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The year in retrospect for fashion

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The Indian retail industry, at large, has developed as one of the most dynamic in the country, primarily driven by the entry of several new players and the massive boost to e-commerce in recent times. A report by India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) states that retail technology companies supporting the retail sector with services such as digital ledgers, inventory management, payments solutions and tools for logistics & fulfilment are taking off in India. In the first nine months of 2021, investors pumped in US$ 843 million into 200 small and mid-sized retail technology companies, which is an additional 260 per cent of capital compared to the entire 2020. But, businesses have faced several challenges in the last year and it hasn’t at all been smooth sailing. 

Talking about how the year panned for his brand, Gaurav Pushkar, Co-founder, DaMENSCH, says, “In pre-COVID times, the men’s apparel industry was seeing an average of 12-13 per cent CAGR. The digital native online consumer ignited this revolution seeking distinct and innovative products & fabrics and sought out brands that challenged the norm. As a result, while the innerwear segment for online platforms grew 2.5x pre-COVID, DaMENSCH grew 6x. We added to our existing innerwear catalogue and launched products for men’s entire essential wear – shorts, t-shirts, joggers, pyjama pants, sweatshirts, tank tops, hoodies and chino shorts. Hence, overall, it’s been a great year for us and essential men’s wear in India.”

A report by SMIFS Limited states that the men’s innerwear market is expected to reach Rs218 billion by 2028. The Indian innerwear market has witnessed a changing trend in the past with more and more people opting for branded products. Men’s innerwear segment has a very high branded proportion accounting for about 61 per cent of the total market size. Looking ahead, growth in the innerwear market is expected to be driven by broad based consumer trends in the form of rising discretionary spends, growing number of mid-high-income household and increasing urbanisation. Innerwear has progressed from being just a functional category to making a bold fashion statement. It is a welcome shift from a price-sensitive category to a brand-sensitive category, the report adds.   

On the other hand, women’s apparel market in India is also estimated to be worth US$ 39 billion by 2025, with ethnic wear expected to enjoy a 28 per cent share. Sharing details on how year 2021 fared for business, Sidhant Keshwani, Managing Director & CEO, Libas, says, “Business grew by 70 per cent irrespective of the ongoing pandemic. We ventured into retail by opening three exclusive brand stores in New Delhi. We also marched into the doors of 200+ MBOs and large-format stores. Our corporate team grew to 200+ employees in 2021. Initially, due to massive demand, our supply chain was overwhelmed in the initial years, however, we have successfully overcome this which helped us maintain an upward momentum throughout the year.” 

Challenges aplenty

The pandemic brought with it unprecedented challenges that fashion businesses could not have possibly fathomed. IBEF states that retailers who were nearly on the verge of recovery after the first wave of the pandemic saw a harsh fall in sales as the second wave hit the country. In April and May 2021, the retail industry, which normally clocks anywhere between US$ 40-45 billion, lost over half of it, roughly US$ 25-30 billion, Retailers Association of India (RAI) had notified. Though, as the second wave faded, retailers again began registering gradual recovery and are now back on the track of growth. 

Pushkar says, “One of the biggest challenges for D2C brands has been the delays caused in manufacturing and last-mile delivery, which was seriously affected due to COVID-related restrictions. However, with a zeal to delight our customers, we worked hard in alternate shifts while maintaining the social distancing protocol and were able to do our best to follow up on our promises.” 

Keshwani adds that they, too, faced supply issues due to COVID and the lockdown at the beginning of the year, but managed to address them by adding more factories to their portfolio. “We have created a robust warehousing infrastructure with a state-of-the-art warehousing management system and a fulfilment capacity of shipping 50k orders per day. This is among the biggest capacities for any e-commerce fashion brand in India,” he shares. 

Opportunities that knocked

E-commerce is expanding steadily in the country, creating one of the biggest revolutions in fashion. More and more customers are getting hooked on to the e-commerce network, searching products that best match their style and wallet. The new work-from-home culture has also added immensely to the demand for comfortable and functional products, making brands to launch collections that they did not primarily deal in or innovate on what existed. According to IBEF, the online retail market in India is projected to reach US$ 350 billion by 2030 from an estimated US$ 55 billion in 2021, due to rising online shoppers in the country. 

