Karthikeya R Reddy, CEO and Director, ID Overseas Private limited, the exclusive licensee of Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing company in India shares his perspective on the workwear market and how things have changed post their entry in the country. in an exclusive interview, he shares key insights, his planning and approach towards the Indian market. The company hopes to support the ‘Make in India’ campaign by clothing India’s workforce.
Entry in India
In November 2014, Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Company launched operations in India through an exclusive licensing agreement with I D Overseas Private Limited. This agreement authorises the use of Dickies’ brand portfolio in the design, manufacturing, marketing and scale of licensed products in India. Having analysed the Indian market for three years, the brand perceived a notable shift in the workwear needs in the country. They saw a huge need and demand for quality workwear in India. The Indian industries are growing multifold across verticals – automobiles, oil and gas, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals. However, there was no single solution provider who can meet such a vast demand with consistent quality. Nor is there any single player in the industry who can comprehend the needs of the industry and that of the region and match it to the facilities available internationally. That is what Dickies is bringing to the table.
EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW
How is the international workwear market developing and what is Dickies’ market share globally?
Karthikeya R Reddy (KRR): Workwear has been traditionally associated with uniforms, particularly the single-coloured ones. However, with rapid globalisation and more attention on safety standards in the work place, as well as on branding, more companies across sectors are realising the need for workwear. The new workwear trends have added a fashion element to it, its transitioning from traditional designs to youthful designs made from functional textiles.
Specialists employed in manufacturing and unified areas, such as automobile, oil and gas, construction, hospitality and pharmacy are becoming increasingly aware of the occupational hazards and dangers. Accordingly, the organisations are building up a protected work space for the workers. Vendor organisations are obliged to meet global safety norms as recommended by buyer necessities. This combined with the need to build a strong corporate identity, has expanded the need for essential and protective workwear.
Tell us about the global market share of Dickies.
KRR: Today, a powerful combination of global retail stores and e-commerce platforms connect with consumers to address local market needs. Dickies brand is present on almost every continent. Major locations include the USA, Canada, Japan, UK and Europe. The brand operates over 400 stores globally (including those operated by Dickies licensees) to address the diverse market needs of all consumers. With direct presence in every market we enter, Williamson-Dickie invests locally to tailor products to specific market requirements. We arrive at deeper understanding of market needs through direct involvement with end users and our licensees. This is a unique and powerful competitive advantage for our commercial activities.
Internationally, how does Dickies position and differentiate itself from its competitors in the workwear segment?
KRR: Dickies is globally known for tough, durable and performance clothing. It is our legacy and commitment. The brand is loved across the world and is known for its unmatched value, unsurpassed quality, uncomplicated style, no-nonsense attitude, and independent spirit.
We are one of the largest manufacturers of workwear in the world. We provide consistent quality. We provide a vast range of workwear, suited to various industries. Our understanding goes beyond just the industry. We understand how the industries are perceived in different geographical regions and how workwear should be adaptive to the location.
In India, the workwear industry is highly disorganised. There are no established large format players who can provide quality clothing to the growing industries. There are no companies that can help large format companies establish their branding and provide safety clothing consistently.
What are your observations on the workwear market in India?
KRR: India is witnessing tremendous growth in manufacturing and service sectors, with more investment coming in from international platforms. We believe that this would translate to a bigger demand for quality workwear and performance clothing in these sectors. The key industries for workwear in India have traditionally been healthcare, hospitality and manufacturing. However, lately there has been an increase in use of uniforms in the organised retail, logistics, facility management, security and other sectors. The Indian workwear segment is currently estimated at approximately Rs. 6,300 crore, and is expected to grow by 15 percent annually by the year 2020.
The current medical and healthcare workwear industry is valued at Rs. 135 crore, and is growing at 20 percent annually. The economic growth in India during recent years has brought about a ‘health transition’ in terms of shifting demographics, socio-economic transformations and changes in disease patterns, making healthcare one of the largest and fastest growing services sectors in India.
