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WFH Essentials: Brands & retailers say comfort, utility on top of consumers’ minds

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The culture has radically altered fashion preferences across the world. Over the last few months, as people were stuck to their homes, the preference for comfortable apparel snowballed. Consumers’ preferences started gravitating towards apparel that were comfortable to work in yet presentable enough for virtual meetings and social-media appearances.

“Work from home has removed all boundaries of formal / semi-formal attire. The work office has moved from a chair to a couch to a bean bag and thus the shift to comfort clothing. However, the erratic work timings and team calls with cameras on have ensured at least the essence of an attire which is a must have. This has given a boost to the consumption of a newer category of clothing termed as Home Wear. Home wear encapsulates attire which is not just comfortable in nature but is all purpose, presentable and categorised decent for an official showcase,” states , Chief Marketing Officer, Universal Sportsbiz Pvt. Ltd. (USPL) whose brand portfolio includes , Imara and Ms.Taken.

Echoing similar thoughts, , Director, ., says, “A renewed demand has emerged for casual wear-cum-formal wear. Individuals are demanding comfortable wear across fits and fabric categories. We have noticed a rise in demand for knitted garments as compared to the pre-COVID situation. The demand for t-shirts, knitted shirts, trousers, blazers and light weight stretch denims has increased. We have also noticed increased requirement for regular fits in shirts, blazers, straight and narrow fits trousers and denims.”

Categories like casual wear, semi formal wear, loungewear, athleisure, nightwear, etc., quickly became work from home essentials and witnessed unprecedented demand since the forced people inside.

“With Unlock India and ease in restrictions, stores again became operational, and people began to venture out resulting in a spike in purchase due to pent-up demand, which triggered recovery for the sector. It is from this period onwards that we are witnessing a satisfactory growth in results after analyzing the data. There has also been a gradual increase in sales in knits products, i.e., 10-12% every month from September 2020 onwards. In casual wear, we have noticed average growth of 10% in the last three months,” Bansal added.

According to Poddar, USPL’s Wrogn, a leading brand from the athleisure segment, has witnessed high demand for its range of products in the last few months. “The trajectory has been on an upward curve already and the changing consumer behavior in the last few months has ensured that the curve continues to see an upward trend. Athleisure and home wear has seen a northwards trend of 20-25% as against 10-12% previously. Athleisure, especially, has been amongst the fastest growing categories in the fashion space. The pandemic has definitely made this category more relevant and it has quickly found acceptance across all target groups,” he states.

Growth Drivers

Being confined to their homes has made people realize that what they wore to work or to go out isn’t really comfortable for being at home, even if they are working. As such, the shift to apparel that is cosy, comforting and comfortable is highly natural.

“Today, many corporate companies are promoting work from home culture and individuals have readily accepted this change in working environment as part of the new normal to ensure their safety and wellbeing. The entire shift has led to a rise in virtual meetings for people even as they are in a relaxed and comfortable space i.e. their homes. Being in a less formal office set-up and attending to virtual calls/meetings, individuals are opting for smart comfort wear which helps them to continue working long hours while being presentable for meetings and social media appearances,” states Bansal.

Moreover, consumers today are increasingly gravitating towards easy to wear, comfortable and multi-functional clothes that fits all purposes — be it working, getting ready for a zoom call or for a quick step out to get essentials.

“The demand moved largely because of the changed lifestyle and now supply is fueling the growth. Also, it must be noted that now with people moving out on work and for social meetings, the lounge wear offering needs to be elevated to leisurewear so that the same product can be worn at home as well as for step-out meetings,” adds Poddar.

Another key factor adding to the growth in this category is revenge buying by shoppers who are indulging in online (and some offline) retail therapy to stay happy and positive during these unprecedented times.

WFH Trends

Comfort is on top of consumers’ minds more now than ever. Consumers today are shifting focus from technicalities and performance to comfort-oriented silhouettes that promise versatility and utility.

