Among consumer sectors, very few can match up to fashion in terms of its global nature. Despite food having led the way in global trade through spices, it is the fashion sector that led the global march of brands. As the economies in Europe and Asia recovered and grew, historical colonial linkages as well as modern culture-vehicles such as movies carried images of what was cool in the benchmark culture. Fashion brands were the most identifiable representation of cool.
India itself has known international fashion and luxury brands for several decades. From the mass footwear brand Bata to the top-notch luxury of LVMH, some of whose most important global customers included the rulers of Indian princely states, international fashion brands have an age-old connection with India.
In spite of these old links, the absolute base of consumers for fashion brands was small, and for them, prior to the 1980s , India was a relatively low potential market with low attractiveness and low probability of success.
A transition began in the 1980s, as India moved emphasis from central planning and a restrictive economy to a more liberal business regime, and brands and modern retailers started growing in presence gradually. During this transition period, other than the notable exception of Bata, it was mainly Indian brands that were at the forefront of modernisation of retail in India, with the first retail chains being set up for textiles, footwear and clothing. Though the seeds were laid earlier – Liberty is credited with the launch of the first ready-to-wear shirt brand in the 1950s, Raymond with the first ready-to-wear trouser brand in the 1960s – the growth started in real earnest only in the 1980s when apparel exporters such as Intercraft (with brands like “FU’s”), Gokaldas Exports (“Wearhouse”), and Gokaldas Images (“Weekender”) also tried their hand at modern retail, as did corporate groups (“Little Kingdom” for kids and “Ms” stores for womenswear).
Yet, even in the early to mid-1990s, when western companies looked at the Asian economies for international growth, West Asia and East Asia (countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and even Thailand) were seen as more attractive due to higher incomes and better infrastructure. In the mid-1990s there was a brief upward bump in international fashion brands entering the Indian market, but by and large it was a slow, steady process of increase.
By the mid-2000s, however, a very distinct shift became visible. By this time India had demonstrated itself to be an economy that showed a very large, long-term potential and, at least for some brands, the short to mid-term prospects had also begun looking good. In a few years, from 2005 onwards, the number of international fashion brands entering the market has increased 4-fold.
Market Still Evolving, but Brands are Confident
The sheer number of brands that are now present in India and the new ones that are entering every year is a clear sign of strengthening confidence among international brands that India is now one of the most important markets that they cannot ignore for long.
There is a visible acceleration of growth in absolute revenues, too, being achieved by individual brands. Brands such as Levi Strauss, Reebok, Louis Philippe (a British brand formerly owned by Coats Viyella, now by Aditya Birla Group for India and other territories) and its sister brands took perhaps 12-15 years to break through the threshold of Rs. 500 crores (Rs. 5 billion) in sales turnover, but industry opinion is that the “0 to 500” trajectories today are faster and that younger brands are likely to take less time – under a decade – to cross the threshold. While modern apparel retail currently contributes less than 20 per cent of the total apparel market, with growing incomes and increased availability of modern retail environments, consumers are spending more on branded fashion than ever before. In the year closing March 2012, at least 2-3 additional brands (including Indian ones) are expected to cross the Rs. 500 crores threshold.
Clearly, there are few markets globally that can support potential growth from zero to US$100 million in a decade, with the potential to even reach a billion-dollar mark within the next couple of decades. However, some of these markets are already hugely competitive, and also going through painful economic churns. India, on the other hand, is a market that is at the earliest stages of consumer growth – it is, in the words of the managing director of a European brand, a market where “a brand can enter now and live out its whole lifecycle”.
In fact, it is tempting to compare the emerging golden bird of India to the golden dragon of China where western brands seem to have rapidly established as products of choice for the newly affluent Chinese consumer during the last 15 years or so.
In our work with brands and marketers from around the world, we have to constantly remind them that not all emerging markets are the same. The explosion of luxury and premium brands in China during the last decade or so has happened on the back of explosive economic growth that came after a long cultural and economic vacuum. When the new money wanted links with the old and when uniform grey-blue suits needed to give way to something more expressive, well-established western premium and luxury brands provided the most convenient bridge.
