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T-Shirts: Bringing in casual style & comfort to the traditional Indian shirts market

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Traditionally India has been a shirt wearing nation since workplaces in the country have been strict about dress codes, limiting to formal dressing. Then in came Friday dressing and changed the way Indians dressed, creating a market demand for t-shirts. Today, most companies – Indian and global–allow casual clothing, in turn stimulating demand for casual apparel, especially t-shirts.

Worldwide, t-shirts enjoy special popularity amongst the youth. In a young country like India with a median age of 27 years, this segment harbours immense opportunities for brands and retailers alike. Indian youth seek comfort and style in their clothing, which is better met by t-shirts as compared to woven shirts.

According to Hetal Kotak, CEO, LeeCooper (India), the growing influence of hip-hop and sneaker culture, pop subculture communities, new age workplaces, Bollywood too has helped this shift. Another influencing factor is the growth of athleisure wear owing to rising inclination towards fitness and overall athletics. “T-shirts arrived as a humble alternative to smart-formal shirts. Today, a crew neck tee is as casual as a tartan check shirt,” he says.

T-shirts are preferred over woven shirts due to comfort, stretchability and easy breatheability built within the knitted fabric structure. “People are wearing t-shirts 3 to 4 days in a week – a time frame which was earlier dominated by shirts,” says Bobby Arora, Director, Status Quo.

Ranjiv Ramchandani, Director, Tantra says if you scan any old picture (>20 years) of an Indian youth, chances are that they will be seen wearing a (woven) shirt, and not a (knitted) t-shirt. The skew gets even more prominent when moving from urban to semi-urban cities. “Why? Because woven shirts are built to last. That is why we Indians love it. We are a ‘value-for-money’ race,” he says. “However, the last decade-and-a-half has seen a rapid ‘t-shirtisation’ of India.”

“Mark Zuckerberg, the original poster boy of the digital world wears it all days of the week, not just Fridays. It’s cool to be yourself,” he states.

Aashray Thatai, Co-Founder, PostFold says, “The eco-system and work culture in general have become more informal after the plethora of start-ups.” He added that this trend has been growing over the years. Polos, classic or basic t-shirts have become a Friday norm and in many places casual clothing is official dressing on Fridays.

“Initially, t-shirts were only accepted at advertising/ communications firms, but soon tech giants opened the concept of Friday dressing and now, besides a few banking and hardcore corporate law firms, the t-shirt is not a blasphemy corporate firms,”says Hetal Kotak.

“As clothing oneself becomes more of an art, the onus to dress for the best has become more relaxed. Here, the shift has emerged from staid power dressing to cool, Friday dressing. Friday dressing constitutes of breezy designs and print, perfect for the Friday bent of mind, where t-shirts play an important role in conveying a cooler style,” states Rishabh Oswal, Executive Director, Monte Carlo.

T-shirts have been steadily gaining market share due to their competitive pricing and unlimited of ering as far as product options are concerned. There’s a wide variety in terms of colouring, pricing, quality and even personalised aesthetics. For example, one can choose to pick a shirt that is reminiscent of their favourite book or series while shirts do not off er this luxury.

Innovations & New-Age Designs

T-shirts are specifically targeted towards the young population. One of the main reasons behind the popularity among youth is that t-shirts strike a chord with the creativity hidden inside each individual. An individual has the flexibility to choose every element of their t-shirt including colour, design, garment, logo, etc., which allows their creativity to take over as he chooses a t-shirt matching his personality, style and attitude.

As Aashray Thatai explains, “T-shirts have become quirkier and customers want them customised to their needs, be it with prints or embroidered surfaces. T-shirts with one’s favourite character’s quotes or even occasion specific ones like a family gathering or a company meet give it a huge prospect of being personalised. Even the kind of fabrics and techniques available for printing and surface embellishments are limitless–making unique designs in the humble silhouettes an interesting design process.”

T-shirts have certainly come a long way- from their earlier tropes of being easy-to-wear apparel, to modern cutting-edge creations fit for the denizens of fashion. While classic designs still remain in fashion, cutting edge designs combining various materials, with washes, have come into the picture. Some of the current trends in design innovation categories are anti fits, athleisure, performance and sustainable fashion.

