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It’s busy business as retailers gear up to weather climate change

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Global warming, inconsistent weather conditions and the shrinking winter season have adversely impacted India’s winter wear market, changing consumer buying behaviour. Climate change has served to transform the business models of apparel retailers as well as their designs, and the very notion of seasonal fashion itself.

The period between December to March, when the northern part of India usually witnessed extreme winters, has shrunk to just a few weeks. The practice of bringing winter fashion to the shelves in August to ensure smooth logistics for retailers are a thing of the past, with brands questioning the lead time since no one really buys winter wear so early on in the year anymore.

“The climate change has not only impacted sales locally but globally as well, since weather patterns are becoming increasingly unpredictable. India being a seasonal market, the challenge becomes even bigger as retailers are left with limited time to ensure the inventory is sold,” says Abhishek Shetty, Head – Marketing, PR & Loyalty, Celio*.

Rishabh Oswal, President, Oswal Woolen Mills (Monte Carlo) agrees, saying that while a few years ago apparel wasn’t considered winter wear unless it was heavy woven, today light fabrics are serving the purpose easily, with knitted woollen sweaters are being replaced with light weight cardigans and jackets.

“The impact of global warming is definitely visible in the industry. Earlier people used to invest in solid sweaters and jumpers while today they prefer dividing the budget and buying light weight winter wear. The course of buying winter wear has changed and so has our business model in terms of productivity and profit,” he adds.

Agreeing with the fact that shorter winters have disrupted the seasonal retail calendar, Neha Shah, Head Marketing, Pepe Jeans, concedes that people are now more or less wearing the same clothes the whole year round. “In a scenario like this, we have to fine tune our collections according to consumers’ demand. But this doesn’t mean that winter wear as a category will soon become obsolete. With the change in weather patterns, new styles will be created to meet the requirement for all-weather clothing,” she explains.

Winter Wear Market Size in India

Winter wear occupies 50 percent of the domestic market and around 45 percent of the international market with an upward growth of 9 to 10 percent annually. In 2017, winter wear was pegged at Rs. 14,475 crores and this is expected to reach almost Rs. 33,957 crores by 2027.

“Winter wear overall accounts for about 8 percent of the total menswear apparel market which is pegged at Rs. 1,24,423 crore and forms the largest segment (menswear) in the apparel market. The winter wear market is expected to clock about 9 to 11 percent growth in the coming years. Currently the unbranded segment accounts for about 70 percent of this market,” says Shetty.

Shah says that the Indian apparel market consists of 50 percent men’s wear, 20 percent women’s wear, and 30 percent kidswear. Winter wear as a category has an equal market of branded and unbranded players, she adds, with both international and local players always looking for innovative ways to capture a majority of the market share.

According to Oswal, winter wear is a major driver in the Indian knitwear market, with trade faring better despite the climate shift in last few decades.

“With increase in accurate penetration and appropriate exposure, the winter wear market does have potential to grow in excess of 10 to 15 percent annually in the near future,” adds Hetal Kotak, CEO, Lee Cooper.

From Utility to Fashion Wear

While the main purpose of winter wear is to keep a person warm in cold weather, over the years, this category has evolved from a necessity to a fashion statement. While the global consumer has already pushed retailers and brands to consider environmentally-flexible fabrics, for winter wear, the more obvious shift may be the design of the apparel. Brands are now warming up to the fact that winter wear is no longer about bulky, functional, warm garments, but could be defined by a whole new aesthetic.

Shah recounts that a couple of years ago, winter wear was not as diversified as compared to the range that exists today. “It mainly revolved around sweaters, heavy woollen wear and jackets that only provided function and not much of style. The transition in winter wear came with the western influence, runway trends and entry of many international brands in the Indian market,” she recalls.

While Pepe Jeans offers a wide array of chic casual wear for men, women and kids and jeans is the brand’s core product – very popular and selling extremely well – other products in the brand’s kitty include flat knits, sweaters, sweatshirts, jackets as well as woven merchandise. Aside from this, there are T-shirts as well as an accessories range consisting of bags, wallets, caps, socks and footwear.

“In our latest Autumn/Winter 2018 collection, we have introduced a mix of light and heavy winter wear keeping in mind people’s preferences as well as fashion forward styles such as that offer comfort and at the same time are also practical,” Shah states.

