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The changing preferences of men’s denim in India

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What could be more masculine than a pair of jeans? Sturdy, utilitarian and yet classically stylish, over the last century denim has become the new ‘trousers’ of choice for men around the world. It’s surprising though, how a simple piece of fabric could set off such a lasting cultural impact around the globe from being the badge of the rebel to the mainstream wardrobe staple that it is today.

Denim looks cool, is comfortable and requires less maintenance, hence it naturally became the go to fashion statement of men around the world. Over the last 150 years, denim’s evolution trajectory has been acutely ephemeral, yet what has stood the test of time is its growing popularity and consequently, the bludgeoning market share across the globe.

The Indian Scenario

Denim is one of the biggest segments in the Indian fashion industry. According to India’s leading management consulting firm Technopak the denim wear market in India is dominated by the men’s segment. Of the total market share of Rs 29,203 crore in 2018, the men’s segment accounts for ~ 86 percent and is growing at a CAGR of 12 percent YoY.

“The men’s denim wear segment is the fastest growing segment. Men’s denim wear accounts for largest share and is poised to grow at a high CAGR of 12 percent over the next decade. Branded sector has been the biggest beneficiary of this with its presence all across and also varied offering in men’s wear,” says Hemant P Jain, Managing Director, Killer Jeans.

Earlier, denim was a prerogative of the affluent and urbane men. But eventually, the trend caught on and demand for denim started to rise. Today, denim enjoys equal demand throughout the length and breadth of the country – right from upscale metropolitan metrosexuals to the blue collar working men from the country’s rural hinterlands. “Until a few years ago, denim was only popular with men in urban cities but gradually it has got its acceptance in semi–urban and rural markets as well and the factors which have led to this growth is growing awareness of and increasing affinity for global fashion. Now, denim is considered as the most versatile fabric for men with multiple applications over work wear, casual wear and everyday wear,” says Rishabh Oswal, Executive Director, Monte Carlo.

Changing Rules of the Game

Over the years, consumers have evolved tremendously. Fashion consciousness has accelerated across demographics as a result of the changing lifestyles, increasing incomes, wider penetration of the media in the country and percolation of the internet as a whole. Growing trend and brand awareness stemming from international travels and the growth of social media has led to increased consciousness and more awareness of global fashion trends, resulting in a much more aware and demanding consumer.

“Denims have changed tremendously over the years. And all this entails rigorous innovations done in the styling, fits, wash, etc. Now denims give a neater and fitter look than they used to be earlier. Even the fabric is improvised to make it comfortable, durable and fashionable. We at Monte Carlo have recently launched anti-odour, water repellent and temperature control denims,” says Rishabh Oswal.

The need for sustainable production has become an imperative over the past years in fashion. This holds especially relevant to the denim segment, considering the incredible amounts of water and toxic dyes used in manufacturing jeans. In line with this, denim companies are now compelled to embrace greener methods and are also making effort to develop new techniques of producing jeans, as a part of their business strategies to protect the environment as well as connect to the consumer.

“There have been conscious efforts from brands, manufacturers and category leaders in developing and adopting innovative technology for sustainable and as environmental friendly options. New technology helps reduce water and chemical consumption. There are denim fabrics made using post-consumer waste like recycled pet bottles, etc. Laser finishing technology and better wet processing technology helps substantial reduction in water consumption,” says Vinit Doshi, Head – Product, Sourcing & Retail Planning, Celio*.

Emphasising on how brands and manufacturers in India have caught on the trend of sustainable production in the recent years, Pragati Srivastava, GM & Brand Head, Parx states, “Indian denim manufacturing in recent times has been constantly upgrading and evolving like never before. Innovation being the key factor with the introduction of laser machines, e-flow and ozone machines, the industry has started focusing on the eco-sustainable alternative to the hazardous chemicals. Even eco-friendly trims have slowly started replacing the conventional trims.”

Influence of Sportswear

In the recent years, as comfort and practicality started gaining attention among the liberated millennials, the demand for sports inspired casual fashion grew. The trend was so viral that it started making dents on sales of denim across the world. In 2014, sales of jeans in the U.S. fell 6 percent to US$ 16 billion, whereas sales of yoga pants and other active wear recorded a 7 percent increase, as per the market research firm NPD Group. Even Levi’s revealed a 5 percent drop in their worldwide sales the same year.