Take for example Status Quo. The brand has introduced an exclusive traveler’s collection consisting of two and four ways t-shirts, which can carry a headphone and a space for keeping passport, iPad and other important things. And when planning to take a nap they also have an eye mask!

“T-shirts have remained the same in silhouettes. A basic crew neck tee across a high-street label to an ultra-luxury brand will remain same. However, designs have definitely changed. They are more agile and receptive to the topical conversations, for example, slogan tees on feminism, characters from Marvel, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, etc., have quicker rotation and are feasible on t-shirts,” explains Hetal Kota.

Ranjiv Ramchandani also feels that the basic template of the t-shirt has not changed much over time. “It was loose and baggy once. It is more fitted and slim now. The shape is dictated by the fashion trends of the day,”he says. The basic premise of a t-shirt is whether it is interesting –design/ art/ made-ups – to wear? Or is the brand a fit with the wearer’s personality?

Market Size

According to the latest reports from India’s leading management consulting firm Technopak, the size of the t-shirt market in India is estimated to be at Rs 23,211 crore which is expected to grow at a promising CAGR of ~10 percent over the next decade to reach 61,954 crore by 2027. In the present scenario, men’s wear holds a key share in the market, followed by women’s wear and kidswear. At the same time, the women’s segment is registering a faster growth that experts attribute to the comparatively lower base of market size and increasing acceptance of casual clothing among women.

Also as per Credence Research’s report, the Indian t-shirt market is estimated at Rs 5,400 crore. According to the report, a whopping 83 percent share of that is generated by the men’s segment alone. Even though it’s a sizeable and growing market, it is not one of the world’s largest by a long way. It is projected that the market will grow over with highest growth rate in the Asia-Pacific region over the next five years. The women’s segment is also said to see a growth of 17 percent which will eventually grow and come almost at par with the men’s segment in the coming years.

As for the per capita spend, we are a country that largely resides in rural areas and still relies on traditional neighbourhood stores for our needs.

Western apparel like t-shirts, thus, doesn’t have a huge per capita spend. In 2015, per capita apparel consumption in India was just US$ 45 compared to US$ 172 in China. It is expected to go up to US$ 125 by 2025 which still wouldn’t be anywhere close to those of developed economies.

Existing Challenges

The overall Indian t-shirt market comprises large number of international as well as local players, making the market highly fragmented in nature. Additionally, due to presence of high number of vendors in the market, the market has emerged highly competitive in nature.

“The high level of fragmentation has resulted in an extremely competitive market where product price become the core basis for competition. At the same time, t-shirt manufacturing is also highly fragmented yet concentrated, in knitting clusters such as Ludhiana and Tirupur. Smaller manufacturers are grappling with issues of quality management, colour consistency, effluent discharge, marketing etc.,” shares Hetal Kotak.

Aashray Thatai adds to this saying, “Key challenges that the segment seems to face are durability and longevity of this segment. Quality t-shirts are hardly available and the few players that are trying to push for quality are facing stiff competition.

India is a price sensitive economy so, unfortunately, price mostly takes precedence over quality. Most of the customers would rather buy a t-shirt for Rs 500 and wear it for one season only instead of one that is superior in quality, lasts longer and has a lesser detrimental impact on the environment.”

According to Bobby Arora, the overall segment is growing and Status Quo being amongst the organised players in this category faces challenges from the unorganised segment which holds a bigger share in the market today. Despite this, it is important to note that the organised market is growing at a fast pace, faster than the uorganised market. Brands take brand building exercises seriously, specialising in t-shirts, and aim to create aspirational brands which have an edge over the competition.

Global vis-à-vis Domestic Players

Global brands have helped t-shirts become an essential part of a wardrobe. International players’ offer ‘out of the box’ fashion tees, which is one of the primary reasons that trends flow from the international market to domestic market. The Indian t-shirt market is yet to develop to its full capacity as a fashion category across brands. For example, core tees, graphic tees, striper polos are still the big-ticket items. International brands like Lee Cooper have expanded their t-shirt categories with elevated fabrics, silhouette manipulations, style elements and wash techniques.