According to Poddar, his company has witnessed good demand for t-shirts, joggers, and its range of athleisure. “Jogger’s and t-shirts have largely been key movers. Lounge pants, sweatpants, boxer shorts along with athleisure have been fast-moving categories. The demand for athleticwear is high and there has been a shift in what consumers ‘desire’ to buy to what consumer ‘want’ to buy. Casual tops, bottom wear and boxers are on top of consumers mind,” he states.

Apart from the afore mentioned products, has registered high demand for knitted products, kurtis, tunics, etc., as well. “The specific products that are doing well in menswear include, t-shirts, sweatshirts, knitted trousers, knitted blazers and jogging wear. For women’s wear category, we have noticed growth in selling of kurtis, loose tunics and blouses, leisure trousers, t-shirts and sweaters. Kids section is almost doing same in sale percent; however, we have noticed growth in knitted t-shirts, pullovers, and joggers,” reveals Bansal.

, a sustainable high fashion label based out of Bangalore, has witnessed a renewed demand for Hawaiian shirts, light weight linen lounge pants, loose fit loungewear sets, etc., in men’s wear. “In the women’s section, oversized shirts, relaxed dresses, wide leg pants are witnessing high sales. Loose fit lounge/sleepwear sets in soft washed handlooms and unlined unstructured casual throws are also a big hit. You can just throw them on top of your tee, look presentable and be ready for a zoom call in a minute,” states , Co-Founder & Creative Director, House of Three.

In terms of colors, acceptance of light color palettes has increased manifold. “People wish to feel more free and fresh, so people are avoiding darker colours, greys and black. The use of sanitizers and repeated washing of cloths have also made people buy light colour garments. Also, we are noticing less movement of people so accepting light colour garments are no more hectic to them. Talking about styling, we are experiencing less stylized products with leisure fits are grossing faster,” adds Bansal.

Talking about the current trends in colors and styles, Barat states that young city folks who are fed up with being restricted to their homes are also turning to bright colors. “Whites are doing well in general since it is a symbol of purity and new beginnings. Earthy beiges and sky blue are also gaining momentum since these are colors that soothe and calm the mind. At the same time, young single city folks, the psychographic segment that is fed up with staying home and is raring to get back to the normal ways, are increasingly opting for bright reds and colorful prints. Also, more than styles, fits are become super important. Today, it is all about boxy, a tad bit oversized, comfortable, relaxed, light clothing,” Barat says.

Moreover, anti- bacterial apparel products are gaining advantage over other products as people wish for more hygiene these days. “There has also been a spike in the requirement and brand offerings for products with antibacterial fabrics and finishes,” adds Poddar.

Demand From Metros VS Small Towns

According to Bansal, Cantabil has registered varying consumption patterns across big cities and small towns when it comes to work from home fashion essentials. “Leisure wear products are grossing well uptown, but if we analyse the sales pattern downtown and small cities we do find some differences. People downtown and in small cities have adapted more to the current situation. People are coping with the situation and their buying behavior has not changed very much. Consumers from B-town continue to follow the same buying behaviour; however, we have noticed a slight dip in the quantities purchased,” says Bansal.

Going Ahead

Leisure wear categories have been propelled by the collective shift towards comfort and utility and have gained prominence in the last few months. Experts believe that this will continue to grow and have a lasting impact. Even market statistics seem to highlight similar trends. A report by Technavio, released in May 2020, says the athleisure category has the potential to grow by nearly $81 billion from 2020 to 2024. According to online shopping sales site lovethesale.com, lounge wear alone has witnessed a 433 percent jump in consumer demand in as early as April 2020 in the UK.

“Fashion is getting functional as customers are seeking comfortable, fuss-free styles that help them adapt to the moment as well as be used when traveling to places. Since the changes in lifestyle of the customers have been for good, I strongly believe that the demand is here to stay,” concludes Poddar.