Denim manufacturers were quick to pick up on the cue and the result was a more comfortable and sporty variety of denim that was fit for everyday use. This also resulted in the invention of stretch in denims, making it super comfortable and stylish to wear.

“Denim used to be only 100 percent cotton and did not allow for a lot of movement. With sportswear and athleisure coming into the fashion spectrum, we see a lot of innovation in the denim fabric itself, where elastane and polyester are blended with cotton to allow for more flexibility and provide greater movement,” says Manu Sharma, Business Head, Replay.

The influence of sportswear can also be seen in denim styling, with the introduction of products such as joggers and jeggings. Usage of sporty taping on jeans is also in trend to give denims a more athleisure look and feel. And this succeeded in breathing new life into the would’s favourite blue fabric and also ended up bolstering the growth of the segment as a whole.

“The impact of sportswear has been phenomenal in driving the growth of the denim segments. The stretch jeans which uses the stretch fabric is the closest match to sportswear due to its durability and comfort besides being an all-weather apparel and the recent launch of new athleisure, it has altogether redefined and also played a crucial role in reinventing the use of denims which has had a complete makeover,” says Hemant P Jain.

What’s Trending

While basic jeans will always have a cult following, fashion jeans are the call of the season. The growing consumer awareness with regards fashion runways and trends has been a catalyst for the denim brands to become design and fashion oriented. A hot favourite especially among the youth of the country, fashion denim is what Hemant P Jain calls the ‘need of the hour for all denim brands’.

“Fashion denim is a dominating trend because in today’s era people opt for better choices in terms of washes and designs. They don’t want basic designs in denim anymore. Various designs that are eye-catching and have cuts and embellishments have uplifted denim to another level,” states Rishabh Oswal.

But if experts were to be believed, this has not hampered either the sales or demand of basic denims.

Denims enjoys a large consumer base; apart from the youth it also enjoys unsurpassed demand among adults and senior citizens alike. This section mainly looks for comfort and fabric rather than fashion. Therefore, it can be safely vouched that basic jeans is not likely to go out of the fashion scene any time soon. “Basic denims will always form the core of a denim brand’s portfolio. These are the denims that brand loyalists and denim lovers come back for. They last for multiple seasons and are the jeans that people live in,” asserts Manu Sharma.

Traditionally, black and blue were the staple denim colors in the Indian market. But the consumers of today are willing to experiment with newer colors and shades. “Denims are no longer are restricted to blue or black colors. The trending colors and most in demand colors in this segment are grey, brown, green and even white. The market is also welcoming experimental colors and designs,” says Hemant P Jain.

Pastel jeans are also a big trend in the Indian market today with popular colors like teal, aqua marine, etc., along with Sulphur based colors. “Black and blue jeans are considered an essential item in most wardrobes, which can be paired with a wide range of colours. Brands do introduce new colours for jeans but these colour stories tend to be seasonal or theme based. In the coming season, we will see a lot of metallic tones,” asserts Manu Sharma.

In terms of fits, skinny fit and cropped length denims have been trending for quite some time now and are expected to continue being in vogue. “Boyfriend fits and anything that is slightly baggy, bootcut and jeans with extra flare are currently in trend. Low waist jeans are coming back along with hyper high waist jeans,” explains Manu Sharma.

Denim brands are also focused on achieving different hues of blue by bleaches or other agents that affect the denim colour and washing the fabric in certain dyes. The new denim fabric washes that are in trend these days are dark indigo, faded blue/vintage/aged, stone wash and distressed look.

“In the coming years, we expected strong growth in the premium denim segment, mostly because the young Indian consumer is well-travelled, more brand-savvy and has a higher disposable income,” states Manu Sharma.

The Road Ahead

Denim’s acceptability has transcended metropolitan cities. There is an increasing acceptability of denim amongst all sections of the Indian society. As one of the most popular men’s fashion apparel in the country, the market is expected to witness huge growth in the coming years. With the country’s ever-expanding economy, booming consumption, urbanisation, and growing middle class purchasing power, denim wear has a huge opportunity to grow in the country.

The increasing shift of the rural fashion market from ethnic wear to western wear is one of the key growth drivers of denim industry. The large youth population with rising disposable income and awareness towards fashion will act as a catalyst in the growth of denim wear in the country.

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