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AI, sustainable practices to propel fashion retail in new decade

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The Indian fashion retail industry has undergone radical changes in the past decade with technology, social media, artificial intelligence and digital commerce finding increasing usage among the consumers across demographics in the country. As the Indian consumer and retailer gear up for more developments in the near future, the 20th (IFF) made its debut today in Bengaluru, bringing together experts, professionals, analysts, key decision makers and leaders from across the fashion retail business for a two-day conference from 17-18 December, 2019 to discuss and deliberate on the learnings of the past year, success stories and the way forward.

AI, sustainable practices to propel fashion retail in new decade

Organised to discuss the upcoming trends in the Indian fashion retail world that is constantly having new global entrants and innovative products, the agenda includes presentations and panel discussions on the latest trends and insights in clothing segment, sustainable manufacturing, physical retail, apps and much more. ‘Athleisure’, growth of women’s wear, traditional wear, innovation and traceability were deliberated upon during the event.

Some of the key trends shaping the future offline and online retail shopping experience include block chain technology, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, pricing cycle optimisation, unified merchandise planning, smart checkout, conversational commerce and visual search. Retail brands must enable stores with Internet of Things (IoT) by using the technology and fitting it to suit individual company needs.

Praveen Mellacheruvu, Business Group Lead, Business Apps, Microsoft said, “In the virtuous cycle of retail, retailers across the world see Internet of Things as a way to enhance the in-store experience to ensure customer data safety, employee safety and better customer experiences. Be it CCTV, smart displays, RFID cards on apparel, smart shelves, smart mirrors or sensors, the vision of retailers must be expanded to develop a digitally connected store for enhanced retail outcomes.”

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 Akhilesh Prasad who has built a billion dollar fashion brand in the last 3-4 years.”

Indicating positive growth for Indian retail players notwithstanding the presence of global brands in the market, Akhilesh said, “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 organised 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 inaugural panel discussion, led by Bijou Kurien, Strategy Board Member, L Catterton Asia Holdings, sifted through the opportunities and challenges in India as the fastest changing consumer market of the world. The panelists consisted of Akhilesh Prasad; Suresh J; Arun Sirdeshmukh, Head, Amazon Fashion; Ashish Dikshit, MD, ; CK Venkataraman, MD, . and , CEO, . They spoke at length on what the future promised for India as a global market for fashion.

Highlighting the touch points discussed thus far in the conference, Bijou said, “We have seen the development of data, analytics, artificial intelligence in the fashion business in the 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% 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% in Amazon Fashion. He remarked on the attention given to reasonable price quality equation, 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 civilisation. In the economic history of the world until 1750, 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 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 being 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% and projected the overall fashion merchandise to increase in its market share from 13% in 2020 to 18% in 2025. She also projected the growth of high fashion value at affordable value pricing, Next Gen 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 sports wear 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 considered 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 on sustainable and environment-friendly manufacturing practices increasingly adopted by international brands such as Levi Strauss & Co, The Woolmark Company, Lenzing and Crea Worldwide to reduce hazardous chemical discharge and make the products biodegradable.

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

On the occasion, the dignitaries released the 17th edition of ‘India Business of Fashion Report (IBoFR) 2020 Year Book 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.