It was while serving during World War II at Imphal in India, that the founder of Wacoal, Koichi Tsukamoto, realised the importance of innerwear and more than that, the introduction of comfort as an important factor. Post the war with more women taking up roles and duties beyond being housewives and the westernisation of women’s clothing, the need for good looking yet comfortable lingerie started being felt acutely. Tsukamoto wanted all women to feel beautiful and confident, and this became the base of his concept of introducing lingerie brand Wacoal in 1947. Over the years, Wacoal – which operates in over 70 countries – has risen to become the number one brand in the lingerie segment in Japan. Other big markets for the brand include US, the UK and China.
“For us, it seems like the perfect opportunity to expand our presence in India, since the country is one of the fastest growing retail markets in the world with 1.3 billion people,” says Tomoyasu Ito, Representative Director, President and Corporate Officer of Wacoal Corp.
The brand’s mission is to contribute to society by helping women express their beauty and this goal extends to the 600 million women in India.
In an all-encompassing chat with IMAGES Retail Bureau, Ito talks about the journey of the brand in India as well as their expansion plans in the country.
Excerpts from the interview:-
How, according to you, is the lingerie market evolving in India? What is the current positioning of India on the global business radar?
India’s upper middle class is growing rapidly, aided by a GDP growth of over 7 percent annually, followed by an increase in disposable income. In fact, disposable income is actually growing faster than GDP in the country. Despite the fact that a majority of customers are price-conscious, there has been an increase in the introduction of premium and international goods. We believe this market change will accelerate in the next 10 years, and this is why we think it’s a great idea for Wacoal to expand its presence in the country.
How is Wacoal creating a niche for itself in the established lingerie segment in the Indian market?
Wacoal has been in India for 4 years now. We took the time to understand consumer requirements in India – fit, quality and sizes are extremely varied, and launching products in American sizes wouldn’t address their concerns. Measurements of around 40,000 women were studied and researched upon to enhance the comfort factor. Now, Wacoal has various products of different fits for women. The rate of repeat customers of the brand is 35 percent.
Tell us about any recent innovations you have introduced.
‘Fit and comfort’ of the product is considered to be the biggest USP of our brand. Wacoal has its own manufacturing units all over the world where we produce over 80 percent of our designs. We achieve high quality and high performance with the balanced mix of our own production units and research undertaken by Wacoal’s Human Science Research Centre. This is our biggest strength that differentiates us from other brands. Instead of pursuing glamor, we pursue excellent supportability with unique materials and designs based on the research and development.
We are all set to develop exclusive merchandise for the Indian market and plan to expand this in the coming years.
Apart from this, in Japan, we are in the process of placing 3D high-tech machines which will help women understand the exact sizes that they should buy. And if the experiment goes successful then we will be soon launching this technology in all our stores.
Which is your fastest moving product in India and globally and why?
Gococi non-wired bra is one of our fastest moving products globally and in India. This is a seamless non-wired bra that provides great support and fit. What makes this unique is the peanut style pad cup that joins together the right and left cup.
Throw some light on marketing plans for the coming years in India.
In the fiscal year 2019, where the number of stores is fairly small, our promotional campaigns will be focussed around the opening areas of our stores. This will be done through mall advertising, press ads in regional newspapers and outdoor advertising. By 2020 we plan to run nationwide advertisements which include brand ambassadors, TV commercials and an extensive PR campaign. At the same time, we will also promote on social media and other digital platforms.
How much does online contributes to your overall sales?
E-commerce contributes 6-8 percent of total sales. In Japan e-commerce contributes 14 pc of total sales, in US it is 30 pc.
Share with us the insights about the brand’s growth prospects in India.
Currently, we have 12 stores in India. However, we intend to launch an additional 15 stores in 2019, 23 stores in 2020, 30 through shop-in-shop model, and aim to have 150 brick-and-mortar stores in the country by 2021. All the stores will be owned by company. We will be growing our presence in Tier I & II cities such as Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Goa, Jaipur, Chandigarh, Hyderabad to name a few, taking the total to about 30 cities. In addition to setting up more stores in the existing markets i.e. Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata. Wacoal plans on aggressively focusing on 10 top cities taking advantage of existing operation network in all 4 regions such as West (Mumbai), North (Delhi), South (Chennai) and East (Kolkata).
We are also currently present on four e-commerce platforms, Myntra, Jabong, Tata CliQ and our own website www.wacoalindia.com, but sales are insignificant/ minor/ inconsequential. We plan to strengthen our presence on these platforms first before we move to other platforms.
How much are you planning to invest in India to aid the expansion plans?
Over the course of three years i.e from 2019 to 2021, we plan to invest US$ 15 million.
By when are you aiming to be profitable in India?
We plan to achieve US$ 25 million revenue target within 3 years and US$ 100 million revenue target within 10 years.