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Innovation & sustainability rule the Indian casual shirts category

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The casual shirts segment is the fastest growing segment in Indian apparel market, owning to the changed consumer preferences.

According to Frost & Sullivan, the men’s shirts market in India is valued at Rs 371 billion, and it is the largest category among men’s apparel accounting for about 28 percent of the total men’s wear market. Around 40 percent of the men’s shirt market currently is constituted by formal and semi-formal shirts. In comparison, women’s shirt category in India gets a much smaller share of the pie (~2 percent) in the overall women’s apparel category, which is still dominated by ethnic wear. It is still a relatively new segment at nascent stage of penetration and expansion in the country, albeit estimated to be growing at a fast rate of about 14 percent CAGR, owing to increasing women’s participation in the country’s workforce, and growing interest for western wear among women in India, especially in metro and mini-metro cities.

Indian men are increasingly embracing the concept of‘fashion’seriously as a means of true reflection of their persona, and not just a high-end purchase. The per capita expenditure on apparel stood at Rs 3,100 in 2015 and is expected to reach Rs 8,000 by 2025. The total Indian apparel consumption expenditure is expected to grow to Rs 11.7 lakh crore (US$ 180 Billion) by 2025.

Moreover the influx of global brands has induced domestic players to significantly improve their own consumer experience and build brand loyalty by producing innovative designs and adopting international best practices in retail, service, visual merchandising and processes.

The focus is on developing new and exciting formats, similar to international trends and practices,which would yield more consumer comfort and delight.

According to Prashant I Bhatia, Managing Partner, Cambridge, with the changing work culture ‘business casual’ dressing is more acceptable than ever. “Hence, you will see more men dressed in smart or business casual attire even at work now,” he says.

Pragati Srivastava, General Manager & Brand Head, Parx adds, “With casualwear trending today and the acceptable shift from formal to casual wear, the shirts category has been on an all-time high. Shirts have become the first preference for people when on casual outings, with trends like resort shirts and bright stripes becoming popular. Consumers are open to the latest trends in prints, colours, patterns and silhouettes.”

“Domestic casual brands are receiving cutthroat competition from global mid-segment brands namely Zara, H&M, Jack & Jones, etc., both in price and variety,” says Rajnish Sethia, Director, Success.

Prashant I Bhatia expounds on this saying, “The competitions is intense in this category since it is fashion focused and price sensitive. A lot of international brands command loyalties because they offer discounts throughout the year to clear their inventories and hence are more popular compared to the Indian brands.”

Innovation in Designs & Fabric

Brands today are recognising the value of superior products and so are the consumers. Consumers want the best their money can buy and don’t mind spending a little extra for the same. “Fabric innovation has been a prime reason for the growth of the shirt category in Parx,” says Pragati Srivastava.

She explains that shirts that allow good stretchability with Lycra and spandex context, and that allow body heat regulation with coolmax fiber, and that prevent body odour with micro-encapsulated aroma finishes have all been game changers. She adds that Parx offers short collars and mandarin collars casual shirts which witnesses quite a good demand. During high summers, it promotes resort shirts and slim fits among its range.

While Cambridge is renowned for fabrics and washing variations, key differentiating factors over the years have been the double packets with flaps, roll-up sleeves with loops and the adoption of kurtas with variation in length. Similarly, the two-way shirt has been a super hit with Courtyard – a brand from the East – which can be worn both ways. Contrasting colours on collars, cuff s and on buttons is a hot favourite from the brand as well.

“Also, solids in poplin are mostly preferred in making designer casual shirts. Beside solids there are printed, checkered, striped fabrics. There are even reversible fabrics with checks in one side and print on the other. There is hosiery fabric which is very much in and we assume it has immense potential,” says Rajnish Sethia.

Fabric & Blends

While cuts and details often change with present day trends, fabrics haven’t seen too much of a change – that is until now. Blends give a fabric a differentiating factor at the core level.“Fine cotton, twill, linen are the most preferred fabrics for making shirts. Apart from this, poplin and oxford fabrics are also preferred. Eco-friendly recycled fabrics will be used in the near future too,” says Amit Dhelia, Proprietor, Courtyard.

Cotton blended fabrics too are seeping in this category since price is critical to this segment. Any new age eco-friendly yarn blended with cotton that can last longer and come at attractive price point has the potential to sell more. For example, along with 100 percent cotton fabric, new age fabrics like tencel and bamboo from Parx have been thoroughly appreciated by the people for its soft hand feel, natural antibacterial properties and good drape.

Linen has always been a consumer favourite, be it any weather and any occasion. Linen can absorb up to 20 percent of its weight in moisture and still feel dry to the touch which is why it always feels fresh and cool even in humid weather. Blended linen has more potential to sell during festivals, weddings and summer periods. “100 percent pure linen has a set of loyal customers, there are linen cotton blends too. The segment has been strong for us in summer,” says Salman Noorani, Managing Director, Z3 Relaxed Luxury.

Sustainability Vs. Fast Fashion

According to Noorani, for a generation growing up on Twitter feeds, hashtags, multimedia messaging on social media and an overdose of trivia, environmentalism is a top concern.

He says, “Gen Green is today actively seeking out eco-friendliness in every product and is willing to go all out to embrace these products. Sustainability is a major choice with this generation when it comes to purchases, brands today are happy to trigger new mindsets towards this belief.”

“At Parx, the concept of sustainability is embraced on all levels of yarns, finishes and washes. Recycled cotton, organic cotton, BCI, miDori finishes and ecowashes are incorporated into the shirts category,” says Pragati Srivastava.

Most fashion retailers now are doing something about sustainability and have some initiatives focused on reducing fashion’s negative impact–carbon emission, water use and land use. Mitigating the sustainability impact of the fast fashion business will likely require action across the industry.

Considering the above trends, the casual shirts category is still poised to grow stronger. The demand would continue growing backed by a large youth population that has the disposable income and aspiration.

“As more and more office spaces become tolerant and open to casual dressing, the future of this category seems bright,” concludes Prashant I Bhatia.

(with inputs from Gurbir Singh Gulati)

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