Hospitals are bringing their brands to life. ‘Patient Experience’ is the top priority of healthcare organisations, where providing medical services is not enough to engage customers. India has also emerged as a preferred destination for medical tourism owing to its cost advantage and explosive growth of private hospitals, equipped with latest technology and skilled professionals.
Increase in standardisation in both process and structure has led to the introduction of workwear in the industry. Corporatisation of the healthcare industry, particularly hospitals, has led to increasing use of uniforms across hospitals in the private sector. The Indian school uniform market is highly fragmented due to the nature of the demand with every school prescribing their own set of uniform. There is a huge domination of unorganised players, hence with offers an opportunity for the organised players with sophisticated technology and the ability to consolidate the market by tying up with large school chains and effective inventory management for smaller schools.
What are the challenges that you faced while establishing your brand in India and how did you overcome them?
KRR: The biggest challenge in India is creating awareness about the quality of workwear that is required. Most international companies are aware of the need for quality workwear. However, Indian companies are yet to completely transition from the smaller companies, who are not entirely capable of meeting the need for quality workwear.
Workwear is a wide subject. What are the different product categories that you operate in and which of these are you offering in India right now?
KRR: Dickies India will primarily focus on workwear and performancewear. We will be bringing the complete range of workwear and uniform solutions for healthcare, hospitality, schoolwear, industrial and also fire division. Dickies India is known worldwide for the quality workwear products and we hope to establish the same in India as well. We will be also launching our most popular work pants and shirts known globally for their best fit and performance.
What are the key bestsellers in your product portfolio category-wise?
KRR: Recognised globally for its value, quality, style, attitude and spirit, Dickies is an iconic American brand. Built upon a legacy of innovation and leadership, the Dickies portfolio of products is quite broad. It ranges from our iconic work pant to denim, workwear, outerwear and cold weather accessories, to casual use of products for those who enjoy work-inspired apparel. Our key bestseller is our 874 work pant, which we sell for its performance, value for money, durability and easy care. Another bestseller is the ‘cool breeze chef coat’ in the hospitality category, which is one of the best models of chef coats created by Dickies.
Tell us about your manufacturing capabilities, current and future expansion plans? How much of these are made in India?
KRR: We have an in-house capacity in India to produce two million garments per month. Dickies India will manufacture most of the workwear uniforms here. Performance footwear and backpack will be imported due to manufacturing constrains in India.
Workwear is technology driven. What special technology and R&D strength does Dickies possess?
KRR: You should expect no less from the number one brand in workwear. Dickies has protected America’s workers since 1922, with quality workwear that is built with a purpose. Our flame-resistant products are carefully constructed with premium materials that meet or exceed safety standards and are designed for comfort and durability. Most Dickies FR garments are also NEPA 2112 certified to protect against hazardous conditions found on the toughest jobs. They are designed for protection and selected for comfort.
In the industrial sector we use durable, long-lasting and rugged fabrics which stand up to work, wear and tear. All products are mostly fade resistant and maintain colour. Generally, the products possess stain release and wrinkle resistance for easy care and all day comfort for indoor and outdoor work.
Tell us about your distribution and retailing strategy for India.
KRR: We will primarily focus on workwear business in India as a business-to-business (B2B) model. As an individual worker buying workwear for his safety is not a culture in India, we would be looking at building a B2B customer base through which we will build up a distribution and sales agent network across India. We will be focusing primarily on south India for the first phase and then expand to have pan India presence.
With rapid industrialisation, would you say that the consumption of workwear mainly exists in tier-I cities in India?