“Internationally, the positioning of t-shirts as a fashion must have or fashion statement (the way we domestically portray denims or footwear) is commendable,” says Hetal Kotak. Citing examples of H&M, Gap, etc, Aashray Thatai says, “Global brands have stolen vanity away from the local players and also offered better quality at competitive prices”

“Global brands have now been in India for long but all domestic and international players have created their brand positioning respectively. Competition is helping all to keep innovating and delivering the best to the customers,” says Bobby Arora. Ranjiv Ramchandani adds to this saying, “With respect to ‘Global Vs. Desi Brands, the challenge is often on price points, and on the Indian consumer’s acceptance of the inherent brand value of the global brand.”

Online Boost

The rapid penetration of e-tailing in the fashion space had created a positive impact on the fashion industry in general. It has given the customers a plethora of options to choose from. The t-shirt category, especially custom-print and designed, has exhibited a higher acceptance for e-tailing. “India has an internet users base of about 475 million as of July 2018, which is almost like 40 percent of the population. T-shirts are a staple part of wardrobes across the globe and the e-commerce has helped it to grow enormously,” states Rishabh Oswal.

“An e-commerce store prefers t-shirts because they are cheap to source, have universal appeal and are relatively simple to customise.” On the contrary, Hetal Kotak shares very often they have also seen a desire of customers to experience the products in a brick-andmortar stores. “Eventually all channels enable the ability of brands to service customer better,” he shares.

Aashray Thatai also says that online made it easier for the customer to access a huge variety from many different brands. “They can choose to buy ethically manufactured or even sustainable t-shirts from smaller brands easily with the ease of accessibility that e-commerce gives,” he further shares.

Ranjiv Ramchandani opines, “Online marketplace is a huge catapult, hauling unknown entities into the glare and spotlight of incremental sales. Provided the person behind the product / brand is offering quality / uniqueness at an acceptable price point, the brand is destined for online success. However, digital marketing needs a whole new tool-kit and financial staying power to operate successfully.”

The Road Ahead

With leading fashion brands embracing t-shirts as an influencing category, the future outlook appears positive for the market. The Indian t-shirts market shows a huge opportunities for industry players due to increasing penetration of the category into rural areas and youth.

Bobby Arora feels, “In a growing market like India, there is enough scope for all the brands and retailers. But as the market starts moving towards maturity in the coming years, it is expected to witness cutthroat competition. Manufacturers, brands and retailers, those who could innovate and cater to consumer needs with business prudence, are expected to lead the t-shirts market in the future.”

Another important factor regarding t-shirts is the fact that they are basics and thus timeless too. Aashray Thatai says, “T-shirts can be worn season after season, provided they are manufactured with long lasting quality and craftsmanship. This helps reduce the amount we end up contributing to the fast fashion garbage dump.”

He shares that the sourcing of fabrics and the content should be sustainable whether it is repurposed fabric or organically grown cotton and believes that people are gradually becoming more mindful of these choices and this is definitely something the garment manufacturers and retailers should embrace as well.

Meanwhile, owing to the low entry price points and trend-centric appeal, t-shirts have a lower life span – both at the retail shelf and in the wardrobe and are discarded in no time. Hetal Kotak says that sustainability is an issue with a product category like this.

“The growing concerns regarding global warming and increasing wastage of earth resources has ushered in the sustainability factor in t-shirts too! Current international scenario is that of encouraging re-utilisation of fibres, going organic, converting organic waste to fabric, converting used poly products to fabric and using process’s that utilise less water and dyes and emit lesser carbon footprint,” he says.

“T-shirts are a very creative medium. There’s language involved (slogans), graphic art (visuals), and sometimes both, in a heady and humorous combination (infact, we creatively embellish our polo’s too!),” sates Ranjiv Ramchandani.

“The challenge, thus lies in the ability to surprise and be inventive! The other challenge is (initial) resistance by the trade/dealer; or, as Jean Marie Dru says in his cult book ‘Disruption’, “the penalty of leadership”, or simply being ahead of the curve,” he concludes.

(With inputs from Gurbir Singh Gulati)

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