Gone are the days when a shirt was only formal or work attire, simple and designed with a cookie-cutter approach. Today, with a plethora of designs and styles options available, it’s no less than a fashion statement for all occasions – work, casual or party. People go that extra mile to look stylish and trendy at all times, and obviously, since they are shopping more frequently and want something new every time. The growing consumer demand, no doubt, bodes well for the fast-fashion phenomenon sweeping across the Indian apparel industry.
Notably, among all apparel, the shirt is one of the most orthodox product categories that has held on to a two-season fashion model – Spring Summer and Autumn Winter – thus far. Times are changing, though. Fast-fashion brands are out there of course, but now the non-fast fashion brands are also upping the ante by introducing interim shirt collections or drops to cater to the growing demand. As international and home-grown shirt brands in India strive to shedaway the two-season convention, they are re-visiting and re-adjusting to develop their production and sales strategies, accordingly.
From Twin Seasons to Fast-Fashion
The permeation of fast-fashion on the shirt category is rather evident now and the orthodox shirt brands and manufacturers are rising up to the challenge, too. However, there are also brands that aim to defy the fashion trends in vogue and would rather focus on slow-fashion, producing premium, quality product with an exceptional aesthetic appeal.
“We call fast-fashion as ‘closer to market’ and embracing the phenomenon has become a need to sustain in the current scenario,” states Shitanshu Jhunjhunwalla, Director of Turtle, a well-known premium menswear brand in India. According to him, a fresh shot of new capsule range, in fact, adds newness on the shelves and attracts consumer interest. The fast-fashion trend is here to stay and will expand further. And it’s becoming imperative for even the non-fast shirt brands to infuse fresh infusion of new mini ranges to create a buzz in the market and enhance sales, he feels.
“Fast-fashion covers all the categories of fashion apparel and even shirts as a category is not immune to it,” points out Saurabh Singh, Design Head (Menswear), Being Human Clothing. The apparel companies across the product categories, including shirts, will have to keep pace with the fast-fashion brands to stay competitive and only way to do it is by following the fast-fashion model, he acknowledges.
Increased disposable incomes, online retailing, smartphone usage and access to global trends are the major contributors to the growth of fast-fashion. Wide-spread internet penetration in India has further enabled the ‘see-now, buy-now’ phenomenon among the consumers. These factors coerce the fashion brands into swiftly providing top-notch quality at competitive prices, notes a Jack & Jones spokesperson. A part of the Danish clothing retailer, Bestseller, the fast-fashion brand mainly caters to fashion-conscious men in the age group of 18-24 years.
Importantly, affordable pricing and offering latest trends in the fastest possible time are the major attractions of fast-fashion Being Human Clothing has modified its working and keeps a buffer of about 10-15 percent of the designs which is spawned closer to the season covering the latest trends that might have been left out or are developed later than the main collection. Jack & Jones boasts a high level of expertise when it comes to the craftsmanship, quality and design of shirts. The brand constantly strives to make each product special for the customer and offer a value addition rather than just producing the same designs over and over.
For Turtle, the probability of foreseen trends in colours and patterns gaining traction, price points and quantity are the major deciding factors for launching an interim shirt collection besides the regular seasons. The buying schedule is drawn keeping in mind the timely production and raw material planning. Trim planning is done beforehand but kept very minimal and hassle-free.
Potential & Limitations
A wardrobe staple for men, a shirt nowadays is a must have for many women also, young and professionals in particular, while kids are occasional shirt wearers. About the country’s present state of shirt market, Turtle’s Shitanshu Jhunjhunwalla apprises, “The men’s segment as of now is a bit stagnant and is tough to penetrate. While women and kids are a huge market, it doesn’t have many key players.” The casual category, according to him, is brimming with players and is highly competitive. State-level brands have strong positioning in terms of price and product offerings in the segment. Further, while ceremonial is vacant, with hardly any strong player or brand taking note of this huge potential segment, the formal shirt seems to have lost its grip a bit and is struggling. The brands are striving to innovative to keep their market share intact and also to revive.
Significantly, the biggest disruptive factor in men’s formal and semi-formal shirt segments, in particular, is the price. Non-fast fashion brands usually have an edge over their fast-fashion peers, in terms of quality. But what if the latter manages to deliver good quality at a better price? “The brands can offset the challenge by offering value-added services like made-to-measure, customization or full bespoke experience,” suggests Saurabh Singh from Being Human. Further, he also observes that the biggest disruption is happening in the casual/fashion segment. Fast-fashion companies have mastered the art of bringing the latest trends in the shortest possible time to the consumers, whereas conventional casual wear brands are struggling to compete in this context. Price point is a bigger challenge for the casual mass market where the majority of consumers are youngsters and price plays a big role in their buying decisions.
