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Retailers get serious about casualwear as it takes centrestage in global fashion

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The fashion industry has probably not witnessed a force more unrestrained than causal wear in the past. In the last decade, casualization has swept through global fashion sensibilities with unfl inching determination and today, it has entrenched its stronghold as a wardrobe staple throughout the world. Reports suggest that more than one third of the global population has embraced casual wear in the few years and the trend exhibits no signs of waning.

In fact, in the last year, consumer inclination towards casual wear has increased manifolds due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world became restricted to their homes, fashion senses started gravitating towards comfortable and presentable clothes that can easily transition from work from home to grocery-runs and social-media appearances. Thus, demand for casual wear skyrocketed globally after the lockdown.

“It has been a year since the lockdown triggered new trends in fashion with people finding new ways of adjusting to the new normal. Over the last six weeks, we have seen a shift from loungewear to casual and smart wear. Initially, we saw an upsurge in fashion essentials, as consumers were prioritizing comfort and investing in apparel that were stylishly comfortable and allowed them to slounge. At , during and post the lockdown, we saw an amazing response on our range of fashion essentials that comprised of updated basics in mood refreshing colours and patterns of the seasons. We focused on creating looks that were both comfortable and presentable – all at an unexpected value,” says , Head- Customer & Beauty, Westside.

“With the Work-from-Home model and offices operating with limited staff , there certainly has been an impact on workwear-wardrobe choices. Power Dressing, the way we see it, is out. People have gravitated to Smart Casual and this shift is a very instinctive thing isn’t it, of us humans adapting to change. In this case, responding by way of choice of attire, where ‘live easy’ appears to be the new norm,” says Sirish Kumar, Director, Astormueller Shoes India Pvt. Ltd.

“2020 has impacted every aspect of our lives. As we continue to battle the pandemic, the textiles and apparel industry within India as well as the world experienced unprecedented disruptions. The pandemic has thrown light upon the urgent need for consumers as well as organizations to focus on sustainable choices, products and processes. And to that effect, sustainable fashion has accelerated to centre stage within the industry. The sustainable fashion trends of the future are heavily influenced by the events of today, which could never have been predicted. As we look towards 2021 and gradually recover, we believe that the changing consumer attitude will continue to encourage the industry to embrace sustainability at all levels. With the COVID-19 pandemic, more changes have been brought to the already transforming fashion and textile industries. E-commerce platforms fueled sales for apparel brands during the pandemic,” says , Commercial Head, South Asia, .

“The Coronavirus has really aff ected the fashion industry on all manner of different levels. Despite the high fashion world being put on hold, digital demand has actually been high for products and clothing items that people equate with comfort. The current comfort buying trends have also seen a spike in slippers and a fair amount in streetwear. With the pandemic disallowing socializing, shoppers are also preferring comfort wear slippers or shoes over formal footwear. We believe, more and more organisations will adopt hybrid models (of working) once people will come back (to office),” says , Director, .

“Indeed, pandemic has changed a lot of things- in terms of fashion too. Casual wear has captured the market in a way that it has never done before, whereas formal wear has taken a setback. ‘Comfort’ is now the key in new normal. People are working from home so formal wear is no more a necessity. Infact, most corporate offices have given relaxation on the work wear. The shift towards comfort and casual wear was already happening and COVID circumstances has proved to be a major catalyst towards the same. People are more and more confident enough to own their skin and wear what they are comfortable with,” says , CEO & Director, - India.

Analyzing the Infl uencers While comfort and functionality are supposedly the two most important aspects of any apparel, a look through history reveals that these words deserved little to no attention in fashion hitherto. And this is where casual wear created magic!

Casual wear stresses comfort, practicality and freedom to choose how we present ourselves to the world; freedom to diminish the lines between men and women, old and young, rich and poor, etc. So, casualization emerged as the perfect choice for consumers around the world.