On the other hand, in India “discernment” may be a new experience to the newly-rich Indians for whom brands can be a valuable guide and “secure” purchase, but discernment and taste are not new to India as a whole. More importantly, differentiation and self-expression never disappeared even during India’s darkest years of “socialistic” economics. Therefore, the Indian market has a more “layered” approach to the premium fashion market and will continue to grow in a more fragmented, more organic manner than the Chinese market. There would be multiple tiers of growth available for international as well as Indian brands. For international brands customisation and Indianisation will be important. This is already visible in bespoke products by Louis Vuitton and Indian products by brands such as Canali (jackets) on the one hand, and significant re-thinking on product mix and pricing by brands such as Marks & Spencer. That brands are willing to rethink their position in the context of the Indian market demonstrates that they see India as a strategic market, worth investing in for the long term.
Another sign of the growing confidence amongst international brands in the Indian market is the number of companies that are looking at directly investing in joint ventures, or even going further to set up wholly-owned subsidiaries in the country.
It is worth keeping in mind that setting up a subsidiary is a decision that is not taken lightly, regardless of the size of the business and the amount of investment, since it involves a disproportionate amount of management time and effort from the headquarters during the launch and early growth phase where revenues are small and profits non-existent.
Among our clients, brands have taken the decision to step into an ownership structure in India when they feel that India is too strategic a market to be “delegated” entirely to a partner (whether licensee or franchisee), or that an Indian partner alone may not be able to do justice to the brand in terms of management effort and financial capital.
In the last few years we have seen several brands take the plunge into investing in the Indian business, among them S. Oliver (Germany), Marks & Spencer (UK) and Mothercare (UK).
During 2011 specifically, Promod changed its franchise arrangement with Major Brands into a joint-venture that is majority-owned by Promod. From its launch in 2005, the brand has opened 9 stores so far. However with the new JV in place, the venture is reported to be looking at opening 40 stores in the next five years.
Most recently, Canali was one of the brands that moved into a majority-owned joint-venture. The brand entered in India in 2004 through a distribution agreement with Genesis Luxury. This has recently given way to a joint venture between the two companies that is owned 51 per cent by Canali. The brand currently operates five exclusive stores in India has plans to accelerate the brands growth in India by opening 10-15 stores over the next three-four years.
The Impact of FDI Regulations
If a “theme of the year” has to be picked for the Indian retail sector in 2011, it must be ‘Foreign Direct Investment’. The debate during the year was hardly a clean and clear “pro vs. con” exchange of ideas. It was a motley mix of extreme lobbying for and against FDI, some balanced reasoning on why FDI should be allowed, and also moderate voices calling for governing the speed at which and the conditions under which foreign investment could be allowed. In many cases there seemed to be dissenting voices emerging from within the government. One possible impact of this uncertainty through the year was that several brands postponed their decisions regarding the potential entry and the strategy that they would follow in India with regard to partnership or investment.
In November 2011, the Indian government announced that 100 per cent foreign investment in single brand retail and 51 per cent foreign ownership of multi-brand retail operations, but was forced to back-track due to vociferous opposition from several quarters. At the very end of the year, the government finally reopened 100 per cent foreign ownership retail operations, albeit limiting it to single brand retail businesses. However, it allowed this under the condition that the Indian retail operation would source at least 30 per cent of its needs from Indian small and mid-sized suppliers.
The condition of 30 per cent domestic sourcing from SMEs is well-intentioned – aiming to provide a growth platform for India’s manufacturing enterprises – but unachievable for brands that do not currently source any serious volumes from India. In fact, for most international fashion brands India contributes less than 10 per cent of their total sourcing, in many cases well under 5 per cent.
Under these circumstances, we shouldn’t expect any dramatic changes, though we do expect the growth in joint-ventures and subsidiaries to continue in the coming months and years.
If an international brand perceives India to be at the right stage of development, and it wishes to exert significant or complete control over its Indian presence, then a majority or completely owned subsidiary seems the most logical step, and the brand will find a way to structure its involvement in India appropriately.
However, many brands that today have a 51 per cent ownership in India are stopping short of climbing to 100 per cent until they can sort out how to meet the SME sourcing conditions.
Getting Over the Sourcing Hurdle
The problem with the 30 per cent sourcing rider is simple. When a brand launches in India, it would like to present the consumer with the most complete product offering that showcases its capabilities and positioning as relevant to the target consumer in India. In most instances, the brand would not be sourcing the full range of its merchandise from India.
This is not a problem if the brand approaches the market through a wholesale or franchise structure, or even with a retail business that is not owned by it 100 per cent.
