The Indian apparel industry has traditionally been largely driven by women; it was always the women who were more inclined towards fashion trends. Men’s purchases were need based. However, the tables have turned now as an increasing number of men are paying greater attention to their grooming and appearance and are making more apparel-related purchases based on fashion trends rather than need. And since, the Indian men’s wear market is skewed towards western wear, the market has seen tremendous evolution in recent years.
In terms of organised fashion retail, the men’s western wear market has been the biggest, with the formal wear segment being the largest contributor over the years.
“Men’s western wear accounts for at least 60- 70 percent of the overall fashion market in India. A few years back, the growth was about 10-12 percent which, unfortunately, has come down since the last 2 years due to weak market performance in the overall fashion sector,” reveals Saurabh Singh, Head of Design Menswear, Being Human Clothing.
“Western wear for men was adopted as standard office or work clothes as early as a century ago in India. Collared shirts, suits and jacket were the earliest adopted categories, even sported by political leaders of yesteryears like Lala Lajpat Rai, Jawahar Lal Nehru, BR Ambedkar, etc. Post-independence most of India’s elite continued wearing western wear with the trend especially becoming a stape with professionals and office goers,” says Sandeep Khapra, Design Head – Menswear, Max Fashion.
One of the biggest triggers for western wear was the adoption of western clothes in Bollywood and South Indian Cinema in the 70s. This brought core categories like shirts and trousers to the masses as daily wear. Although customised tailoring was the norm back in the day and the only option, the RTW segment frogleaped to popularity by late nineties, especially in urban centres, and ever since, the segment has grown rapidly and outpaced the RTS segment in the western wear market in India.
Although the men’s western wear segment has been traditionally dominated by formal wear, the segment has, in recent years, seen growth coming from other segments as well, including massive contribution from casual wear and sportswear. With the turn of the century, slowly casual wear categories like t-shirts and jeans started replacing shirts and trousers. Easy access to Hollywood and international fashion because of internet led this change.
Today, western wear is flourishing in India, not only in the men’s segment but in women’s and kids’ segments as well. “A young population, increased disposable income, urbanisation and relaxed dress codes are mainly driving growth in the men’s western wear market. Influx of foreign brands and expansion of domestic and foreign brands/retailers in Tier I and II cities will keep driving growth of western wear further. There are category extensions and new subcategories that have evolved and will keep evolving. At present, comfort and mobility is driving thedesign and product direction,” avers Vinit Doshi, Head – Product, Planning & Sourcing, Celio.
However, the big change in the men’s formal wear market came post 2010 with the entry of a few big fast fashion retailers. This and the emergence of e-commerce brought menswear market in India almost at pace with international trends.
The Evolving Market
India is among the world’s fastest growing fashion markets and very naturally, like all other categories, the men’s western wear category is evolving at a accelerated rate too. Ephemeral fashion cycles brought in by fast fashion bigwigs and increased inclination towards comfort, mobility and sustainability is fast changing the template of the game.
“With the advent of international fast-fashion retailers, new collections are launched four to eight times a year and consumers have been conditioned to buying the latest trends. Mostly, these products are designed to become obsolete in six months. Although, fast fashion is not a sustainable concept, most fast-fashion retailers have realized the impact on the environment and as well as how sustainability is a key desirable of the millennial customer base. So, most have started adopting sustainable practices and creating sustainable products,” reveals Khapra.
As brands in the segment are aligning their businesses to comply with the expected standards of sustainability, the segment has witnessed rigorous innovation in recent years. “Sustainability is being adopted across fibre and fabric categories. Today, almost every fabric mill has a collection of sustainable product range. New innovations in fibers, fabrics and finishing technology is helping brands adopt more of environmentally sustainable products like recycled/ organic cotton, yarns made form PET bottles, less water and limiting chemical usage in processing, etc,” says Doshi.
