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An exploratory study of the Indian casual wear market

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Casual wear is the modern sovereign of the global fashion world. Honestly, the fashion industry has probably not witnessed a force more unrestrained than causal wear in the past. In the last decade, casualisation has swept through global fashion sensibilities with unflinching determination and today, it has entrenched its strong hold as a wardrobe staple throughout the world. Reports suggest that more than one third of the global population has embraced casual wear in the few years and the trend exhibits no signs of waning. In fact, it is only gaining momentum with each passing year.

Analysing the Influencers

While comfort and functionality are supposedly the two most important aspects of any apparel, a look through history reveals that these words deserved little to no attention in fashion hitherto. And this is where casual wear created magic! Casual wear stresses comfort, practicality and freedom – freedom to choose how we present ourselves to the world; freedom to diminish the lines between men and women, old and young, rich and poor, etc. So, very naturally, at an age where time and attention are increasingly scarce resources, casualisation emerged as the perfect choice for consumers around the world.

Even India, a country that has always lagged behind global fashion trends, was quick to adapt to this casual way of dressing. The growth of the casual wear category in India can be better understood by co-analysing it with the key changes in the general ecosystem of the country. Changing lifestyles, higher disposable incomes, home grown brands bringing contemporary international fashion to Indian stores and well known international brands setting up business in India, etc. – a profusion of factors have culminated to give impetus to the changing fashion sensibilities of the Indian populace. This changing fashion sense coupled with affordable prices has pushed the market for casual wear.
Moreover, due to comfortable choices in fabric, designs, fits, this fashion category has especially been successful in enjoying demand among the youth in both urban as well as rural areas.

“Indian casual wear market has grown over time with the changing lifestyles of consumers, the increase in the disposable income and the entry of international brands in our marketplace. Further digitalisation and online retail portals have proliferated the market variety and garments at a discounted rate. Consumers have started to purchase casual wear to complement their fast-paced life, along with giving them comfort, provides them with quality and style,” says Team .

The casual wear market has gone through a major transformation in the last 5 years. “The biggest transformation that the casual wear market has undergone is that international trends are being adopted at a rapid pace and the major drivers of this transformation are rising affluence, quick access to information on global trends and a stronger connect with global influencers. Additionally, large corporates increasingly relaxing their dress codes is yet another important driver of this transformation,” says Vasanth Kumar, Managing Director, Lifestyle.

The concept of Friday Dressing in the corporate world has been one of the chief growth drivers of casual wear worldwide. Casual Fridays were something of a gateway drug that eventually urged an obvious but revolutionary question—Why not be casual on other days, too? Eventually, as the stress levels at work increased and employees were compelled to spend more time at offices, companies around the world realised that relaxing restrictions on the attire and working hours could go a long way in improve productivity and employee satisfaction. Today, a growing number of companies have called for a permanent casual dress mode.

The success of e-commerce has also contributed to this growth as has the digital boom. Retailers have been able to gain potential customers, improve their communications and messaging, track finances, implement research and improve their brand in a cost-effective manner. Digitalisation and e-commerce marketplaces have provided the retail industry with several avenues with an active consumer base that prefers shopping online, allowing them to purchase products whenever they want.

“E-commerce companies like , , Flipkart, etc., have driven the greatest change in the retail industry. On-the-go shopping has become a popular trend; consumers have easy access to variety of products online instead of physically visiting a store. Smooth browsing experience with product recommendations based on behavioral aspects is shaping the way retailers display their products online. E-commerce extends benefits like ensuring protection of personal information for online payment of purchases, easy return policies, delivery at your doorstep, etc. which creates an effortless and convenient shopping experience for consumers,” says , Assistant General Manager – Marketing, Pepe Jean London.

“Pop culture and exposure to the world either through social media or by taking vacations to new countries has motivated people to become more active and realise that comfort is good for the soul. This change is not only on the personal front but even in working spaces. The market of casual wear has more than doubled in the last 5 years and is getting stronger as organisations are adapting a relaxed and less formal dress code,” adds Umashan Naidoo, Category Head – Men’s Wear & Cosmetics, .

The past few years have seen a drastic change in the fashion industry as style and taste are not restricted to age, but an individual’s personality. Gradually, the market has witnessed a welcome change with casual wear gaining popularity across all demographics, even regardless of age. This is a clear indication that the casualisation trend has also been successful in transcending beyond the millennials and the younger generation to become a timeless trend.

“Today, the casual wear trend has gained popularity amongst all demographics. It is dominating as a wardrobe staple through all age groups as the lifestyle has undergone a lot of changes even in India, i.e., more outings, more travel, more Sunday brunches and movies, all of which require a casual yet appealing fashion formula.,” says , CEO, .

The effect of global warming can be seen in every industry across the globe, and fashion is no exception. With general rise in temperatures, t-shirts are becoming around the year phenomenon in most parts of the country (barring a few months in the north). Also, for the time pressed consumers of today, casual wear is easy to maintain and wear; it naturally becomes a smart lifestyle choice.