After the pandemic hit and people were compelled to work from their homes, the focus on apparel that were comfortable to work in skyrocketed. A few weeks through the confinement, people realized that what they wore to work or to go out in isn’t really comfortable for being at home and working. Thus, demand for apparel that were comfortable to work yet presentable enough for virtual meetings and social-media appearances quickly became work from home essentials and witnessed unprecedented demand.

“We have noticed an amazing growth in our casual range in the last six weeks, especially our urban ethnic inhouse brands- Bombay Paisley, E.T.A and our athleisure range from Studiofit. With the lockdown, consumers are looking for clothing that is stylishly comfortable and allows them to slounge. This was not the trend before lockdown. At Westside, our priority has been on fashion and having newness every week. Through our ‘Fresh Fridays’, we ensure that we provide our customers with a variety of options to choose from. We design and deliver fashion brands that are all in-house and which is why we are always on-trend and relevant. We have always focused on value which is a combination of style, trust, innovation, quality, experience and price,” says Naidoo.

“Denim, the wild child of fashion, will never go out of fashion. From baggy, flare, bootcut, to high waisted jeans, the versatility of the jeans has made it a staple in every closet and its time that we people back in their denim. I am expecting a revival of denim trends this summer. At the same time, active and loungewear will continue to grow as consumers are looking for clothing that is stylishly comfortable and allows them to slounge. I also believe that relaxed smart wear and tailoring will make a comeback too. In terms of colour; fresh spring tones, fun pastels and hues of nature seem to be on-demand. Stylish new essentials with their easy, breezy eff ortless look are perfect for this season. Our summer must-haves include the denim shirt, the conversational tee, the pool slides, the baggy denim, the summer sweats, linens and effortless chic dresses,” he added further.

“We have seen a major shift towards casual wear in our sales trajectory globally and in India both. The Casual category had been growing by about 8 percent abroad and 10 percent in India pre-COVID but has jumped to 26 percent post COVID in India and 23 percent outside India. The lack of occasions and going out has also catalyzed this trend,” says Jain.

“There’s been exceptional growth. The casual footwear segment has been growing for the last few years, but the pandemic took it to new heights. Essentially a result of people opting for relaxed casual wear in apparel for which, and to complete the look, they opted for casual footwear,” explains Kumar from Astormueller Shoes India Pvt. Ltd.

“In the last few years, the footwear industry has seen a lot of changes because of all the new trends coming through, so the footwear demand was on the rise with new trends and the responsibility to deliver was on us. Through the lockdown, as you said, people have preferred footwear that’s easy on the feet, yet stylish, and we have experimented quite a lot with that, and our customers have liked them and shown us keen interest by buying those footwear,” says Sachdeva.

Trends

Over the last year, consumers have registered a rapid shift in focus from technicalities and performance to comfort oriented silhouettes that promise versatility and utility. Consumers are increasingly seen 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.

“Within casual wear, our urban ethnic brands – Bombay Paisley and men’s ETA have seen remarkable growth. These two brands with their contemporary looks are perfect for those lazy lunches and traditional sangeet events. With their breathable fabric, they are also perfect to slounge in and gives the perfect vacation feel. While ethnic wear has seen a decline, our occasion specific ethnic brands, Vark and Zuba have witnessed a rise. These two brands with their elegant ethnic designs are perfect for any occasion.
As the fitness world is reinventing itself with home fitness routines becoming incredibly popular, we have seen a rise in athleisure trends that are perfect for home workouts, yoga session or even for a brisk run in the garden. Our inhouse brand, Studiofit has also been in demand, mainly because of its range of must-have athleisure pieces. Our non-apparel brands, Studiowest, Wunderlove, Westside home as well as footwear and accessories have been more than just an add-on. Women’s lingerie especially soft bras have been the go-to work-from-home comfort support for women. Westside home with its fascinating range of home décor, bath and kitchen products have witnessed exceptional growth too,” says Naidoo.