But for a retailer that wants to own the Indian business completely, complying with the 30 per cent domestic sourcing restriction means developing a new set of suppliers in India from scratch, pulling in the design and product development staff to work with them, and to develop ranges that suit not only the Indian market, but also other markets around the world. Simply putting together an India-specific sourcing team to replicate the entire range to buy small volumes for the Indian business is neither practical nor feasible for most of these brands. This means that the product development and sourcing team must be willing to see India as a strategic supply base for the future, just as their selling-side colleagues may be seeing it as a strategic market.
In this context it is worth repeating something that I have said before: retail managers are generally risk averse, and like to move in packs – where there are some brands, more come in and create a mutually reinforcing business environment. The presence of other international brands – especially from their own country – helps in creating a familiar context at first sight and encourages further exploration of the market. At least for the executives handling international retail expansion, India presents a more ‘familiar’ and ‘developed’ face today than ten years ago.
However, the explosive growth that we have witnessed in terms of the number of brands present in India is not mirrored by the growth of fashion sourcing out of India. In fact, even when compared to what has happened in the global textile, apparel and footwear sourcing environment since quotas were removed in 2005, the India’s export growth looks dispiritingly low, even stagnant. China still remains the largest source for fashion products, while countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and Viet Nam have grown their share aggressively. India’s share of clothing exports is a lowly one-tenth that of China.
In our work related to global sourcing strategies for western retailers, on an objective measurement matrix of sourcing competitiveness India rates highly. In several cases, sourcing from India as a hub (and, for European retailers, Turkey as a hub) has been seen as a logical counterweight to balance out the high concentration of current sourcing in China.
However, product development and sourcing is not entirely an objective process – in fact, sourcing habits are sometimes the hardest to change. The buyer’s subjective experiences – sometimes buried deeply in the past career – have a significant role to play. A conversation from 2001 with the sourcing head of a European brand sticks in my mind, when he said, “I don’t really want to buy anything from India – Indian suppliers can do a very limited product range, quality isn’t always good and the shipments are always late.” On probing further, I discovered that his last transaction was in 1992, after which he never set foot in India again. Much as we might present statistics and facts about the developments in the Indian textile and apparel industry, a personal injury early in his career has left a deep scar that obviously influenced this gentleman’s buying decisions worth over €300 million in global apparel sourcing, or about €700-800 million worth of sales.
There is clearly much to be done in terms of encouraging modernisation and better organisation amongst apparel suppliers, and making those changes visible to buyers. Even brands that are well-engaged with the Indian supply base have between 40-70% of their people here focussed on in-line and post-production quality issues. We are today at a stage where larger and better-equipped apparel exporters would be best placed to address the needs of international brands within India, but find the volumes too small to bother with setting up entirely different documentation and accounting processes.
Health & Safety and Labour compliances are also areas in which the brands will not forego their corporate standards. Can we imagine a brand saying that its European customers do not want their products made in sweatshops, but for the Indian consumers of the brand this is not (yet) an issue? While this may be a fact, would a high profile brand risk its global reputation to source competitively for its small Indian business?
So a government dictat to international brands’ fully-owned subsidiaries to ensure that they source 30 per cent of their needs is not enough. At best it will encourage some of the brands to start looking at India more seriously, but a more likely scenario for most brands is that they will carry on business as usual until the supply base in India pulls up its socks, or until the business in India becomes large enough to be interesting to their existing Indian suppliers who are currently focussed on exports.
Certainly the government itself needs to do much for more manufacturing-friendly policies, as well as focussed investment in infrastructure that can provide rapid, efficient and cost-effective transportation from the country and within the country.
It is time to bridge the gap between “textile exports” and “fashion retail” in the country. Remember, the explosive growth of brands in China followed the manufacturing explosion, not the other way round. Until the Indian apparel, textile and footwear manufacturing sector grows strongly, the actual volume growth of modern fashion retail will remain hobbled, regardless of the number of brands that enter the market.
To me this statement by a senior professional from one of Hong Kong’s largest apparel companies says it all: “The Indian industry looks like a formidable competitor, the day it decides to wake up.”
Drawing the Full Circle of Confidence
In closing I would like to mention the least acknowledged, but a very important part of the growth of international brands in India: the acquisition of brands overseas by Indian companies. The Aditya Birla group laid an early foundation when it bought out, for India and several other territories, the perpetual rights for Coats Viyella’s brands including Louis Philippe, Van Heusen and Allen Solly. Lerros was a slightly different example – being a brand that was set up by the House of Pearl in Germany – but that also circled back to India. More recently (2010) we have the example of the Swiss company Switcher Holdings, whose with brands including Switcher, Respect and Whale, was bought by PGC Industries.
