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With field open to global retailers, the future holds promise for a mature economy

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With the new decade around the corner, the Indian fashion retail business, which has witnessed the emergence and rapid influence of social media, interweaving of artificial technology across the various verticals of the fashion retail industry and the rapid and quick adaptation to e-commerce developments in the past few years, is now gearing up to embrace even more dynamic changes from both the consumer perspective as well as the business perspective.

In line with the evolving trends across demographics of Indian consumers, the 20th India Fashion Forum (IFF) made its debut in Bengaluru with a two-day conference that will bring together experts, professionals, analysts, key decision-makers and leaders from across the fashion retail business to discuss and deliberate on the learnings of the past year, success stories and the way forward.

Welcoming his successor , President & CEO, Fashion & Lifestyle Business, , IFF’s Outgoing Chairman Suresh J, MD & CEO, , said, “The fashion retail business in the country and across the globe has undergone a radical transformation in the past few years. I cannot think of a better person to take over as IFF Chairman than who has built a billion-dollar fashion brand in the last 3-4 years.”

Commenting on the prospects of the fashion retail business for the Indian retail players in view of global competition, Akhilesh said, “It is my privilege to chair the 20th India Fashion Forum. This is a forum for the industry to get together, take stock of the scenario and learn to prepare for the future. Bengaluru has been chosen to host this edition given the city’s legacy of organized retail and I urge the local retail players to support this decision given the city’s pioneering status in fashion, digital commerce, and technology space.”

The two-day conference by IFF covers presentations by industry leaders and decision-makers on the current fashion retail trends and innovations transforming the retail scenario worldwide. Some of the trends and statistics that were discussed were on the growth of women’s wear, the advent of ‘Athleisure’, value and fast fashion, sustainability through innovation and traceability, physical retail, etc.

The inaugural panel discussion, moderated by Bijou Kurien, Strategy Board Member, , pondered over the opportunities and challenges in India as the fastest-changing consumer market of the world. The panelists consisted of Akhilesh Prasad; Suresh J; , Head, Amazon Fashion; Ashish Dikshit, MD, , MD, Titan Co., and Mukul Baffna, CEO, . The panelists spoke at length on what the future promised for India as a global market for fashion.

Highlighting the touchpoints discussed thus far in the conference, Bijou said, “We have seen the development of data, analytics, artificial intelligence in the fashion business in recent years. Technology has come to be embedded in our internal operating processes as well as in the customer interface. We are now at a point where we are beginning to see a merger of offline and online retail.”

Akhilesh said, “As far as our brand is concerned, there has been no compromise on our product and the value for our product is relevant anywhere in India. It is a rare brand that has taken a mono-brand strategy for the entire country; our offerings remain the same whether the store is in Bareilly or in Mumbai. The offerings, the format, the brand positioning along with the price as a surprise, continue to help us grow. We offer state-of-the-art western wear designed out of London and manufactured out of China to our consumers in India. We launched Ajio as an experiment in private label. It came right after a few experiments, after which we have managed to grow our turnover by 100 percent every year because we have unique strategies in place.”

Arun Sirdeshmukh attributed the growth of his company to the new customer category whose growth stands at a staggering 80 percent in Amazon Fashion. He remarked on the attention given to reasonable price-quality equation, the convenience of availability, product selection and vernacular digital communication as the top reasons for continued new customers.

Growth in Indian ethnic wear and the growing market of 30-40 million households belonging to the upper-middle-class category and the burgeoning 100 million middle-class households aiming for aspirational brands were discussed as the top near future trends for the fashion business in the country.

Envisaging a steady and bright future for the Indian fashion retail business, Akhilesh remarked that the rich culture and long-standing trading and textile history are the main strengths for the Indian retail economy. “Although resources are limited, most of the changes in the world have happened through innovative thinking. Indians have our native intelligence and an ancient, yet robust civilization. In the economic history of the world until 1,750, India and China had dominated world trade. The West has a vintage of 200-250 years, but I am certain that in the next 50 years, the cycle will change and India and China will again dominate the retail scene.”

He projected the entry of hundreds of global retailers into India in the near future which would, in turn, be an advantage to the domestic players who will always dominate the local retail economy. “There will be a lot of changes in the next 10 years, much more since the advent of modern retail in the 1980s. While Indian traditional wear is here to stay, e-commerce is expected to evolve along with modern retail. Retail is the second-largest employer in the country, regulations will ensure that employment in this sector is not disrupted. With the field open for global retailers, I am certain that the future holds promise for a mature economy.”

Earlier during the day, Saloni Nangia, President, , highlighted the market share of women’s wear in India which currently accounts for 38 percent and projected the overall fashion merchandise to increase in its market share from 13 percent in 2020 to 18 percent in 2025. She also projected the growth of high fashion value at affordable value pricing, NextGen interfaces with virtual trial rooms, magic mirrors, visual and voice search, among other innovations.

‘Athleisure’, a term indicating the merger of casual with fitness wear and blending sportswear with style, was projected to take over the millennials and Gen Z who are the key drivers of this clothing segment. Sumit Chopra, Director Research Analysis, , threw insights on this informing that 86% of this consumer segment considers exercise and physical fitness as key to wellbeing and the expansion of fashion specialists into sportswear, social media and celebrity endorsements have been crucial to the popularity of athleisure.

The second-panel discussion saw experts discussing sustainable and environment-friendly manufacturing practices increasingly adopted by international brands such as Levi Strauss & Co, , and Crea Worldwide to reduce chemical discharge and make the products biodegradable.

Some of the other key topics discussed throughout the day included fashion forecasting, single-brand retail chains, decoding the customer journey, reimagining physical retail, profitability in the fashion business, etc.

On the occasion, the dignitaries released the 17th edition of ‘India Business of Fashion Report’ (IBoFR) which seeks to foster a circa 2020 understanding of elements that will define innovation and sustainability-led business of fashion in India. This edition also witnessed the launch of ‘Fashion Techway’, a series of fashion retail sessions centered around the relevance of technology in the business.