A pair of jeans can be found in practically everyone’s wardrobe – from a hardcore ethnic Indian wear patron to someone who has a collection of trousers in practically every colour. Life without that pair of jeans is unimaginable something which has fuelled the imagination of the fashion retail industry for decade now. In fact, the apparel industry across the globe has been unanimous in positioning denim bottoms as the king of all apparel, leading to a plethora of brands entering this category, specially so post the e-commerce revolution. However, despite the number of brands entering the space, the denim market – especially in India – is very oligopolistic in nature, with just a few category leaders enjoying their premium position.
IMAGES Business of Fashion speaks with key players of denim wear in India to find out what they are doing to remain relevant in a field which sees a new brand s with new designs entering every day.
Tracking the Growth
Denims have become a lifestyle statement in India, a wardrobe staple that the Millennial and the Gen-Xer can’t do without. The revolution has been so complete that even Baby Boomers have become denim connoisseurs, building up their jeans wardrobe with different shapes, cuts, washes and finishes according to what they want to wear on a daily basis.
But, what make denims relevant in India, a country which takes pride in its rich Indian wear?
Explaining the relevance, Sanjay Vakharia, Chief Executive Officer, Spykar Lifestyle says, “As we all know, India is a country with a population that has relatively meager resources, and hence to them, it is important that retailers provide solutions which are more value for money and relatively long lasting and ones which need low maintenance. On all these attributes, denims score very high. They need not be washed as much and as many times; they never die, just fade, and last really long. And in recent times, the category and the industry has also initiated multiple initiatives to conserve resources and contribute to a healthier and less polluted planet. It seems that jeans are here to stay, due to the versatility they offer.”
This point of view holds strong ground especially since a pair of denim jeans is a wardrobe essential for all – irrespective of class, caste, region and sex. In India, the denim revolution isn’t old – just a 3-decade journey – but the fabric’s influence on the wardrobe has grown phenomenally, especially so in the last decade post the online revolution which has made jeans accessible to people in the remotest location in India and at price points that suit their pockets.
Talking about the factors which influence growth of the category, Neha Shah, Assistant General Manager – Marketing, Pepe Jeans India Limited says, “Owing to westernisation, urbanisation and various other factors such as new technologies, styles, finishes, looks and trends, denim as a category has captured not only the cities, but also Tier I & II towns. Denims are widely accepted not only because of their functionality but also due to their versatility. Economic factors also have a role to play. Disposable incomes, young population, job growth, the online penetration of denims and increasing popularity of engineered or distressed pieces, indirectly contribute to consumer spending and in turn impact the fashion industry.”
Contrary to what popular belief, that it is only in Tier I cities and towns that brand consciousness exists, the branded market is favoured not just in urban areas, but in the hinterland as well, says Neha Shah.
“As more international brands foray into the country and move to Tier II & III cities, a growing preference is seen among consumers in those towns as it comes with a ‘tag’ that is the brand name as well as the aspirational value. India is a big market and is continuing to grown year-on-year at an increasing rate. Denim is an ever growing market which refuses to die,” she states.
Kewalchand P Jain, Chairman & Managing Director, Kewal Kiran Clothing Limited adds, “Denim is the versatile apparel with multiple applications like casual wear, work wear and everyday use. It has come a long way from being a modest piece of apparel to being an indispensable apparel for everyone’s wardrobe. With the advent of new work culture taking to our cities, comfort is the key and what could be more comfortable than a pair of denims which has also become a semi-formal wear and the other trend that is being observed is one person owning several pairs of jeans.”
Jain reveals that men’s denim wear accounts for largest share and is poised to grow at a high CAGR of 12.7 percent over the next decade. “Organised/ branded sector has been the biggest beneficiary of this with its presence all across and also varied offerings for all from men, women and even children,” he cites.
Leading By Way of Category Innovation
To keep pace with the growing demand, it remains imperative for the leaders to keep tabs on the changing demand dynamics which call for category expansion. The credit for the acceptance and growth of denims can be attributed to the advent of new clothing like pants, jeggings and athleisure collection which have had a played phenomenal role in driving the growth for the denim segment.
“People want to look good and feel good. Denim is becoming more about comfort with style. Brands have identified this trend and have started innovating with the material, keeping in mind softness, light weight, great stretch, flexibility, durability, etc. that has excited college goers, business travelers, daily commuters, holiday travelers, outdoor enthusiast, etc. as people are looking for multitasking apparels that can take them through morning to night without compromising on comfort or style,” Shah points out.
“The stretch jeans and slim jeans that uses 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. We have over the years seen demand for stretch jeans escalate over others due to their comfort and durability as a sportswear,” says Jain.
On the rise of brand consciousness, Vakharia adds, “The inclination towards branded denims is increasing among consumers. Buyers are getting quality and style conscious. We also see increased penetration of denims happening in the lower tiers of the country, due to rising aspiration levels.”
Dealing With Competition
Market leaders have before them the tough task of maintaining their leadership position. This includes having to constantly innovate and acting swiftly to market research reports on changing trends. Vakharia and his team ensure that their focus is on a young audience who is looking for global fashion, great quality and attractive price points.