In markets such as the EU, there are today brands that may be available because they are finding difficult to survive in harsh trading environments and that do not have the financial or management bandwidth to take on initiatives in growing markets like India. These offer a legitimate growth platform for Indian companies that are strong in manufacturing those product categories and want to move higher up the value chain from being a generic commodity “supplier”.
Although exporters may initially approach these brands for franchise or license relationships, to some it soon becomes clear that if they are in a position to make an incremental investment they could well own the perpetual rights and perhaps the whole business, rather than investing in building up someone else’s brand, especially in the business in India is likely to grow very rapidly. Obviously, this new-found confidence needs to be backed with solid management capability, but as other consumer goods companies such as Tata (beverages, automotive), Mahindra (automotive) and Dabur (personal care) have shown, it is entirely feasible to look at growth in India as well as internationally by using an existing international brand as a stepping stone.
It also presents a challenge of classifying such brands as international or Indian. Bata was founded in the Czech Republic and went global from there – however, today it is legitimate to treat it as a Canadian brand since its headquarters moved there in the 1960s. Among other products, Gloria Jean’s Coffee was founded in the USA, but is now completely Australian-owned. In that sense, today would that not make Louis Philippe, Allen Solly, Switcher Indian brands?
I think this puzzle is a challenge that many people in the industry in India would look forward to contributing to.
Additional comment after reading the following blog post on Forbes on Single Brand Retailing (March 12, 2012):
Policies restricting foreign investment are not the biggest barrier to entering the Indian market. Brands and retailers that are clear that India is a strategic market with which they wish to engage will find a way. Even the largest global retailers have created structures that allow them a toehold in the market, awaiting a larger opening, despite the current ban on FDI in multi-brand retail.
The biggest barrier to entering India is actually the comfort zone within which the management team of an international retailer or brand may be operating. For some, the business environment of India needs at least a small step outside that comfort zone, for others it needs a big leap of faith.
There are encouraging signs of this happening already. Research carried out by Third Eyesight shows that the number of foreign brands operating in India in the fashion segment alone have quadrupled since 2005-2006, and a significant chunk of these are operating with direct investment in the Indian operations, whether as 100 per cent owned subsidiaries or as joint-ventures, indicating their growing comfort and confidence in the market.
One last word of advice: assess the opportunity pragmatically; don’t come looking for “a small percentage of the 1.3 billion population” in the short term – it takes time and patience to develop a meaningful share in the market.
Indian Terrain Fashions’ plans to launch a ‘Made in America’ jeans brand using denim from a US mill made into jeans in Guatemala, is a move that bucks trends for brands sold in India. The move is an interesting twist in the growth story of a 10-year-old brand that was, until recently, a business division of the Chennai-based apparel manufacturer Celebrity Fashions. Celebrity’s notable customers include Gap, Nautica, Armani Jeans, Timberland, Dockers and Ann Taylor.
About five years ago, Celebrity had invested in growing its capacity by acquiring another exporter’s manufacturing facilities. However, Celebrity’s manufacturing and export business has been under pressure due to the difficult environment in its main markets, and last year Indian Terrain was demerged from its parent.
It now seems Indian Terrain is striking out on an independent path, with plans to launch a ‘Made in America’ jeans brand. Managing director Venkatesh Rajgopal says the company proposes to source the denim from an American mill and have the jeans manufactured Denimatrix in Guatemala, which also produces for brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch. According to him, Indian Terrain will use the same raw material as Abercrombie & Fitch, and “will be able to track every pair of jeans to the same cotton fields in Texas.”
The company’s competitors, both domestic and international brands operating in India, mainly buy denim products from within the country.
Denim is currently a very small part of Indian Terrain’s casualwear product mix which is largely sourced from its parent, Celebrity Fashions. The company is looking at launching the “mid-premium” priced brand in September that will not be “just about quality, but about offering a lifestyle.” Rajgopal estimates that denim has the potential to grow to 30-35% of the company’s business in three years.
The demerger of Indian Terrain from its parent company was carried out in 2010 with a view to achieving better valuation for the branded business and to provide additional liquidity to its founders and private equity investors. The company is currently present at about 80 exclusive brand stores and through 400 multi-brand retail stores, in eight cities, as well as in Singapore’s Mustafa Mall. It closed the financial year ending 31 March 2011 with sales of INR1.21bn (US$27m), and expects to grow its top line by 25% this year.
