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Denim at the forefront of the western wear revolution in India

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Denim is a legend in itself. It’s the world’s favourite blue fabric and has an iconic history. Over the years, denim has single-handedly revolutionised the western wear market around the globe. In India too, while western wear was somewhat limited to the well-heeled only, it was denim that brought it to the mainstream. In addition, it also tagged along a radical change in urban lifestyle and changed the way the country consumed western fashion forever.

Growth Drivers

The denim industry in India has witnessed rapid growth triggered by increasing usage of western wear by the fashion conscious youth.

The inclination to denim was being witnessed due to the growing youth population and pop-culture, which has been the main reason for fashion revolution in the country. “Its use as an all-weather and evergreen piece of apparel for all (men, women and even children) helped it get the attention and created a large market for it which was not so for any other piece of clothing earlier. Also, the he most important factor has been its durability and maintenance in the long run which actually turns out cost-eff ective for all,” says Kewalchand P Jain, Chairman & Managing Director, Killer Jeans.

E-commerce and social media have dramatically boosted the growth of denim in the country, especially in organized category. While the access to brands and discounts has opened up a new arena for consumers it has also been instrumental in providing brands with a robust platform that promises both exposure and penetration to remote locations.

The digital boom has also been a positive player for brands in terms of capturing newer avenues. “Brands have been able to gauge customers’ taste through e-commerce and set up physical presence in remote locations,” says Jain.

Moreover, as mobile devices continue to permeate deeper into smaller cities and towns, the nation has increasingly gravitated towards western wear.

This has definitely turned to denim’s advantage. “I think the openness to adapt to change among people comes more from the western culture, movies, celebrities, social media influencers, etc. People want to look good and feel good,” says Neha Shah, Assistant General Manager – Marketing, Pepe Jeans.

Also, parallel to the growing preference towards comfort, jeans are now acceptable office garb even in smaller towns in India. This is another major factor that have propelled denim into wardrobes across the nation.

“Gone are the days when people’s perception of work wear use to be ‘what you wear is what you do’ wherein professionalism was always symbolised by a suit and tie / formal wear. People have evolved and are opting smart casuals for business meetings which also include smart denim wear, as business no longer happens only in boardrooms but at café shops, business events, etc.,” adds Shah.

The Denim Market in India

Denim commands the biggest share of the western wear market in India. Even in rural areas, denim is a staple across wardrobes with most men and teenager girls opting denim wear over traditional outfits.

According to India’s leading management consulting firm, Technopak Advisors, the denim wear market in India is estimated to be around Rs 29,203 crore in 2018. As one of the most popular western wear categories in the country, the it is expected to grow at CAGR of 12 percent and reach Rs 91,894 by 2028. Denim wear market in India is dominated by men’s segment, accounting ~ 86 percent of the total market size.

“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 Jain.

However, the women’s denim wear segment is expected to show higher CAGR than the men’s segment. The women’s denim category in India is expected to grow at a CAGR of 14.5 percent over the next 10 years to reach Rs 39,651 crore by 2021, and Rs 77,999 crore by 2026.

The denim market in India is finally coming of age. The industry is no longer a poor imitation of hip western culture or a limited edition of elitist apparel: they’re becoming both a fashionable art and a major growth industry. While international denim brands like Pepe Jeans, Levi’s, Wrangler, etc., have witnessed rapid growth over last few years, a slew of Indian brands have emerged across all segments of the Indian denim market (premium, medium and value for money).

Naturally as the market matures, the competition has increased manifolds. Moreover, the denim wear market in India is extremely fragmented, which has further led to increased competition.

“Domestic players have to up their game when evaluating consumer preferences and insights and have a faster turnaround of their collections in order to gain the attention of style conscious Indians. Price points will inevitably be a major concern as more and more new brands enter, the customer will look for style and function in one at a specific price point. Another prominent development is the rise of private labels that are eating into the share of the already cluttered market,” states Shah.

Also, the country’s promising consumer ecosystem over the past few years has opened its gate to some of the biggest brands in the denim world and their success has continually enticed others to explore the opportunities in the calmer Indian waters. In the premium and super premium segment, the global brands have an advantage while at the lower and mid segment the advantage lies with the domestic brands with their larger retail presence across the country. At the same time, the entry of these global brands has compelled the domestic brands to ante up their offerings, resulting in a highly evolved market replete with high quality products.

Competition Leads to Innovation

Currently, the Indian consumers are at par with their global peers. They are a lot more evolved with their shopping choices and are constantly seeking novelty in experiences. So, in order to cater to these discerning consumer base, and constant pressure from established global brands, home grown brands are compelled to ante up their game. Domestic brands today are fast catching up with their international counterparts in terms of design, innovation and adoption of technology.

“The global brands as well as the domestic brands are becoming equally competitive with regards to launching new products, the fashion quotient, stretch and using light weight fabrics, varying colors, styling, detailing, etc. Domestic brands are also matching up to their foreign competitors with new kinds of innovations in design, pattern, stitches and colors as per consumer choices,” asserts Jain.

Many brands are now re-positioning themselves in terms of prices too, 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.

Also, as the demand for sports inspired, casual fashion with focus on comfortability grew, Indian denim manufacturers have been compelled to concentrate on more comfortable and sporty denims fit for everyday use.

“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-like look and feel. And this succeeded in breathing new life into the world’s favourite blue fabric and also ended up bolstering the growth of the segment as a whole.

Sustainability: An Expected Standard

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 has been a conscious effort from brands, manufacturers and category leaders in developing and adopting innovative technology for sustainable and environmentally 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 adds, “Indian denim manufacturing in recent times has been constantly upgrading and evolving like never before. Innovation is a key factor with the introduction of laser machines, e-fl ow and ozone machines and the industry has started focusing on eco-sustainable alternatives over hazardous chemicals. Eco-friendly trims have slowly started replacing conventional ones.”

Small Towns Are Big Business Hubs

It’s no news that India’s retail revolution is gaining momentum in the country’s smaller cities. A huge base of aspirational consumers, lower estate cost and plethora of other factors have culminated in compelling fashion retailers to make a beeline for Tier II and Tier III towns. Especially for the denim segment these small towns hold immense potential. Traditionally, these places were dominated by the unorganised sector. As exposure grew over the years, consumers have exhibited a high inclination towards brands.

It is noteworthy to mention here that the big unorganised market poses as the biggest challenge in the denim wear sector in India.

“In my opinion, the two major challenges that are a hindrance to the growth of denim wear in the country have been unorganised players in the segment and the discounts they and other brands off er to the customer. They are a major roadblock, not letting this segment get the growth it deserves. Hence brands are sometimes forced to compromise on quality and other crucial aspects. Unbranded denim products constitute to about 70 percent of the market share and this trend needs to change with regards to domestic market,” says Jain.

The Road Ahead

In this globalised era, the denim wear segment in India like many other traditional product segment is undergoing an astounding change of perception as well as evolution. With India’s expanding economy, booming consumption, urbanizing population, and growing middle class income, denimwear has a huge potential and opportunity to grow.

With right knowledge of consumer preference and global best practices, denim wear brands can exploit the available growth opportunities in domestic denim wear market.

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