The global trend of casualization, that has gained unprecedented momentum in India, has also metamorphosed the men’s western wear market. In the recent past, a profusion of factors has 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. “The increasing preference globally towards casual dressing in most corporate spaces is proving to be a huge drive for smart casual wear options. Also, consumer’s changing lifestyle pattern has provided a huge boost to this category,” says Pragati Srivastava, Brand Head – Parx.
“Today, looking good as well as being comfortable is the trend. Active wear has become an essential part of modern life, especially in metros. The shift from formal attire to comfort-oriented casual attire is driving the market for men’s t-shirts, alongside the demand for denim. Bottomwear sees an acceptance with a variety of colors. No more sticking to just blacks, blues and greys anymore in the men’s western wear category,” adds Sanjay Vakharia, CEO, Spykar.
Just as the market and the trends have changed, men’s western wear, as a category has adapted to tremendous product diversification in the recent years. “Absolutely!” says Saurabh Singh.
“With the rise of causal and sportswear, product diversifi cation has been very much evident in the men’s formal wear segment. E.g., the new wave of Athleisure, which can be described as a hybrid between causal clothing and performance sportswear, this is an exciting time for menswear,” he adds.
“Society has changed tremendously in a relatively short time and concepts such as Androgynous, Street Fashion, etc., continue to grow. This has led to the emergence of a ‘new man’ who is more fashion-forward and open to experimentation. The fashion industry was quick to capitalize on this shift and new categories such as Athleisure wear, have emerged,” states Vakharia.
Personalisation – a Key Trend
Although the Indian formal wear industry is dominated by the ready to wear segment, a trend of opting for customized made-to-measure fi ts has been registered in the last few years mostly among the young, style conscious, financially stable men of today.
“Custom tailoring has been an historical part of men’s western wear. Especially in India, it had been the norm, much before ready-to-wear clothing came in. Today, it still contributes substantially to the men’s western wear market in India. Personalisation is common in the formal wear, occasion wear and casual wear segments and in denims,” says Singh.
“Product personalisation is happening mainly in men’s formal wear. In the casual wear space, this category still needs to grow as there are challenges to creating a personalised look. For example, a denim washed look, overdyed shirts, graphic t-shirts, etc., are some of the product types where it is difficult to get a personalised effect on the garment,” reveals Srivastava.
Advent of International Brands
The advent of a slew of international brands have ensured that the competition is high in the men’s western wear segment in India. Armedwith better facilities and a strong supply chain, these brands can afford to bring latest trends very quickly to the market and offer stiff competition to domestic and home grown brands. “Competition is hot, there is intense pressure on Indian brands and retailers, especially in the western wear, and international players are naturally advantaged to off er authentic trends in this area. However Indian players are in the lead when it comes to logistics costs and market understanding,” says Khapra.
The result is that, brands in the space have been compelled to constantly innovate with both production and product. “The men’s western wear market is witnessing a great progression. Be it prints, silhouettes, fabric, kind of treatment given – a lot of experimentation is happening in the category. A variety of options is a welcome relief to otherwise a restricted wardrobe,” says Vakharia.
“Absolutely! Innovations are happening fast, and the most notable ones are related to sustainability with new materials being made from alternate sources like farm waste or grown in labs algae substitute for leather. As a brand we are looking to adapt to changes as and when they happen and keep a close eye on all the innovations for chance to adopt early,” says Singh.
The way men approach fashion and personal style is evolving from what it used to be. Today, men are far more aware of their choices. This is a clear testimonial that the western men’s wear market is set to grow at a rapid pace in the coming years. With increase in online shopping behaviour, the market is going to grow deeper into small towns and even rural areas.
Social media platforms are only going to add the demand for the trendy clothes in the coming years. While digitally strong retailers are going to gain leadership in the youth market, competition will certainly intensify. The only brands which can sustain are the ones who are willing to keep pace with changing times and changing consumer preferences.
(With inputs from Gurbir Singh Gulati)