Challenge of Seizing Trends Swiftly
Fast-fashion is all about speed in terms of design, quality and delivery. However, it can be quite challenging for the brands and manufacturers to capture and translate emerging trends in a product like a shirt. Also, there are hardly any shirt collection showcases on Indian runways. “In India, fast-fashion is not about runaways but is about giving something new to the consumer at the right moment and at the right price when the trend is ripe in the market,” the Turtle Chief elucidates. In the last few years, the Indian shirt market has transitioned from limited colours and designs to distinct fabrics, fits and styles. Brands are doing everything to remain relevant to the ever evolving tastes and consumer preferences that have drifted towards semi-formal and casual yet classic looks. We have noticed an increasing fashion awareness among men who give importance to personalization of shirts along with its fabric, says the Jack & Jones representative.
Keeping up with ongoing trends, the recent evolution of men’s shirts reflects not only advances in production techniques but also brings forth the growing needs and demands of the fast-fashion market, the official adds. However, Being Human’s Design Head also draws attention to the hurdle in gauging and translating the emerging trends swiftly. It can be quite challenging simply because there are not many shirt trends which surface over a short period of time. The other issue is that in the overall menswear fashion trends since the past few years are all driven by either athleisure or streetwear both of which are heavy on knitwear like t-shirts, hoodies or new hybrids. As a result, shirts find a very limited share in this trend direction, he explicates.
Impact on Production & Distribution
Going by the fast fashion theory, a non-fast-fashion brand will have to introduce shirt collection(s) in between the two conventional seasons. This means additional capital investment in production and distribution of the special ranges/drops. How does the effort play out in the shirt segment?
At Turtle, the fast-fashion product buying is not done at the beginning of the season; however, the planned investment is kept aside for it. Moreover, special capacity booking is done with the manufacturing units to realize the planning in full capacity. The product is engineered in a manner that reduces the lead times in fabric as well as the garmenting period.
Or a brand need not introduce the fast-fashion line in between the conventional seasons at all. For instance, Being Human has at least 10-15 percent of its product offering open for fast-fashion closer to season buying and introduces these new styles at the same time as its conventional season. It does not require additional capital investment as it is included in the overall budget for each season. However, the biggest challenge is significantly reducing the production and delivery lead times at the production stage. Moreover, for lack of market feedback on fast-fashion styles, the brand must go by its own judgement while placing orders in these new styles. Being Human mitigates this risk by creating more styles but producing only about half of the quantity in each style as compared to its main line style.
As well, swift supply to the point-of-sale is also a critical factor in the fast-fashion business. The company, therefore, may have a wider distribution across geographies across offline and online sales channels or may go for a limited market(s) and via a few sales channels to ensure timely supply. For instance, some brands pursue a centralized warehouse/logistic hub model to cater to all their channel partners across markets. It helps to streamline the operations and increase efficiency, notably. On the other hand, there are brands that prefer online presence only.
Optimizing Sales Strategy
The fast-fashion shirt can be a typical and tricky product as compared to other apparel categories in terms of holding customer interest for long. Trends come and go, but a shirt is regarded as a long-term wear even today, especially the formal. Achieving a complete sell-out of the fast-fashion line in a targeted period can also be quite challenging.
Fast-fashion is a growing category in the Indian retail and the ability of fast-fashion brands to bring in latest trends to stores has made them popular among consumers. However, trend, product quality and consolidated marketing efforts are crucial for the actual success of any fast-fashion product, the Jack & Jones spokesperson emphasizes. Shares Shitanshu Jhunjhunwalla [Turtle], “For fast-fashion inspired shirt line, our promotions are crisp and precise, while the sales activities are aligned accordingly. All this is executed without disrupting the conventional seasonal range. Monetary planning is done likewise.” Mindful of the associated risks, he, however, also maintains that proper planning and almost to the point forecast and approach in terms of procurement and supply ensures avoidance of any major mishaps. Nevertheless, it is all worth the effort as it helps the brand enhance customer loyalty.
The trends in other apparel product categories tend to change more rapidly as compared to a shirt. Saurabh Singh [Being Human] apprises, “Marketing efforts are comparatively limited for shirt segment. The complete sell-out of fast-fashion product is definitely challenging, more because the brand takes the entire risk, unlike the conventional seasonal collection that goes through bookings by channel partners and road shows”. He concludes by saying that the thing with fast-fashion is that either the new styles work, or they don’t. But they do infuse a freshness during the regular season when the brand introduces them.