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The changing paradigm of women’s ethnic wear in India

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India boasts of a rich and ancient textile and clothing heritage that has continued to evolve through time. While the nation is taking big strides towards modernization, its citizens are still traditionalists at heart, especially when it comes to expressing their culture and heritage through fashion.

Traditionally, ethnic wear in India was largely derigueur for occasions, festivals and weddings. But in the course of time, as functionality and comfort started taking a centerstage in fashion, the entire template of ethnic wear was subjected to a thorough overhaul. Especially in the women’s section, the category today covers a wide spectrum of sartorial elegance — from inherently classic to more contemporary avatars; from everyday wear, festive wear to ensembles that befit even corporate boardrooms.

“Customers love pure ethnics as occasion wear, but with the emergence of fusion wear, they have found something that they can fl aunt on a daily basis. The fusion wear category includes myriad ensembles right from kurtis, kameez and tunics, etc., which can be paired with fitted pants, tides, palazzos and even long skirts. Then there are gowns and anarkalis, maxis and nighties converted into stylized and comfortable maxi dresses,” explains Chaitali Giri, Fashion Designer, Chic by Chaitalibiplab.

India’s Flourishing Ethnic Wear Market

The ethnic wear market in India makes up a significant share of the total fashion retail industry in India. In the women’s fashion segment, it is the single biggest category, with a share of about 71 percent and is growing steadily. “The ethnic wear market in India is growing steadily and healthily. The category has found acceptance with the growing younger audiences and has also developed new niches with the advent of sustainable fashion and contemporary trends,” says Manjula Tiwari CEO, Future Style Lab & Founder of its brand Ancestry.

“While there are varied estimates available about the market size of ethnic wear market in India in public domain, all point to a steady growth and a remarkable shift towards the organised sector,” she adds.

Over the years, the growth in the women’s ethnic wear market has been subtle, yet steady in India. Changing lifestyles, rapid urbanisation and increasing fashion awareness have manifested in an incremental growth of the ethnic wear segment over the past few years, with experts reporting a significant rise in demand for ethnic clothing especially for women.

“Rising middle class with growing disposable income is a prominent factor driving the growth of this segment. Moreover, the increasing number of women opting to work nowadays has been a boon for this sector as you know that more and more women are wearing ethnic to offices,” says Nikhil Furia, Partner, ERA the in-thing!, an exclusive girl’s ethnic wear brand known for its unique styling, versatility and fashion binding.

The penetration of mass media and m-commerce has helped the brands of this segment thrive in the hinterlands of the country as well. Frequent promotions and lucrative discounts have resulted in increased purchases by the Indian buyers in the entire apparel sector, including women’s ethnic wear.

“Ethnic wear is rapidly taking over the work-wear segment and has also found continuous growth in the core festive and occasion wear segment. Tier II and III cities have now easier access to key brands which too has helped the organised segment,” says Tiwari.

“Women in Tier II & III cities are open to experimenting with new trends. With the help of online portals and social media, these women are aware of the ongoing trends and styles resulting in increasing demand in good quality and branded ethnic wear,” she adds.

In fact, if experts are to be believed, Tier II & III towns and cities are showing better results than the metros. “With overheads being relatively low, and with internet, consumers being more informed, there is much better scope to grow in Tier II and Tier III,” says Furia.

Along with the rise in demand, the ethnic wear market has witnessed the arrival of a slew of brands, both domestic and international, trying to entice consumers with their respective USPs. As a result, the competition to off er consumers with more and unique options is increasing. Moreover, as in other fashion segments, the women’s ethnic wear segment in India is also registering a significant growth of private labels offering low priced products compared to their branded counterparts. While this might not be welcome news to most brands and retailers, it nevertheless is a clear testimony that the ethnic wear market is gaining traction in India in recent times.

Target Audience & Consumption Behavior

Women’s ethnic wear is among the very few apparel segments that enjoy equal popularity amongst all age groups and social and economic segments. “The affluent segment is more conscious about the craft-inspiration and material used in creating what they wear, when compared to the middle class, which still does consider pricing to be a major decisive factor. But, the fact is that the ethnic wear category fits perfectly into every woman’s wardrobe, some time or the other, be it for work, a casual day or night out, or for festivals and occasions,” reveals Tiwari.

Even in the kids section, ethnic is a hot selling category. “Our target audience is right from a 6 month old infant to a 15 year old teenager. Most parents want their children – especially their girls to wear ethnic for festivals and weddings. The affluent class prefers to purchase exclusive and latest in trend designs normally from a single wear (for specific functions), perspective,” states Furia.

The festive season in India, which starts in September and goes on till December, needs a special mention when it comes to ethnic wear consumption in India. Thanks to the custom-and-tradition-abiding nature of the country, the women’s ethnic wear market in India witness a boost during this period.

“Yes, there is a significant increase in sales during the festive season. However, in the recent years, we have seen a boost in sales for ethnic/ contemporary clothing almost throughout the year, since today’s fashion conscious woman wants to experiment with her look and not restrict her style to just western wear,” says Tiwari.

For Era – the in thing!, the festive season accounts for about half of its annual sales. “For us the season starts from September and goes up till January and we register around 50 percent of our annual sales within this period. We do great sales for Eid also. Besides, in South India, from January to September, there are festivals like Pongal, Ugadi. They also have a good wedding season in that period,” says Furia.

The Future

The women’s ethnic wear market has undergone massive transformation. Today, the market is alive with a wide range of colours, style, cuts, silhouettes and detailing in every size and for every occasion. Moreover, the organised retail fraternity has already started to take this category more seriously as more and more branded players are entering into this segment.
If experts are to be believed, the ethnic wear market will continue to grow incessantly for the next few years.

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