Bringing trendy ethnic fashion to evolving consumers

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In an age where brick-and-mortar retailers are wrestling with issues of creating lasting value and relevance, there are some homegrown retailers who are aiming for a pan India presence by offering the best to their customers.

One such retailer is Soch. From a humble start in 2005, when Founder & MD Manohar Chatlani started the brand with a store in Bangalore, the brand is today 180-store strong. From being a pure ethnic player in the initial days, Soch has transformed into a stylish brand that retails trendy Indian fashion across categories such as tunics, palazzos, fusion suits and stoles, apart from traditional staples such as salwar-kameez, kurtis, dress materials and sarees, at delightful prices.

Today, Soch finds a prominent place in the wardrobes of Indian women because of its exclusive designs that keep pace with the rapidly changing trends in ethnic fashion. Adding to its exciting array of styles, the brand has launched a new collection for the festive season for discerning women consumers. The collection offers stunning salwar suits in deep earthy shades of mustards and olives, fresh pastels with intricate gold and silver work and elegant embroidery that are ideal for evening ensembles. “This season, we are betting big on dupattas with elaborate gota work which are great style companions for the festivities,” states Vinay M. Chatlani, Director & CEO, Soch.

“Our key difference from the competition is our range and variety, and how we respond nimbly to market needs across these categories. I believe we are unique in the spread of our off erings—sarees, salwar suits, kurtis, dress materials and bottom wear. In that sense, we believe that a consumer can walk into Soch for a wardrobe solution for most needs and occasions,” states Chatlani.

The Evolving Ethnic Wear Market

The Indian ethnic wear market is quite large and accommodates a wide variety of players, where premium designers are a niche part of this market and address very specific needs. While there has been a rise is designers with prêt lines, Soch caters to a much larger and wider audience across the country.

According to Chatlani, despite the growing popularity of western wear, ethnic wear is still the biggest category in women’s wear in India. Nowadays more and more consumers are embracing ethnic wear as their garment of choice during various occasions and festivities.

“Backed by the rise in disposable income among consumers, influence of social media and celebrities in buying decision as well as easy accessibility with e-commerce and Omnichannel routes, we see more consumers choosing to showcase their individuality and style with the new expressions of ethnic wear,” he says.

“We have a wide variety that we off er our consumers and cater to the needs of different segments of consumers with our offerings. We believe that a large chunk of consumption in the ethnic wear market will be driven by the movement from unbranded to branded, and that there’s enough scope for different brands, retailers and designers to thrive,” he adds.

Till now, ethnic wear, as a segment has been traditionally looked upon as catering largely to an older age group. However, the segment is undergoing a massive transition and Soch is witnessing a revival of interest in this category among younger consumers as well. Another factor driving the younger populace to pick ethnic wear is the influence of celebrities and social media.

The influence of Bollywood, especially the new generation of actresses and micro influencers makes a great case for ethnic wear in as far as younger consumers are concerned. For example, actresses wearing ethnic makes an impact on the younger crop of women consumers, who begin to see ethnic wear as cool and fashionable.

With options from traditional silhouettes for a very rooted look to mix-and-match clothing, the brand is providing outfits for that contemporary ethnic look, luring in younger consumers who wish to use ethnic wear to showcase their creativity and sense of style. For instance, sarees have gained momentum with several young consumers opting for it.

“This category has largely been underserviced up till now but is making up for it. You will see a plethora of launches across large retail houses to small independent brands, trying to carve a niche for themselves and garner the consumer’s attention and a share of the growing spends on this category. For big box retailers, I think the choice is not to say I will give this category more space at the expense of others, but to keep their finger on the pulse of the consumers and shift their merchandise mix accordingly to satisfy more consumers,” states Chatlani.

Changing Consumer Behaviour

Associating ethnic wear with only festive and occasion wear is fast changing. As Chatlani puts it, “It is definitely the outfit of choice for special occasions, but we are seeing it also evolve into a preferred option for daily outings, airport travel and work wear as well. People are in an experimental mode with the category, and the sheer width of the category aids that. Consumers across ages – be it Gen Z, Millennials, middle-aged and older women – have more to choose from, right from fabrics and designs to colours and cuts. The comfort and versatility of ethnic wear has made it an active choice for many young women as well.”

Also, with ethnic wear borrowing some influences from the latest trends in western wear, the style of clothing is gaining more popularity than ever before. Chatlani feels that western wear has helped create an altogether new language of ethnic wear, which is today less bound by rules and is worn as per the person’s needs and desires. For example, salwar kurtis have now evolved – in some instances – into kurtis paired with pants/palazzos and the humble dupatta has moved from a functional part of the outfi t to being a key accessory.

“We are confident that the ethnic wear market, across the spectrum of occasion wear, work formals and casual wear will witness a rise in demand in the next decade, aided by the increasing choice in styles across different price points,” he asserts.

Future Plans

Soch has been strengthening its occasion wear range, to introduce options across price ranges for festive and semi festive usage. In addition, the brand is also looking at enabling a greater expression of creativity for its consumers with a larger curation of mix-and-match styles – separates that will be designed to be versatile and be paired with different garments to create multiple unique looks.

“We see an increasing desire for mix-and-match in their garments among our consumers, so they are not stuck with a single way to wear something, but are able to easily reinvent their looks, and that is our inspiration for this new range,” says Chatlani.

Soch currently has 180+ touch points across 45 cities. “In the next couple of years, we are looking to double the touch points with considerable doors coming via large format stores. A crucial part of demand for us will come from Tier II and III cities as I believe consumers in these cities are just as aspirational in their desires but are constrained by availability. In our next phase of expansion, we are looking to increase our footprint in these towns,”he says.

Currently, Soch largely services Tier II and III cities through e-commerce and Omnichannel routes. At the same time, the brand is also looking to expand its range on the online platforms, which would lead to more contented customers.

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