Meanwhile, international brands Lee Cooper and Celio* say that they offer products that are urban, smart, elegant and very wearable. Taking pride for being in the business for more than 110 long years, Lee Cooper has witnessed massive changes in every aspect of fashion – be it bell bottoms or skin fit denims. The brand has always ensured that its products are in sync with contemporary fashion in its respective time period.

“Lee Cooper has always been effortlessly stylish yet comfortable. It has undergone various transformations over the years and always sharp focused its offerings to cater to the taste and preferences of the ongoing consumer trends,” says Kotak.

In the winter wear range, customers can pick and choose from a wide range of overdyed cotton sweaters, hooded over dyed sweatshirts, denim jackets, biker jackets, sweatshirts in different wash techniques, over-dyed and garment washed cotton jackets, cardigans and pullovers. Front open sweatshirts with zipper are doing phenomenally well for Lee Cooper.

“This time we are introducing options in light winter wear. We have also included a range of athleisure jackets to provide our consumers with a larger bouquet of options,” he says.

“We are seeing a surge in stylish and trendy pieces in this segment. Also, products which make a fashion statement tend to do quite well in urban areas. This season we will launch light weight puff jackets, which are made of specialized lightweight fabric, but gives you high degree of protection from the cold. We are calling them ‘Lightweight Heavyweights’,” says Shetty of Celio*.

“Over the years, we have increased both width and depth in terms of winter wear offering. In the last few years a portion of the consumers have been moving from value-based purchasing to lifestyle-based purchasing. Being in the business of fast fashion, we constantly innovate and upgrade our products on a season-to-season basis and sometimes even within a season. Being a global fashion powerhouse helps us to be at the forefront of global fashion trends and launch products which the India consumer aspires to buy,” he adds.

While, Monte Carlo’s motto is to provide quality and variety to its customers, the brand’s winter wear range is solely based on blending comfort with fashion.

“We design clothes keeping the fashion zeitgeists in mind and formulate the best cuts, designs, patterns and colours that give an edge to the regular winter wear,” explains Oswal. “This year the classic camel coats are making a comeback (in lighter fabric), cardigans and jardigans (a hybrid of cardigan and jacket), sweatshirts and jackets are trending,” he adds.

Menswear brand, Parx that offers shirts, trousers, polos, t-shirts, denims, sweatshirts, pullovers and outerwear, has introduced super light jackets, scuba jackets and more that are easy to handle and light weight too.

Pragati Srivastava, Brand Head, Parx, shares, “The heavy winter season has shrunk and is limited only to certain parts of India. Light weight jackets and sweatshirts with added fashion elements are ideal products, for which consumers are ready to spend.”

Spykar, a brand for younger audiences, has been known to keep up with its target consumer’s high fashion consumption quotient. The brand couples this with offering winter wear with functional benefits and they have a bestseller.

“We are heavily experimenting with light weight fabric for winter season. We offer a range of bomber jackets, which is a trendy product this season. Quilted adventure jackets for outdoor needs in sporty and classic colours are crafted in light-to-medium weight nylon, cotton and cotton blends,” says Sanjay Vakharia, CEO, Spykar.

Domestic Vs International Brands

Manish Mandhana, CEO, Being Human Clothing says that the presence of international brands has made the Indian winter wear market tougher for domestic brands to capture.

“The only way to beat international players at their own game is to take the technology route, to get closer to the customers, to get more intelligence information about what is the pattern of the markets, consumers and designs. And plan your business based on that because it’s time to be a little watchful,” he explains.

According to him, international players offer very sharp prices at lower multiple rates. They believe more in volume gains and faster turnovers, due to which Indian value retailers have been impacted.

Foreign brands like H&M, Zara, Forever 21 – and Uniqlo, which is on its way to India – have cannibalized the Indian homegrown businesses.

Shetty observes that earlier, players in the non-branded segment procured new, innovative and cheaper products from countries such as China and offered them at great prices, thereby making it difficult for bigger brands to penetrate the market. “Now, there will be an aggressive push from the branded segment in the next few years to bridge this gap by innovating and offering new product ranges,” he says.

Meanwhile, Shah explains that Pepe Jeans’ approach is very simple. “We stand for certain values and as long as we are able to make the consumer understand that the price product equation that Pepe Jeans is offering is better than anybody else, nothing else matters. Our consumers look for a great fit, quality products and a sharp pricing. Keeping in mind our end customers and staying true to our values of a cool denim brand is all that matters,” she concludes.

(With inputs from Gurbir Singh Gulati)

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