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Decoding the revolution of casual wear in India

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India’s proclivity towards casual wear has exploded over the last few of years. A slew of experts from the fashion business industry discusses the evolution and current footing of the segment in this exclusive feature.

Decoding the revolution of casual wear in India
Casual Wear has been a booming market for the better part of the decade

Comfort and functionality are the two most important aspects of an apparel, yet these two are the words that got little attention in the history of fashion. And this is where casual wear created magic. Casual wear stresses comfort, practicality and freedom — freedom to choose how we present ourselves to the world; freedom to diminish the lines between men and women, old and young, rich and poor, etc.

Today, casual wear is the neophyte sovereign of the fashion world. It has swept through global fashion sensibilities with unflinching determination and has entrenched its stronghold as a wardrobe staple throughout the world. The fashion industry has probably not witnessed a force more unrestrained than causal wear in its past. I am a convert to casual myself and I am not the only one; I believe more than one third of the global population have embraced casual wear in the last couple of years and the rend shows no signs of waning. In fact it is only gaining momentum with each passing year. Personally, I believe that the rise in the popularity of casual dressing will go down in history as one of the most profound cultural changes of the 20th century.

Even India, a country that has always lagged behind global fashion trends, was quick to adapt to this casual way of dressing. Today, the Indian casual wear market is flourishing fueled by factors such as increasing purchasing power, changing lifestyle patterns, increasing nuclear families, and the influence of western culture. Changing lifestyle and favourable demographics have also created growth-oriented environment, resulting in all major domestic and international casual wear brands capitalising on this highly lucrative market segment.

So what exactly is casual wear? How does the fashion industry define casual wear?

“Casual is the dress code that emphasizes comfort and personal expression over presentation, formality and conformity. More simply, casual can be defined as something relaxed, occasional, not planned, or informal. Today, getting casual right will set you free from traditional rules, looking out of place or being either under or over dressed ever again. It’s considered smart enough to be appropriate in a relatively formal situation yet stylish enough to make you look great down the pub,” says Director – Operations and Brands, Classic Polo, .

According to Managing Director, , , , comfort above all attributes is the key in defining a product as casual wear. Though the lines have blurred with many categories borrowing styles and ideas from each other the market still retains the basic nature when it comes to categorising casual wear.

The definition may also alter depending on seasons or occasions, but basically, anything that can qualify for being worn for leisure or casual work dressing will qualify as casual wear. As opposed to formal wear, which is constructed, unwashed, clean and crisp, casual wear tends to be unconstructured, more washed and with more trim details. Also, the term casual wear has evolved into a broad term that covers a gamut of products ranging from office and workplace — casuals on one end of the spectrum to beachwear on the other. However, the boundaries between the different kinds of casual wear are blurring; and the typical Indian consumer now prefers to use casual wear interchangeably in different occasions.

“The key charateristics that can define the genre are comfortability, everyday wear, simple shapes and flexibility. Furthermore, casual wear has expanded way beyond these words as nowadays it can be worn anywhere with a little mixup like business casuals, smart casuals etc,” says. VP – Marketing and Business Development, , Kunal Mehta.

Also, according to experts like Creative Head, Turtle Limited, Narinder Kaur, the pattern and the color mix are also distinct defining characteristic of casual wear. “There is play and liberty of designs with shapes and sizes. The styling details are also sporty in contrast,” she adds.

Emergence & Evolution in India

It is hard to pinpoint the exact moment when casual wear took off in India. India’s apparel market has always enjoyed aspirational shoppers who are deeply connected with brands and styles, in addition to the global exposure that made them seek out casual wear as the trend caught on in the west. According to most experts, the presence of casual wear in India, can be dated long back. “We can say that the hints of casual wear started in 1960s-1970s,” says Mehta.

But it was not until the first decade of 21st century that it was well established. “The casual wear market began to emerge strongly in the early 2000s and the trend has been becoming stronger since then,” says CEO, Lee Cooper, Hetal Kotak.

Another important aspect that accelerated the rise of the category is the concept of Friday Dressing in the corporate world. Even globally, the concept was a major contributor that bolstered the current dominance of business casual. Casual Fridays were
something of a gateway drug that eventually urged an obvious, but also revolutionary, question — Why not be casual on other days, too? Eventually a growing number of companies called for a permanent casual dress mode. Something similar happened in India too. “The emergence of casual wear can be associated with the concept of Friday Dressing at offices and also with a lot of major companies like Infosys, IBM doing away with a formal dress code to work,” says Chief Brand Manager, , Dattatray S. Naiknavare.