Its retail customers wait to see whether Indian Terrain will be able to effectively integrate denim into its core brand philosophy and grow to a third of the product range. However, for investors the critical question is this: after the demerger from the manufacturing parent and with product being imported from the Americas, will the brand business be able to maintain gross margins at the current levels of about 40% to 45%? Only time will tell.
At the outset let me mention the fact that in the title of this post lies a Freudian slip. The intended title was “Corporate Responsibility – Beyond Labels”. But the new – unintended – title captures the thought perfectly. (And I’ll come back to that in closing.)
Third Eyesight was recently asked by a multi-billion dollar global consumer brand to facilitate a round-table discussion focussing on the issue of how to drive ethical behaviour and sustainable business models into their sector. This company has a well documented strategy and action plan until 2020, and their team was travelling together in India visiting other corporate and non-corporate initiatives, to learn from them.
For the round table, we brought together brands, retailers, manufacturers, compliance audit and certification agencies, craft and community oriented organisations and non-government organisations (NGOs working on environment stewardship. Some were intrinsically linked to the consumer goods / retail sector, others were not. Among those present was Ramon Magsaysay award winner Mr. Rajendra Singh of the Tarun Bharat Sangh, an organisation that has, over the last several years, worked in recharging thousands of water reservoirs leading to the rebirth of several rivers.
The diversity (and sometimes total divergence) in views among the participants was a powerful driver for the debate during the day, which was the main intention behind having a really mixed group.
(Try this experiment yourself. Get a bunch of people together who define their work as being in the “corporate responsibility” stream. Then ask them the meaning of that phrase, and watch the entirely different tracks people move on. You might be left wondering, whether they are really working towards a common goal.)
At the end, though, the result was productive, since the divergent perspectives opened avenues that may have previously not been visible.
In the case of our discussion, the topics that were covered included labour standards and compliance, reduction of the product development footprint, closed-loop supply chains, water management, organic raw materials, energy conservation and community involvement in business. Some of the issues raised were:
My view is that these diverse areas and views can be aligned most effectively if we look at responsibility and sustainability in all its dimensions. These dimensions, to my mind, are:
– The Environment
– The Community
– The Organisation
– The Individual
Here is a suggested list to start with, which we can use to try out thought-experiments, viewing each issue in different dimensions and from different points of view (for example, buyer based in a developed market, supplier based in a developing country, an individual working in the supply chain, his family and broader community):
In closing, let me come back to “Babel”. According to the Book of Genesis, a huge tower was built “to the heavens” to demonstrate the achievement of the people of Babylon who all spoke a single language, and to bind them together into a common identity. God apparently was not particularly happy with this self-glorifying attitude, and gave the people different languages and scattered them across the earth.
Whatever your religious (or non-religious) affiliation, this story holds a gem of a lesson.
No matter how noble the cause of the corporate responsibility warrior, it is good to be humble and allow diversity rather than trying to capture everyone under one monolith with an apparently common goal. The diversity may be a lot more productive and help to spread the benefits wider than one single initiative.
The day that we spent on the sustainability round-table certainly demonstrated that very well.
The Textile and apparel industry is of particular importance to India. It not only provides employment to a broad base of semi-skilled and unskilled labour but also helps to extend the economic bounty to urban and semi urban areas. Though India has a history of thousands of years in global trading of textile, it contributes only 3% to the global exports of textile and clothing.
While the urge to grow exists, there is a huge difference between the current exports of about Rs. 864 billion (US$ 20 billion) and the target of Rs. 2,500 billion (US$ 55 billion) by 2012. To achieve this vision, exports must grow at around 25-35 per cent a year for the next 4 years, depending on how weak or stable the current year is. This growth rate seems difficult considering the fact India has actually grown its exports of textiles and apparel at an annualized growth of a little over 14 per cent from 2003-04 to 2007-08.
Even if the industry looks at increasing the volume of exports to achieve the vision, the ports do not have the handling capacity considering that they currently operate at 91 to 92 % of available capacity.
Hence, incremental thinking will not help to achieve the vision.
Our key concern is the value “lost” by the industry. Being the low cost supplier does not necessarily translate into greater market share. The Indian Industry must look at enhancing the value delivered rather than competing on the cost platform. Indeed, India compares poorly to other countries on the value captured per employee. (For instance, if the export value captured per employee in India was as much as Turkey, India’s exports would be close to China’s exports of US$ 161 billion.)