Pushkar says, “As we saw consumers warming up to the new work-from-home regime, we launched our Breeeze collection which includes boxer shorts and inner boxers. We also launched the Constants – a collection of fashion with a 500-day warranty. It’s a promise to replace the product within 500 days of purchase in case of any wear & tear.” 

But as more and more consumers and brands shifted online, some businesses saw the quickly contracting offline retail market as an opportunity worthy of investment. Keshwani says, “This year saw a lot of key players moving online owing to the pandemic. This has in turn made the retail space less competitive. We saw a great opportunity here and expanded our physical presence with our first stand-alone stores in New Delhi and plan to open more than 50 by 2023.”

Preparedness for the future

With a new COVID-19 variant spreading across the country and the world, business may again be impacted. Companies and brands must have an action plan in place to be well-prepared for any such disruption that may come their way. Pushkar says, “One major advantage of having an online business is that we don’t have to depend on face-to-face interactions to keep marketing, technology and human resources running. However, for production and delivery, we are trying to be better prepared with a long-term plan both in manufacturing and storage so that even if COVID does disrupt us for a couple of months, we are still able to delight our customers.”

Brand Libas, too, weathered by multiple lockdowns, is well-versed in how it will deal with such a situation should it present itself in times to come. “Catering to all the demands, we largely remain unaffected as we are predominantly an e-commerce brand. We intend to implement category expansion as well. We would be venturing into lifestyle segments such as home and categories like men’s wear and kids’ wear in the near future, and plan to open 50+ exclusive brand stores by 2023,” Keshwani adds.

The new year thus seems to be a promising time for fashion retail and e-commerce in India. The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have already made brands and companies better equipped to deal with uncertainties of the future while also eliminating unnecessary costs and streamlining operations. Brands that were only surviving till now can thus thrive going forward.

    Trend Watch: Consumers

  • With work from home being the new normal, shopping for comfort wear has seen an upward trajectory.

There has been a huge traction of customers from Tier-II and III cities this year as compared to previous years. These customers are looking not just for discounted products but also looking for newer and fresh styles.

Trend Watch: Technology

  1. Giving the consumers the best user experience while they shop online from the comfort of their home.
    2. Curating an omnichannel and personalised experience for customers via Al-based marketing and Al-based recommendations on the website. 

Trend Watch: Marketing

  • With people becoming more and more environmentally aware and responsible, companies have shifted their focus to sustainability — right from their product to packaging. 
  • Providing a more personalised experience for customers, and segmenting them to show what they are looking for using Ads. 

Predictions for 2022

  • Essential wear, as a category, will continue to grow because even if people are not stepping out of their home, they still need these pieces of clothing. This demand will further be fuelled by people shopping more, be it for their work clothes, bachelor trips or for a staycation in the hills.
  • An upward trend in sales, as seen in the past few months, will continue if the new variant doesn’t cause much disruption. 

People have now become accustomed to comfort, functionality and versatility with regard to clothing choices and that is a driving factor behind their buying decisions. Demand for categories like loungewear and sports utility wear has increased. This trend is likely to continue as customers now prefer comfort and functionality after undergoing lifestyle changes during the pandemic.

Textile industry: 2021 vs 2022

“2021 has been an important year. After facing the devastating impact of COVID on overall textile business as well as personal lives, we are fortunate to witness a strong commercial recovery. This is owed to the increase in exports as well as domestic retail activities. The focus on comfort and responsible fashion has ensured that our fibres continue to make a positive difference in the textile industry. In 2022, we aim to scale up the presence of our specialty fibres in different end applications for international as well as domestic businesses” – Avinash Mane, Commercial Director, South Asia, Lenzing Group

Offline stores transition to e-commerce

“Pre-pandemic, sales were positive and growing. During the pandemic we accelerated the introduction of an online platform for customers nationwide to be able to get the products they want, first by introducing a transitional service, then with the launch our full-fledged online store. Last year, due to the lockdown and the restrictions that were imposed, we saw fewer walk-ins into the malls. The lack of vaccination and inability to have get-togethers where customers might want a new outfit led to a decline in the need to shop and opportunity to make purchases. However, this year, with a majority of people being vaccinated, they have been able to meet again and celebrate festivals, leading to demand for purchasing” –
Tomoya Maruyama, Head of Merchandising, Uniqlo India