This is what the typical innerwear buying behavior of the average Indian male is like – men will spend time to pick out a shirt or a trouser at a retail outlet. On the way to the billing counter, they will encounter the strategically placed underwear section. Here they will head straight for their usual brand, the one they have always been using, the same style.
They would go on to pick up ‘a few’ underwear since they don’t really know how many they will need. He doesn’t even see what the other brands in the neighboring racks have to off er. It is an almost blind purchase. Also, most Indian men tend to purchase innerwear before travelling, as they realise they might not have access to laundry and would need fresh underwear to last the duration of the trip.
In a 2016 survey of 300 Indian men, 75 percent said their innerwear purchases were need based and not on what was trendy in the market. Why is this so? Underwear, to the common man, is not a top priority garment. The awareness regarding the product, usage, care and lifecycle is almost non-existent.
Most Indian men tend to use their underwear well past their shelf lives, unmindful of any rips, tears, or loss of elasticity. Underwear usually last for around 30 washes, which means on an average, a pair of underwear should be replaced every four months. This isn’t the case in India, where they are used for well over a year, unless they are rendered utterly unusable.
By and large, the industry has been quite stagnant in terms of innovations; there haven’t been many game-changing disruptions, save for the increased accessibility to premium fabrics such as micro Modal, Tencel and Supima cotton by a larger audience, with new brands such as Zoiro, XYXX, Tailor & Circus, Damnesch and Dashing coming into the fray.
Urban India aspires to wear global brands and trends, whereas rural India wants to wear what urban India wears. Brands like Amul, Rupa and Lux have played the value and volume game and caused a shift from the informal to formal innerwear market. Jockey is now an aspirational brand in India, while it isn’t considered so overseas.
ICICI Securities estimated the market to be worth Rs 24,000 crore, with mid-premium and premium segments making up 40 percent or about Rs 9,500 crore. This is expected to grow to Rs 47,000 crore by 2020, and the premium, mid-premium segment is expected to double, growing at 17-18 percent CAGR to Rs 20,000 crore by that time.
The Indian market can be divided into the sub Rs 200, Rs 200 to Rs 1,000 and above Rs 1,000 segments. Most of the unorganised sector falls under the sub Rs 200 segment, which has been thriving so far on a customer base that has lacked awareness. This means that there is huge untapped potential in the market, with an enormous opportunity to grow. The growing middle class consumes products in the Rs 200 to Rs 300 price bracket.
Consumers remain consuming this grade of product and often do not venture into more premium products even if they can afford them. This is mainly due to a lack of awareness.
The premium and super-premium segments of the Indian innerwear market are expected to double in the next three years as they perceive that they have risen above the mass-market brands and have entered into the entry level products of international brands. Page Industries grabbed 55 percent of the premium innerwear market with its licensed brand Jockey.
One sub-segment which is gaining popularity is ‘kinky underwear’. This isn’t widely advertised or promoted as its conservative counterparts, yet it has a considerable demand. Consumers who are exposed to similar products globally, and with the LGBTQ community being more open, demand of such specialised products has greatly increased. Online shopping has made purchasing of these products easier, as one doesn’t have to face the stigma of buying these from a vendor, face-to-face, as it is still considered a taboo.
However, the above statements hold true only for a niche set of consumers. These emerging trends are yet to catch on en masse, even among the urban populace, for the majority still treats such innerwear with disdain. Changing this perception is one among the many challenges faced by the men’s innerwear industry in India.
Challenges & Bottlenecks in India
The biggest challenge is the low level of awareness regarding what one should wear that will last for a good life span and the proper wash care instructions. Retailers don’t try to educate their customers either as they are either not aware themselves or consider it delicate to talk to customers regarding a personal product such as underwear.
Also the general public isn’t aware of the value or existence of superior fabrics such micro Modal, Tencel, Supima fabric, etc.
Packaging and marketing campaigns are also very generic and similar across brands, which make the consumer immune to product differentiation and value. Currently, they do not create a sense of aspiration, limiting the products to a necessity, rather than a want or craving.
Improved awareness would be an incentive for a person to discard a pair of underwear and get a new one. Manufacturers seem to play it safe by producing same staid colours and designs, instead of attracting consumers with bright shades and innovative designs. This repetitive product, though it has a long shelf life, it does not excite the buyer to buy more.
The usage of underwear can be compared to that of a toothbrush where users don’t typically know when to replace them. A dental hygiene brand introduced a toothbrush that would let you know when to discard; maybe the underwear industry could take a cue from here.
The current buying experience of underwear isn’t very friendly either. Most customers prefer sticking to their usual brand, as they are confident of fit and size. Men do not have the option of trying underwear before buying. Hygiene pads could be provided to customers thereby letting them try the product before buying. Some brands are now providing a free replacement or cash back if a customer isn’t satisfied, which was unheard of until very recently.
The Future of the Segment
In the days to come it would no longer be the norm where one shops for innerwear as an after-thought. Innerwear, once considered only as a basic necessity for personal hygiene, will become a proper fashion statement. What was once the bastion of staid white will be breached by the emergence, and acceptance, of bright colours, funky prints, and kinky designs. There would be specific products for sporting activities, fo lounging, for the office, date night and so on. Underwear too would become like apparel where new products would be launched every season and the current shelf life of a particular product style would come down considerably.
Men will look for comfort, functionality, and style, while ensuring it matches their outfit and the occasion. The growing aspirations and increasing disposable incomes will only ensure higher consumption of premium brands and goods but will insure increasing the market share of the organised sector.
Currently, the designs for underwear are universal but it’s important to note that what works for Americans and Europeans won’t work for Indians and Asians. Underwear needs to be tailor made for the local body type and weather conditions. When one wouldn’t wear the same clothes for winter and summer, why should underwear be any different? Just as jeans would have a pencil fi t, a relaxed fit and so on underwear too would be available with options, as the consumer who is aware will demand specific products.
Along with this, brands should be able to grow on the booming high street, e-commerce and omnichannel distribution models. While brick-and-mortar stores will never become obsolete, online platforms will contribute a large extent to the growing demand, as it is far more convenient to shop online, and at times cheaper.