One major concern that needs to be addressed is that India’s exports are still weighted in favour of raw materials and intermediate products, rather than finished products. Apparel exports account for only 41% of India’s textile exports in 2007-08. India’s product mix also needs to be aligned to global market needs, rather than only focussing on “traditional strengths” – this includes enhancing the share of non-cotton products in the basket.
Another area that is neglected is the inherent competitive capability of developing new products. The industry needs to develop and nurture these skill sets to create a sustained competitive advantage in the global scenario. India already provides buyers with value in terms of product development and design, which needs focus and further strengthening.
Further, India’s domestic industry, and its skill at understanding market needs, creating and merchandising product, can also play a valuable role in the industry’s growth.
The competitive advantage offered by being able to influence the development of a product is immense. And given that sourcing lead times are shorter in unpredictable times, a supply base that has been involved with the buyer right from the development stage of the product is most likely to get the final order. Third Eyesight proposes a four dimensional model: Define, Design, Develop and Deliver so as to achieve the industry-wide development, of projecting India as a valuable supplier, and sustaining its value needs.
By creating an ecosystem focused on design and product development, India can create and capture the billions of dollars worth of value that is being lost to other countries.
This is an extract from Third Eyesight’s report presented at the FICCI 3rd Annual Textile And Garment conference in Mumbai. The report was released by the Minister of Textiles, Government of India. To download the full report prepared by Third Eyesight, please click here.
To discuss how we can help you with your specific business needs, please get in touch with us via email (please send it to services [at] thirdeyesight [dot] in) or via this form: CONNECT.
The Third Eyesight Knowledge Series© comprises of workshops designed and developed to help functional heads, line managers and executives refresh and upgrade functional and product expertise.
Third Eyesight’s next workshop in this series is focussed on Creating & Managing Lifestyle and Fashion Brands.
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The Third Eyesight Knowledge Series© comprises of workshops designed and developed to help functional heads, line managers and executives refresh and upgrade functional and product expertise.
The Soft Goods Series is specially focused at the Clothing, Textile and the Fashion Industry. Within this, the Textile Facts & Fabric Sourcing module is aimed at developing a working knowledge of fabrics commonly used by the apparel industry; identifying the domestic and international source markets for these textiles; understanding the costing of textiles based on the value add and finishing processes; and familiarizing participants with the common and varied end uses of these fabrics.
Dates: 4th & 5th July 2008
Duration: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Venue: PHD Chamber of Commerce
August Kranti Marg, New Delhi.
Workshop Fee: Rs. 5,500 per participant (plus service tax)
Other modules in the Series cover topics related to Product Development, Supply Chain Management, Merchandise Buying and Planning, Business Communication and Fashion Brand Management. The workshops have been designed as an integrated series. However, each module is complete and self contained and participants have the flexibility to select independent modules based on their training requirement.
Participant profile: Production Managers and Coordinators, Merchandisers, Retail buyers and Product Developers, Buying House Merchandisers.
For further information please contact us at +91 (124) 4293478, 4030162.
“Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.”
– Bill Drayton, CEO, chair and founder of Ashoka, a global nonprofit organization devoted to developing the profession of social entrepreneurship
One of the exciting by-products of the increased awareness and practice of corporate social responsibility has been the emergence and growth of social entrepreneurship as a serious social and ‘business’ trend in the last two decades. The potential of successfully marrying the competencies of business generating sources and markets, with solutions to social and environment issues is the main principle that underlies the concept of successful social entrepreneurship.
Today’s social entrepreneur is a dynamic, committed and driven individual who is able to identify sustainable solutions to social problems. He uses earned income strategies to pursue a social objective, and the outcome is directly connected to his commitment to resolve the social or environmental malaise he chooses to address through this enterprise. The profitability of a social entrepreneurship is driven by both financial and social returns, with the financial returns being redeployed into the enterprise to further its growth and sustain the ‘business’.
The future of permanent and lasting social change lies in the ability of these social enterprises becoming independent and self sustaining, moving away from philanthropy and becoming financially independent.
Modern day social entrepreneurship therefore, is actually about sustaining social change and growth through self-sufficiency instead of charitable contributions and government grants and subsidies.
In several conversations recently, there has been reference to how much contribution comes from small-medium enterprises, the need to protect the small-scale industry (SSI) to provide diversity etc.
After all the conversations, one thought keeps coming to mind. While small businesses need to be enabled, and an ecosystem and environment created for them to thrive, there is no reason to keep them from growing.