On dealing with competition, Vakharia shares, “Competition helps you to be on your toes. The customer is spoilt for choice, but in a category like denim, stickiness is high. Once the buyer is comfortable with the fit, quality, design and price offered – largely stays with the brand.”
He adds that what makes Spykar stay ahead of competition is be their undisputed forte in denims. “The fabric and the garment need high precision and technical skill sets compared to many other categories of clothing. There are fewer vendors in the country who have the same. The success of jeans solely depends on how it fits you.
This expertise of creating the right fit for each different torso is with again a few. In context to India, Spykar is one of the few who have always got this right.
Besides the fact that we have been the best and most premier manufacturers for the last 27 years, of denims, in India, Spykar has developed fits only for the Indian subcontinent consumers and hence rated very high in appreciation of its fits. The processing or popularly termed washing, of the denims is again one of the most demanding skill sets and our processing is most admired even by our strongest competitor,” he says.
Talking about the plan of action that is put in place at Pepe, Shah reveals, “Keeping in mind the on-going trend and needs of the customer, Pepe jeans constantly innovates, is easily accessible and offers variety in order to be on top of minds. Through market research, we look at what data is telling us and accordingly rely on our insights to determine the best course of action. It is also critical to study the evolving market, changing consumer buying preferences and patterns and incorporate this insight when working on the larger brand growth strategy. Pricing has been a crucial point when it comes to a customer’s purchase decision. Price sensitivity continues to exist in the Indian market. However, many brands have identified this behavior and are now repositioning the brands in terms of prices so that they can cater not only to sec A but also to the mid-level segment. Brands are introducing denims across all price segments to cater to a wider audience. Pepe Jeans too has denims starting from Rs 1,799 for the e-commerce partners where the customer is more price sensitive. Denims at our stores go from Rs 1,799 to Rs 3,499.”
Using pricing as one of the differentiating factors, Jain states that his brand does not believe in selling products on discounted rates as it dilutes the brand and does not add value.
“A majority of brands in the market became discount brands by offering discounts throughout the year. Kewal Kiran Clothing’s denim brands Killer, Integriti, LawmanPg3 and Easies have protected its brand proposition by remaining as full price denim. Majority of the brands in the market have been focussing on growing sales and not making sufficient profits to sustain in the long run, whereas Kewal Kiran has been focussing on profitability of more than 20 percent EBIDTA and more than 12 percent at PAT level and maintained these in the last three decades of its existence as leading denim brand,” he explains, adding, “To keep up in the face of competition we would still want to work on innovating new designs, patterns, devise marketing campaigns to launch our new theme based products, reaching out through large format stores and MBOs through interesting concepts like Shop-in-shop where the customer would actually get feel of the product before purchasing it.”
The reach of the brand too has a lot to do with its success. Spykar for example has a pan India reach across all sales formats by being present in 350 cities across 240 exclusive brand outlets, 1,200+ multi-brand touch points, marketplace and their own webstore. Killer too has a strong distribution network spread across 29 States and 209 cities in the country.
In addition to having a stronghold on the fit and fabric, Spykar retains and lures patrons by means of designing attractive offers and premium quality freebies. Vakharia shares, “Our loyalty program keeps the members engaged with privileges which are far better than the cheap thrills.”
One of the prominent initiative undertaken by Pepe to stand out from its competitors would be that of launching the Custom Studio concept. Elaborating on this, Shah says, “We were the first brand in India to introduce a denim customization service that allowed the customer to step into the design seat and personalise their denim in a few easy steps. First, pick a laser print to be tattooed on the denim. Next choose the fastenings – be it buttons, rivets or tacks. Then select the brush of the garment and where exactly you want it. Lastly, choose the colours you want your print to be in. Pepe Jeans’s customisation service empowers the customer with the opportunity for personalization; and therein lays a powerful tool that will revolutionize denim fashion in India. This service can be availed at our flagship stores in Mumbai, Delhi, Gurgaon, Bangalore and Kolkata.”
One cannot leave behind the power of social media in brand building. Shah highlights, “Social media is one of the best ways to connect with today’s youth as they are highly active on various social platforms like Instagram, Facebook and twitter by creating engaging content, run contests where winners get gift vouchers to drive them to the store and other various initiatives like influencer marketing that is a current trend.”
She further adds, “We try to sync our offline styles through online promotions through our social media pages by creating engaging content through contests where winners get gift vouchers to drive them to the store, we advertise through billboards, SMS, mall activations, drop downs at malls, print ads, etc. to ensure steady footfalls at the store.”
Competition does not mean sabotaging the competitor, but it entails ensuring that no stones are left unturned in moving ahead and this is the mantra that the leaders in this category have stuck to. If we look at the work done by players like Pepe Jeans, Spykar and Killer, it comes to the forefront that despite growing competition, especially so from the lesser known brands and those from the unorganized category, they have remained stuck to their core competence and brand philosophy. To conclude, being innovative and keeping tabs on market demands without compromising on the essence on which the brand is built is what keep the leaders ahead in the game.