Echoing his thoughts, Managing Director, Universal Sportsbiz Pvt. Ltd. (USPL), Anjana Reddy said, “The category saw a paradigm shift in 2013-14 where most corporate houses accepted and relaxed the norms for their office wear. Online boom has also played a big role in the shift and emergence of casual wear.”

But did it affect the formal wear market? There were conflicting opinions, as we found out. While a fair section of sentinels, including Founding Director, , Kamal Khushlani believes that ‘with the rise of casual and smart casual dressing in offices, formal wear is a declining market’, experts like Brand Head, , Pragati Srivastava believe otherwise. “Over the last few years as the causal wear category has witnessed accelerating growth formal wear is increasingly giving way to trendier lines of clothing that includes casual apparel,” he expressed.

Growth and Major Categories

Casual Wear has been a booming market for the better part of the decade. In the last 5 years, it has expanded and reached even greater heights. Innovation, experimentation and global collaboration has helped create vast pool of designs and styles. Business casuals, corporate casuals, smart casuals, resort casuals, party wear, active wear, etc. there are too many categories that have emerged.

“There has been an accelerating growth in the casual wear segment in the past few years and according to prominent research houses, by 2019, it is expected to touch Rs 3.94 lakh crores,” says Anjana Reddy.

So what are the categories that are pushing this segment in India?

According to Usha Periyasamy, “The women’s casual wear categories encompass casual shirts, tops, casual trousers, denims, t-shirts, activewear, and dailywear. The men’s casual wear market has higher penetration and is comparatively more mature than the women’s casual wear market. However, the women’s market has started picking up pace in recent years, and has witnessed the entry of many brands into the segment.”

Elucidating on the categories that push sales in the men’s casual wear segment Mouli Venkataraman, , Brand Director, highlighted casual shirts, t-shirts, crewnecks and polos, shorts, chinos, denims, activewear, and dailywear. The growth rate of casual wear categories in both the men’s and women’s segment has attracted many existing and new players towards focusing on these categories.

Demographic and Socio-Economic Growth Factors

The growth of the casual wear category in India can be better understood by co-analysing it with the key changes in the general ecosystem of the country. Changing lifestyles, higher disposable incomes, home grown brands bringing contemporary international fashion to Indian stores and well known international brands setting up business in India, etc, — a profusion of factors has given impetus to the changing fashion sensibilities of the Indian populace. This changing fashion sense coupled with affordable prices have grown the market for casual wear. The success of e-commerce has also contributed to this growth.

“The rise of purchasing power in India combined with healthy competition has created the fast- growing market for casual wear. The changing of attitudes starting with the workplace has also enabled changes in the age group that enjoy casual wear. The visual impact of city life feeds the aspirations of the youth and in turn, helps brands grow. The increased urbanisation and social media connectivity has also helped advance the casual wear market,” says Mutha.

India is an extremely young market with a dominant youth quotient in the consumer profile, and Naturally, youngsters tend to dress more casually given their lifestyles,

“Youth surge is the biggest promoter of this category. About 50 per cent of the population as of 2011 census is below 20 years and 65 per cent is below 35., so India becomes a very good market for casual wear. Another important factor is the changing weather charged by global warming. With general rise in temperatures, t-shirts are becoming a round the year phenomenon in most parts of the country (barring few months in the north). Also, for the time pressed consumers of today, casual wear is easy to maintain and wear; it naturally becomes a smart lifestyle choice,” says Mouli Venkataraman.

Over all, a plethora of factors have helped fortify the casual wear market in India including penetration of media, development of smaller towns, growth and influence of mobile internet, etc.

Deeper Into India

Trendy casual wear is no longer the prerogative of the urban masses but it has also penetrated the semi urban towns and Tier II and -III cities of India. The population of these cities today is far more aspirational and demonstrative and showcases a higher propensity to buy ‘brands’ in the casual wear space.

“The consumer for casual clothing is spread from Tier -I to Tier -III cities. Infact, lower city denomination has a wider base for the casual market as their taste and buying power makes it an easy purchase. The colour and pattern suits their loud pallet,” says Narinder Kaur.

In smaller cities, people have a strong desire to wear similar kind of clothing and brands as in the bigger cities. Brands have increased their presence realizing the potential of this market.