Entrepreneurship is organic, a business is a living thing. Basic high-school biology teaches us that living things (as opposed to non-living things) grow. Preventing a living thing from growing is going against its very nature.
But that is exactly what reservation of certain manufacturing sectors for small scale does – it creates a government-regulated ceiling beyond which the business cannot invest (and, therefore, cannot grow).
The apparent objective of the policy is to “protect” the industry sector from competition from large companies. The underlying assumption is that large companies compete unfairly, and that small companies in the reserved sectors effectively cannot compete against larger players.
However, many industries and sectors in India are paying the price for that policy. For instance, even after the clothing sector was allowed a higher cap of investment in plant & machinery, and then finally removed from the list of SSI-reserved list, it struggles with its fragmented structure, against larger-scale and more efficient competitors based in China , neighbouring Bangladesh and other countries.
Obviously, in global trade, restricting the growth of domestic industry does nothing to make the country competitive. It only protects it from itself, and makes it inefficient.
So every time the list of industries reserved for small scale is reduced, in my opinion it improves the potential competitiveness of Indian industry. In that light, the government’s announcement this week of removing some more industries from the list is an occasion to cheer.
The government has identified mechanical equipment, electrical goods and stationery as the categories to be opened to larger scale manufacturing.
Consumers, retailers and consumer products brands have something to look forward to, considering that this may include products such as steel cupboards, doors, windows and ventilators, steel furniture, locks, steel and aluminium utensils, builders’ hardware, sewing machines, kitchen gadgets, and pens.
We await the final list with bated breath. And look forward to other consumer goods also being removed from the SSI-reserved list and being opened to higher investments.
Fashion is, by definition, perishable. Like, bread, eggs and milk. Or is it?
When bread turns stale, eggs turn rotten or milk turns rancid, you do have to throw it away. Fashion is different, because its perishability is artificial, driven by popular perception that something is “out-of-date” or that something else is “the look of the day”. You don’t really have to throw that blue peasant skirt out in the garbage or in the Salvation Army bin…but you do anyway, because it is so yesterday…or that’s what everyone else is saying.
Earlier, perceptions took time to spread, today they can be spread instantaneously through the web, TV and cell phones, and pretty quickly, even through slow media like print magazines.
So ‘Fast Fashion’ is really a product of fast media and communications technologies.
Having said that, it is here to stay, and regular (mainstream) slow-coaches do need to be worried about customers being seduced away by the ever-fresh look of a Chico’s or a Zara.
I can’t even begin to estimate the millions of dollars that must have been spent on “studying the Zara model”. However, while Zara’s model seems to scream “best practice” and everyone wants to emulate it – is it really for everyone?
Inditex (Zara’s parent company) has grown over 40+ years of evolution, in a specific market and business context. It may have “exploded” on the global scene when it floated its IPO in 2001, but the business model has been brewing a long time.
It has such significant investments in production that Inditex is as much a manufacturer as a retailer. Its people and process model almost diametrically opposite the command and control, “buying director – driven” model of other retailers. Its technology investments are focused better than most of its peers. (See case study and presentation)
Would your company’s DNA allow you to invest in and manage fabric and apparel manufacturing? Would it allow young people to be sent out to take bigger-ticket purchase decisions with fewer approvals than they do now? Would your design team really trust your frontline store staff with feeding them relevant trend information every day?
And yet, and yet…As labour costs rise in Europe, Zara is also being forced to rethink its model of local or regional production. As it does move more production to places like India and China, the big question is whether it can maintain the sanctity of its business model.
I won’t advise other retailers to breathe easy, but they don’t need to roll over and die just yet.
This is a brief note to share an impromptu impression (and some anguish) about our apparel exports that came up after reading a magazine article recently. But let me start by sharing quotes from that article:
Quote 1: India is an ideal sourcing base…Company A has a global purchasing process in place, which helps to source from any best “QSTP base” (that’s quality, service, technology and price) across the globe. “Some of the Indian suppliers are providing the best QSTP”, points out the vice-president of corporate affairs for Company A.
Quote 2: Exports today make up 12-15 per cent of Company B’s US $ 200 million (Rs 1,000 crores) turnover, and are expected to contribute 25 per cent of revenues in three years…”We recently won the bid for a specific product. This is a product that we do not make in India, yet our facility won the bid,” explains the director of exports in Company B which made US $ 1 million from the product and will start exporting it to Canada soon.