Competition from Global Brands

The gargantuan opportunities in the Indian fashion industry has attracted a long list of international bigwigs of late, all who have rushed in for their share of the market. Armed with better facilities and a strong supply chain, these brands can afford to bring latest trends very quickly to the market and off er stiff competition to domestic and home grown brands.

“The competition is quite fierce. On one hand, the international brands have the advantage of better product and newer trend offerings which the domestic brands will find hard to catch up with. But on the other hand Indian brands have the advantage of better price offerings. Especially, brands like and are a competition to both Indian and other international brands since they have the advantage of product, trends and price in their favour,” asserts .

However, a fair section of experts believe that this has also been a source for healthy competition in offering customers a lot more than domestic brands ideally would have. “Exposure to international brands is allowing Indian retailers to become more aware of trends and take inspiration to create garments suited for modern-day India’s needs. Brands in India in this segment are making a mark today by exporting their creative styles by choosing natural fibres to create clothes in, innovative styles, designs, and prints,” reveals Team WLS.

While the global brands have made consumers aware of global trends; they also compelled Indian brands to invest in product and design innovations but also re-align their strategies. As the game gets propelled to the game to the next level, the result is a slew innovations aimed at standing out and attract to consumers.

Cover Story has its design studio operating out of London which itself is a fashion capital. With a team of trend forward designers and buyers the brand has been striving to bring runway trends to its stores at a much faster pace.

Lifestyle has incorporated the Kooltex and Hydroway range from which is made from a quick drying fabric that wicks away moisture and keeps the wearer cool. It also has incorporated LIVA, a high-quality fabric, in a wide range of products from various brands across key collections. Additionally, the brand offers Flex Denims from its in-house denim wear brand Forca, which has been designed to enable greater movement and comfort, capturing the strength and durability of the product.

Westside provides comfort by using stretch, quick dry and anti-bacterial in Activewear, and 360 Degree stretch in denim. For AW19, the brand’s X factor is the speed at getting the right fashion out with shorter lead times.

“Travelling globally and working with partners from around the globe, talking trend and shifts in style, having a creative team that’s always watching street fashion, social media blow ups, and design new styles that launch every month are a few ways we bring innovations in market,” reveals Umashan Naidoo.

Westside also offers a new selection of fresh products every week. It also has been successful in bringing fast fashion in 14 days — from concept to shop floor.

Keeping up with recent sustainability trends, WLS, as part of its new brand identity, will be creating garments that are made of 100 percent natural fibres. Everything from the collars to labels and button will be made out of natural material so as to ensure that it does not affect consumers’ well-being and the environment negatively.

Pepe Jeans has also introduced a range of environmentally conscious denims. The Tru-Blu range of denims is created using technology that utilizes zero chemicals in the wash process thereby dramatically reducing water consumption.

Percolation into Tier II, & IV Markets

Trendy casual wear is no longer the prerogative of the urban masses today but has also penetrated the semi urban towns and Tier II and III cities of India. The population of these cities today is far more aspirational and demonstrative and showcases a higher propensity to buy ‘brands’ in the casual wear space.

“The market response is very big in these markets since they all have a large youth population. Also what we have seen so far is that, as far a brand consciousness is concerned, the people with high disposable income in these cities are far more brand conscious then their counterparts in other bigger cities. E-commerce has played a big role is making available branded products to these places where earlier it was very difficult to get them as not all the brands had their presence in these cities,” admit Saurabh Singh.

“The entry of international brands in the country and growing exposure amongst Indians, especially the youth have created a higher purchasing power not only in top metros but in tier 2 and 3 cities as well. They also have easy access to many channels apart from retail stores like e-commerce platforms on a click of a button. Consumers are constantly challenging the industry to evolve and innovate,” says Neha Shah.

The proliferation of casual wear in the remote corners of the country can be chiefly attributed to m-commerce and the whole digital retail revolution as a whole. “Digitalization and in particular social media played a big role is connecting maximum number of people and also making them aware of all the developments that are happening in fashion and lifestyle and which now they want to follow. M-commerce made it possible for people from every nook and corner of India to be able to buy things which were earlier not available to them locally,” says Saurabh Singh.

Fast Growing Category

Casual wear is one of the fastest growing categories in the retail industry and it will continue to perform well in the future. India’s large population of educated youth that will join the mainstream workforce in the coming years, is one of the biggest opportunities moving ahead for the category. However, as the competition intensifies, brands would have to work harder on their promotion strategies and digital presence to maintain sustained levels of brand recognition.

“The market opportunity in India is very large and every brand, be it domestic or international, caters to specific consumer segments and specialises in offering products that are true to their brand. Therefore, creating a strong value proposition is the need of the hour and both international and domestic brands are working towards catering to the fashion needs of Indian consumers across segments,” concludes Vasanth Kumar.