KRR: This situation has enormously changed than how it was five years ago. There is a vast demand and need in all cities, be it tier-I, -II or -III. Tier-II cities like Ahmedabad, Surat, Indore, etc. have rapid industrialisation. The key manufacturing plants are located in cities like these. So the demand definitely exists. The key point here, however, is in these cities, the industry is dominated by unorganised local players with smaller capacities. It will take time for the companies to realise the need for quality, safety clothing and make the shift to a large-format provider. There is a great rate of awareness of the need. Industries in these cities are getting more and more particular about choosing the right quality of workwear for their staff with the rise in importance of a healthy and safe workwear.
How important are the fashion and aesthetics aspects in workwear?
KRR: The entire domestic fashion and lifestyle clothing industry has evolved to a different level over the past decade. In the past, we had textiles and tailoring practice in India. With multi-dimensional retail taking over the traditional individual training concept, the scene has transformed to create various local and national brands as well as allowed the entry of international players. We think the workwear and uniform market will take the same shape over the next 10 years with demand for higher quality, performance and service.
Dickies’ story, significant milestones and its global presence
On March 11, 1922, Charles Nathan Williamson, C Don Williamson and Colonel E E Dickie purchased the US Overall Company of Fort Worth. Two days later, they changed the name to Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Company and started the world’s top brand of professional quality workwear. While Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Company started with only 35 people in a frame building on Boaz Street (Fort Worth), within a few years they had more than 400 employees and by 1926 the Dickies brand name became the company’s registered trademark. Realising the great appeal of their durable, high-quality, low-cost clothing, in 1930, Williamson and Colonel Dickie reinvested their own salaries helping the company add another 250 workers by 1933. By 1935, it became the first garment plant in the southwest to use a straight-line method of manufacturing. However, while experiencing great success and first in the industry, C Don Williamson also wanted to ensure Dickies was providing customer what they needed. In the 40’s, Dickies became the first major apparel company to use consumer research, from which many of Dickies best-known inventions have emerged over the years. A survey of range cowboys proved the jeans they were wearing were not cutting it because the forward-facing side seams would sometimes catch on the brush and yank them off their horses. The feedback Dickies received led to their development of back-facing side seams, which is a denim industry standard today.
During WW-II, Dickies manufactured over 9 million US Army uniforms. The standardised look remained popular in peacetime, too, and the US$ 6.20 Dickies khaki work set became the unofficial uniform for working men across America. From 1947-49, Dickies continued to lead the industry unveiling ‘Wear-N-Forced’ fabric to hold a crease longer and eliminate baggy knees; zippers in workpants; and then patented the first permanent press, ‘Shape Set,’ a revolutionary new no-iron process. By the 50’s, Dickies made its mark through celebrity endorsements, such as Henry Fonda in ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ Frank Sinatra in ‘From Here to Eternity,’ Humphrey Bogart in ‘To Have and Have Not’ and Life magazine ads.For decades, Dickies has remained a trendsetter and innovator in professional workwear. The 1960s had Pat Boone in Dickies slim US$ 7.98 British Tab slacks; 70’s college students favoured US$ 10.96 chartreuse bibs and US$ 5.97 bellbottom jeans; and by the 80’s, US$ 14.99 Dickies painter pants and US$ 19.99 cotton denim jackets were the rage.
In the 1980s, Dickies outgrew its headquarters and renovated the historic 108-year-old Stephen F Austin school house for its new world headquarters in Fort Worth, and almost on-cue, a whole new wave of Dickies fans and loyalists sprung to the scene. Suddenly, stars in the surf and skate movement, major musicians, celebrities and a new generation of fashion icons began to embrace the brand, and as the popularity of workwear exploded onto the world scene, Dickies became not only a global brand, but a complete lifestyle brand known for its durability and comfort as well as its signature look and style. These days, it is just as likely that a major rap or TV star doing a photo shoot is wearing Dickies as it is that an electrical lineman or construction worker is using them for their own line of work. Dickies’ professional quality workwear is still made for hardworking men and women in more than 60 countries, and remains an authentic, affordable, high-quality American brand that appeals to those who appreciate no-nonsense clothing.