The session on “The Indian Lingerie Market: The Size and Shape of the Innerwear Business” on the final day of the ongoing India Fashion Forum 2012 at Mumbai focused on the fact that though the innerwear industry is recording a remarkable overall growth, almost two-thirds of the business is still controlled by the unorganised local players.
A panel discussion moderated by Gurpreet Wasi, Director–Marketing, IMAGES Group, revealed how the innerwear market is evolving and why it remains a challenge for the organised retail chains to crack the lingerie category. Prominent industry experts representing Indian and international brands were present on the dais, including AS Ashraf, Chairman and Director, Aviraté; Ajay Amalean, MD, Amanté; Dhatri Bhatt, Brand Manager India, La Senza; Geeta Singh, Director, Chic Carissimo; Karan Behal, Founder and CEO, MTC Retail and MTC Ecom; Rishi Suri, Regional Business Head – South Asia, INVISTA; and Sunil Pathare, Vice Chairman and MD, Maxwell Industries. Madhumita Sinha, Executive Editor of “IMAGES Business of Fashion” was the lead presenter.
Suri of INVISTA said technology is an essential factor in manufacturing better products, and international brands can help the domestic ones to adopt the latest technology. “Sixty percent of bras sold in the India market are still woven, which is an unheard-of concept in the West,” he added. Suri said the Indian market still needs to mature and develop. Interestingly, lingerie comprises 60 percent of INVISTA’s sales in the international market while for India the figure is only 5 percent, with 90 percent being accounted for by the ready-to-wear segment.
Pointing out the reasons for the ratio of lingerie in any Indian apparel store being much less by the international standards, Aviraté’s Ashraf said: “Lingerie is a difficult product, so it is important to have manufacturing professionals with good product knowledge.” Bhatt of La Senza added: “It is the right time to come up with lingerie inspired from the latest fashion trends similar to the apparel industry. But the question here is whether India is ready or not?”
The Indian population in the age group of 30-plus may not have invested in expensive lingerie when they were in their twenties, but today’s younger generation is ready for the transition and they should be the target customers – this was the general opinion of the panelists at the session.
“Our entry level products are priced 30-40 percent higher than the local products. During the end-of-season sale period, we do the maximum sales but that is also the time to make loyal customers for our brand. Once someone has bought from us, they will come back,” added Bhatt.
Some speakers were of the view that Indian women want more colour options for their innerwear but a majority end up purchasing products coloured black and white. Amalean of Amanté contradicted this view, saying: “Indian consumers are growing fast and in the last four years, they have moved from the innerwear colour code of black and white to rose pink and burgundy.”
Bringing to the discussion table some of the problems faced by the Indian innerwear industry, Behal of MTC Retail and MTC Ecom said: “It is not a viable business option to set up an MBO only for lingerie in India because the product margin is low and shop rentals are quite high. Also, government duties create various problems. For example, the grey market exists only because of wrong duty structures and policies. There is a lot of potential in the tier III and IV towns, but unless we create demand in these pockets, a brand can’t be built.” Supporting this viewpoint, Amalean of Amanté said that some consumers from the tier II and III markets travel to other cities to buy good lingerie, which is a reflection of a ready consumer base.
The panelists pointed out some key issues related to the lingerie industry, such as the consumer’s lack of knowledge about the right fit, sizes, and fabrics, when to buy innerwear, how to select the right lingerie, and so on. The brands should therefore work in the direction of making consumers more aware about such an important functional and fashionable garment. Indianising the product would be a good option, many panelists said, but Bhatt contradicted the thought by saying: “I don’t see a need to Indianise the product. In fact, our brand has introduced the double push-up bra in the country at the same time as its international launch and got extremely good response. It is all about identifying the right customers.”
The panelists were of the opinion that fashion brands should invest into the segment and keep around 10-12 percent of their total merchandise as lingerie. The category may not give them immediate returns but it would be a good investment for the future.