together. At Malad, we have the women’s ethnic zone carved on level 1 where we have and assortment of different brands.”
To promote ethnic wear and generate the interest of shoppers towards this category, it is interesting to note a special property created by Viviana Mall by the name – “Wedding Fair at Viviana Mall.” The shopper is enticed with a host of activities.
Elaborating on the same, Pradhan says, “We invite mehndi (henna) artists, fashion consultants, honeymoon destination consultants, hair style and make up experts etc. The best of best wedding collections are showcased by all our ethnic wear brand partners. We run a special social media contest and shortlist 10 couples that are planning their wedding. With these 10 finalists we do some fun activities like dancing, treasure hunt, singing, etc. which helps them connect with each other while having fun. The winner is awarded a honeymoon trip sponsored by Viviana Mall. Because of the wedding fair, the response to ethnic wear collection during the wedding season is phenomenal.”
Like Viviana, Inorbit too has a wedding festival. Elaborating on the same, Mahajan says, “At Inorbit, we host a wedding festival every year. The event engages customers in various activities like shop and win contest and rewards them with holiday packages, gold pendants and gift vouchers. Ethnic brands come forward and create interesting visual displays of the wedding collection for shoppers to know the latest trends and styles. There are various other events initiated by ethnic brands like Salwar Kameez Fest, Dress Festival etc. throughout the year.”
The Road Ahead for Ethnic Wear
The category for ethnic wear in India has enough space for more brands to enter. If BIBA can go ahead and have another exclusive store for girls (BIBA Girls), it speaks volumes on the gap the genre has in the market. Bindra shares, “Initially the ethnic wears category was largely restricted to older age groups. However, it is now finding acceptance amongst modern customers owing to the new designs, styles, prints and colors. Traditional ethnic wears are worn occasionally while regular day to day ethnic wear has seen an increased customer base.”
And to conclude with a quote from him on the challenges the industry faces, which if taken care of, can boost the industry: “Although retail industry in India is one of the fastest growing industry in the world but there is a lot of scope for improvement. Various state policies and local influences, largely poses hindrance for the retail to expand rapidly. The high cost of real estate, excessive discounts offered by e-retailers, non-availability of skilled labor are a few challenges that may hinders the growth of retail industry.”