“Alberto Torresi launched ‘Work from Home’ collection specifically made as the need of the hour after taking consumer’s feedback in consideration. Later, also came up with new category called ‘House Shoes’, which is basically a work from home collection. The assortment is still live and trending, featuring Lounge Sliders, Mules with the new echnology of comfort & Memory system. Loafers, sandals, and easy slip-ons are much in demand, so new designs and patterns have been added in the collection. People usually go for neutrals and lounge wear with sneakers, which makes up for a perfect pairing, is light on the body and usually these days we see a lot of people sporting black,” explains Sachdeva.

“Casual and Comfort wear trend was visible. And this demand got multiplied due to current Work from Home situation. Also, with Limited production availability many brands had to rethink their merchandise portfolio and focus on key ones where consumer demand were high. The sandals, mules, slip-on sneakers and athleisure shoes also saw huge demands,” says Kumar.

“Comfort is one of the factors that has led to the increase in demand of casual wear. We are a brand that confines to delivering health benefits along with style. The 5-zone reflex technology is the USP of footwear at Von Wellx Germany. The consumers today not only look for fashion, but fashion that is versatile, gives them maximum comfort and meet their needs of health concerns. We have introduced new range of casual wear that is lightweight, durable and comes with reflexology. We have incorporated Diabetic insole, energy insole and swing insole footwear into the casual wear collection that provides support not only to feet but the entire body system. It relaxes muscles in the nape of neck, increases blood circulation in the head, and improves digestive system and much more. Minimalist designs with sober and pastels are very much in trend these days. Shades of brown have been sold out maximum in comparison to colorful footwear that gained traction in 2019. Blue, black and brown are going to rule the industry again as these are easy to style and go well with any outfit of colors. Floaters made a comeback this year and most brands have re-introduced their floaters range,” says Jain.

The Future

Preference for casual wear has further been propelled by the collective shift towards comfort and utility that have gained prominence in the last few months. Experts believe that it would continue to grow and have a lasting impact.

“The casual footwear has become more of an evolution in the footwear world, and it’s here to stay. People are opting in for casual, cool styles, and as we see workplaces getting comfortable with casual outfits, we expect more and more people be allowed to wear casual footwear as the offices start functioning again, and students to go for a good simple college look, which will again be complimented by casual footwear. So, we hope to see casual footwear becoming more and more popular in times that follow,” says Sachdeva.

“Smaller towns have definitely seen better traction. The metros and big towns have always had more options to choose from with most brands having a greater physical retail presence vis-à-vis the limited presence they have in smaller towns and cities.
This saw a significant change though. The lockdown nudged brands to go online to reach consumers and offer the whole bundle of merchandise, which was otherwise limited to physical retail. Comfort has always been a desired attribute. The tag of ‘comfort’, however, has always implied something that isn’t fashionable. But now is the time, more than ever, that brands need to blend fashion with comfort and maybe spell it out, since the consumer has experienced and lived with it for a significant time. This is an area where most brands promoting or marketing merchandise solely on comfort or fashion will be challenged as being fashion-ahead in style and being perceived as comfortable in fit is not that easy and requires a lot to be done,” says Kumar.

“People are now aware of technologies and their needs; hence, consumers are consuming that is a desideratum. People have started becoming more inclined towards healthy lifestyle that is infact helping the country and brands in improving their technological methods. Normalcy has started resuming but the comfortable fashion has now become necessity. Therefore, it is going to stay for a while till the fear of such a pandemic is completely gone. People have become used to lounge and hop on to easy wear, avoiding any sort of complexity,” says Jain.

“Since our focus has always been digital, we are getting more orders online from Tier III cities than from smaller towns / Tier IV cities. During the lockdown, digital mediums have enabled us to engage with our customers in conversations that go beyond fashion. Given the upswing in digital penetration in the small towns, we expect to increase our brand presence in semi-urban areas too through digital means. The reality of the lockdown has allowed people to reconnect with comfort and consumers are looking for clothing that allows them to slounge. Hence, casual wear will only evolve with time as it has catered to the new normal and can fit all-purpose. Casual looks which are both comfortable and presentable will witness growth,” Naidoo concludes.