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Demand for trendy clothes rises as premium brands see spurt in sales

Sapna Agarwal, Mint (A Wall Street Journal Partner)

Mumbai, August 20, 2013

Indian men and women are becoming more picky when it comes to dressing. Formal wear is increasingly giving way to a trendier line of clothes that includes casual sports and lifestyle apparel, according to stylists, analysts and retailers.

Consider the case of Shilpa Kapoor, 26, a marketing professional with a multinational company whose shopping list includes “fitted dresses, racerback tops in funky prints, Aztec print skirts, sequin shorts, one of those awesome colourful bubble necklaces, and one of the funky rings maybe in a serpent form or any other designs”.

Consumers such as Kapoor, who are tuned-in to the latest global fashion trends and the increasing availability of international fashion at affordable rates, are causing non-food retail sales in India to surge even as the economy recorded its lowest growth in a decade in fiscal 2013.

“Gone are the days when you wore just anything and spending on clothes was considered trivial. Dressing well is an important part of the personality and about how you want to present yourself,” said Pampa Biswas, a stylist who works with an advertising agency.

The fashion space, say experts, comprises four consumer segments: Image Seekers, for instance, are driven by the need to be fashionable. Conformists prefer branded apparel to blend with their peer group. Perfection Seekers wear branded apparel for quality assurance, good fit and internal satisfaction, while Variety Seekers seek a range of clothes, but are mainly driven by prices and discounts.

“Image Seekers are the most fashion conscious consumers and our research shows that this group has increased in India by about 25% in the last 4-5 years in the metro cities,” said Raghav Gupta, principal, Booz and Co., a consulting firm.

In 2011, the Indian apparel market was estimated to be Rs.190 crore, growing at an annual average growth rate of more than 9% and is likely to be at Rs.295 crore by 2016, according to a report by Booz and Co. Close to 20% of this market is organized and growing at a higher rate of 18%.

Retailers agree with the trend. At department retail chain Shoppers Stop, the sales of formal wear have been decreasing and that of the trendier lines like casual sports and lifestyle apparel increasing. In the last two years, the contribution of formal brands to the category has come down from 44% to 38% while trendier casual sports, lifestyle and bridge to luxury brands contribution to the category has increased from 56% to 64%, said Govind Shrikhande, managing director, Shoppers Stop Ltd.

The availability and accessibility of international brands has contributed largely to the trend.

“There is a dramatic shift in the way consumers are shopping. They are taking fashion risks,” said Sanjeev Mohanty, managing director of Benetton India. Over the past year, Mohanty has changed his views from needing an India-specific collection at his stores to now rolling out global collections as soon as they are launched because of “globalization of fashion”.

Similarly, home-grown brand Zodiac launched a trendy casual wear brand Z3 in 2008 and repositioned the brand in 2010 to mirror global fashion trends. “It’s our ability to predict international menswear trend for spring-summer 2013 and bring it alive,” explains Salman Noorani, president and managing director, Zodiac Clothing Co. Ltd.

Moreover, big fashion brands, including Zara, Vero Moda and Tommy Hilfiger, have entered the country in the last seven-eight years.

“Of the total 200 odd brands present in India across apparel, footwear and jewellery, 150 were launched between 2005 and 2012,” said Devangshu Dutta, chief executive at Third Eyesight, a retail consulting firm.

And over the years the brands have gained scale and are making their presence felt. For instance, CK entered India in 2007 and now has 27 stores. Zara entered in 2010 and has nine stores. Steve Madden entered in 2011 and has seven stores. Diesel entered in 2010 and has 11 stores.

Moreover, the success of brands such as Zara is seeing incumbent retailers sharpen their offerings as they compete for the customers’ wallet. Zara, the joint venture with Inditex Trent Retail India Pvt. Ltd, posted a revenue of Rs.404.80 crore in fiscal 2013, according to Trent Ltd’s annual report for fiscal 2013.

“There have been nine new launches in the sports and lifestyle segment in the last three years,” said Vinay Bhatia, senior vice-president, marketing and loyalty at Shoppers Stop, citing examples of incumbents such as Louis Philippe (LP), premium menswear brand launching LP, Arrow launching Arrow Sport and Van Heusen launching Van Heusen Sport besides brands such as Celio, Gas, US Polo entering into the market.

What also is helping drive the sale of fashion wear is the large young population. The 21-30 year-old consumer is very conscious of looks and image and is willing to spend, said Mohanty of Benetton, adding that this profile contributes to 70% of the retailers overall revenues as compared to 50% two years ago.

Not that older consumers are not experimenting with fashion. “The 30 to 50 year-old segment is more interesting. They have a bigger wallet and less pressure on the wallet,” said Darshan Mehta, chief executive officer, Reliance Brands Ltd which retails brands like Steve Madden and Diesel.

To be sure, India remains one of the toughest retail markets to crack. In the last two years, nine brands have had to shut shop driven by poor foot falls, high rentals and limited shopper value in terms of brand options available, according to a Reliance Brands Ltd January 2013 report.

Additionally, as the economic growth slows and inflation persists, consumers are tightening their belts.

An India Ratings, a Fitch Ratings Ltd July report estimates that a wage rate increase at 9.4% for fiscal 2013 as compared with 10.4% consumer-price inflation “will affect household savings rate and discretionary spending”.

“Poor consumer sentiment is manifested in the low quarterly same-store-sales growth trend since fiscal 2012, driven by higher pricing with no significant improvement in volumes. Also, discounting may further dampen margins,” said the India Ratings report. Same-store-sales growth measures compares sales of retail stores that have been open for a year or more.

There is growth, though, at a slower rate. “Last year, we grew like-to-like sales at 30% and now we are growing at 18-20%,” said Dipak Agarwal, chief executive officer of DLF Brands Ltd, which retails brands like Mango and Boggi.

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