“Aspirational youth residing outside the top 20 Indian cities have a higher propensity for casual wear fashion products. They have a strong desire to wear the same kind of clothing and similar brands as their counterparts in the bigger cities. This leads most of the mid segmented fashion labels to perform well in tier-II, -III and smaller cities,” says Usha Periyasamy.

For some brands, causal wear performs even better in smaller towns. “The highest growth rate in casual wear has come from Tier -II and -III cities only. There has been a degrowth in metros in the casual wear segment,” says M.D, Twills, G.S.Naveen.

Casual Wear Across Age Groups

Presently, the median age of men in India is 25.9 years, while that for women is 27.2 years. It is expected that the median age of the country will remain favorable, in the age range of 25-30. This lower median age reflects a youthful population that has a higher propensity for buying casual wear products. But gradually, the market has witnessed a welcoming change. Casual wear is progressively gaining popularity across all age groups. “It is mostly popular among the youth but it is now popular in other age groups as well,” says Executive Director, , Sandeep Jain.

Experts also have to believe that it is the youth of the country that can be attributed to this phenomenon. “As an on-trend ‘youth’ fashion brand, at Lee Cooper we believe that the casual wear market is dominated by young consumers (who are aspirational and seek differentiation and who believe that clothing is a critical reflector of who they really are). They are in a way causing a ripple effect and have a huge impact on the older generation as well adopting this trend. Today the country wants to look good whereever they go and this is causing a huge spur in
consumption across customer segments irrespective of age, income strata, etc.,” says Kotak.

The Indian Market With Respect To the Global Market

Traditionally, India has been a late bloomer when it comes to adopting global fashion trends. The Indian market is always couple of seasons behind the international market trends. But has things changed over the years? “Yes, it is. India is the highest youth driven country and here youth is much aware about the global fashion which derives them to be up-to-date with the same Also, as Indian Market is completely globalized, a lot of multinational brands are in India with the trends from all around the world. So, the Indian consumer market and brands are very much at par with its western peers being in a direct competition with them,” says Kunal Mehta.

The casual wear market in India is still relatively young. Due to the vast demographics and the fragmentation among so many categories in addition to the strong hold of traditional wear, it is still a market that can’t be considered at par in terms of consumption. “However, in terms of style, design and variety it is absolutely at par with innovative designers from India making a mark and even exporting their creative styles,” expressed Mutha.

Influence of International Brands

“The entry of the global brands has been one amongst biggest reasons for the growth casual wear market is witnessing. Global brand entry has enabled in setting up of higher benchmarks right from store design, visual merchandising, product pricing, product designing, marketing etc. Their entry has widened the perspective of consumers which in turn has resulted in higher acceptability of new trends, styles in the market. Overall it has made the market a lot more competitive,” says Pragati Srivastava.

With the increasing exposure to international fashion trends, the Indian consumer today is aware of global trends and has given him more variety to choose from. However, it has also been a source for healthy competition in offering customers a lot more. “Global brands have definitely made consumers aware of global trends; but even better for Indian brands it has made them re-think their strategy, designs, etc. The game has reached the next level,” says Naiknavare.

“But it’s a short term pain with the increasing competition, but it will prove to be a long-term joy with respect to expansion of the market,” says Khushlani.

Some Constrictions on the Casual Wear Market in India

The casual wear market is based on daily changing fads and it poses as a challenge to Indian manufacturers. “The lead time of the Indian manufacturers is quite high, which gives them tough time in competing with the faster repeat cycle of the western labels. The concept to shelf time gap is too high. Lack of proper infrastructure adds to this,” expressed Narinder Kaur.

And this also leads to inventory risks which smaller players might find crucial to deal with. “Fast changing fashion which leads to higher inventory risks, competition from the unorganized sectors specially in women’s wear are the recent bottlenecks that the players in the industry are facing,” informs Jain.

Citing supply chain complications, Naveen says, “Scarcity of suppliers of latest fashionable fabrics from the mills and lack of vendors for the various washes, new technology of prints and embroidery are a few bottle necks being faced by the players in casual wear industry.”

Another major bottleneck is the availability of good retail spaces and premium retail malls. “Overall availability of quality retail environment continues to be a challenge, other than the metros,” says Kotak. In addition, existing labour laws, infrastructure and cost of real estate impede retail growth thereby affecting the casual wear industry.