A durable cotton fabric was created in Nimes and sold as Serge de Nimes (soon shortened to denim) in France. Later adopted in America in the late 18th century, the fabric was used as workmen’s clothing and was associated with cowboys and railroad workers. Sometime in the twentieth century, affluent Europeans and Americans adopted the rugged denim jeans and denims as fashionwear were universally adopted.
The fifties and sixties were a period determined by understated fashion and, thereafter, the world gradually shifted out of the post-war austerity to an age of affluence. The world has also seen a major shift in people’s incomes (especially post 1950) and fashion has ceased being the prerogative of the super wealthy or elite classes. In this democratisation of fashion, the humble denim has taken centre stage and has been leading the world fashion movement.
The late sixties and seventies saw the rise of a new generation, which was not scarred by war and wanted to be rid of imperialism, nuclear power, and caste and class prejudices. Music and fashion sensibilities changed and cultural rebellion was in the air. anti-Vietnam war protests, long hair, rock and roll music bordering on hard rock, bell-bottoms, bright colours, big feminine collars and smoking pot characterised the flower power generation. This was also the generation that took to denim jeans as its fashion statement.
Denims at this time were available as rigid products, which the wearer converted into creased, wrinkled, faded, and distressed personally by use and design. All this rebellion and extreme fashion became toned down in the eighties as this generation entered jobs and middle age. Denims, however, retained their appeal (even if loud floral shirts made an exit) and appeared as off-the-shelf creations with a washed, faded look.
Formalwear and drab officewear shifted to smart casuals and then to fashion and casualwear with the liberalisation of office cultures. This has been helped along by the rise of new industries, especially the IT revolution, which were run by a much younger lot vis à vis traditional manufacturing industries. The rugged denims metamorphosed into the current world fashion of washed, distressed, embellished and even coloured denims.
About forty years ago, India came on the world map as an exporter of madeup
fashion garments. With this trade came the technological expertise to produce garments better and cheaper yet deliver the high fashion elements that are necessary for leading brands. The fashion market in India has since grown by leaps and bounds, and many organised manufacturers are now producing world-class products for the Indian consumer. The very size of the Indian market will overtake many parts of the developed world in the
next 10 years and that is the time it will take to create
Indian brands capable of becoming world brands. Somewhere in the mid-nineties, the apparel industry in India began to get more organised and menswear started to become a brand-led industry from product-led one. It was around this time that we witnessed a radical shift in fashion and men became more bold and adventurous again. Everything
changed around this time – fabrics, silhouettes, et al. Shortly after this, denims were redefined and since then, they have always been a darling of designers and at the center of the world fashion movement.
The last twenty years have seen India catching up with the western world in terms of fashion and lifestyle. The Indian denim fashion industry is in for exciting times with huge growth opportunities. While there is a strong and technically sound production base that has evolved through the export base of garment manufacturers, there exists a major threat from foreign brands with deep pockets and access to low-cost funds. The ability to produce well-designed denims at affordable prices is the strength and forte of Indian
brands. Today, the design sensibility of Indian brands has come of age and is
at par with international brands.
The strength of the foreign brands is their ability to invest in their retail forays by providing a larger than life experience with highly aspirational brands. There is a distinct price differential that the consumer is willing to pay for the exclusivity and aspirational factor associated with foreign brands. Indian brands have to build on their cost advantages without losing relevance to their position in the aspirational ladder. It may be wiser to grow slower in volume but build image and stay focused on maintaining the brand position, which is the essential mantra around which brands can be built.
Indian brands can exploit the opportunity to position themselves in the middle of the consumption pyramid and span all metros, Tier-I, -II and even -III towns to gain scales which no aspirational brand can. However, the pricing that Indian brands will have to
charge have to be high enough to deliver the promise pan India. There is room for lower cost brands too but they may have to limit their operations to regional markets where such entrepreneurs will have significant cost advantage.
The Indian apparel industry so far is completely owner-driven and its transformation into national major brands will need change of managers to help evolve Indian companies into worldclass organisations. Those among us who can remain focused to these brand values, consolidate as we grow, and professionalise our working with best practices, have the capability to become world brands in the times to come. Coming to our potential, the low
average age of Indians and changing living styles resulting from urbanisation are raising the demand for fashionwear. With the continuous rise in entry-level salaries, the demand for fashion is growing rapidly and is likely to explode in the next 10 years.