Quote 3: “The advantages of sourcing from India are assured quality to meet customer requirements, a wide product range, availability and competitive pricing. India is a perfect sourcing base.”
Quote 4: “I believe India should aspire for an export growth of 20 per cent per annum over the next decade – nearly double the current target of 12 per cent in our Tenth Plan.”
Do the above sound like anything you have recently heard from our customers? If so, congratulations! If not, you need to seriously ask yourselves. Why not! Would you believe it if I told you that the four quotes above are from industries where India had virtually no competitive advantage even five years ago (and I am not talking about software), and hardly any presence in the world market?
But that is actually the case. The industries and the companies are automobiles (General Motors), consumer durables (Whirlpool), speciality chemicals (Clariant) and fast-moving consumer goods (Unilever/Hindustan Lever). Cast your mind just 15 years ago to Premier Padmini and Ambassador. I still remember the ad launching the Ambassador Mark IV with its “sleek” looks (that was what the ad said!). And here we are in 2002, when two of the largest car companies in the world, Ford and General Motors are exporting cars and components to other markets. The very same country, the very same industry, and a much more competitive time. And yet, the India supply base is managing to shine! The same is true of the three other industries quoted above. And I haven’t even started talking about the software industry, let alone many other sectors.
So, in that context, let us talk about our traditional (centuries-old) strength, with over 30 lakh people under employment base — the textile and apparel industry. Once upon a time India used to have a market share of 25 per cent in the global trade. People within the industry can readily prepare a long list of problems to share with anyone willing to listen, explaining why we are no longer in that dominant situation. Most people think that the problems the industry is facing are very recent.
In the context of the (correct) view expressed in the government that future growth will be garment-led, let me quote another fact. Indian garment exports missed the target not just in 2001, but also in 1997, 1995, 1993 and 1991. In 1996, we barely scraped past. Does this mean that the apparel export growth target unrealistic? Or is it that the industry is slipping up in terms of taking enough action, and is only reacting to external events? Is there a way to take the industry successfully into the future?
It seems that every time there is some external adverse factor, the Indian industry seems to get badly hit, otherwise it seems to do just fine. Even global trade statistics and Indian export statistics suggest that India is riding piggy back on the growth in global trade. That means when the going is good, it rides the wave, and when the going gets tough, there is very little internal strength for it to sustain itself.
September 11, market recession. Maybe WTO quota-free environment in 2005 will, therefore, do the same thing? As individual companies, some firms (I won’t name them) have invested wisely and may be still around as a growing part of a diminishing base of companies. Others will have to think hard now, if they still want to be around and growing. My suggestion. Don’t think only about “price” or “cost”.
The thought process, and the actions that we take, need to reflect – Product, people, process and technology. Why? Because, if business trends are poor, buyers tend to first dump the worst suppliers. If the business trends are good, buying from the best suppliers increases the most. It’s really a very obvious choice. Only companies that take into account all the above factors, will migrate towards the better end of the scale and therefore survive.
H&M is one of the larger sourcing companies in India. Yet, I remember sharing the stage at a CII conference a few months ago with their global sourcing head, and he said (with some regret, I believe) that India’s share in their sourcing was going down. This is from a company whose own business has been growing rapidly. It is our misfortune that we are not able to capture the growth equally in our exports to this company.
The government also presents a mixed bag of actions and inaction, because there is no clear growth vision that is strongly lobbied by the entire industry (from fibre to apparel as a supply chain), or even from an entire sector (for example, all apparel exporters). A journalist, I was speaking to just about one year ago, quoted a prominent north Indian garment exporter who was extremely pessimistic about his company’s and the entire industry’s business prospects. If there is such “confidence” within the industry, what kind of a picture can we present to external parties? (A short story break: A poor man prayed for years and years to his family’s deity, asking for help in managing his household expenses. Finally he got sick and tired of the whole thing and started to throw the sacred idol out of his house, when the god appeared and asked him why he was so angry. The man vented his frustration about not getting any help from god, despite the years of prayers and meditation. The lord said, “My child, you also need to make some effort to give me the means to help you. The least you could do is to buy a lottery ticket!!”)
Substitute “government” for “god” and “industry” in the place of the man, and we find a similar situation in real life.
People actually sit up when I say that the Indian industry exports about Rs 30,000 crores of garments, and a total of almost Rs 60,000 crores in all textile products. People, even within the industry (surprised?) are not aware of the magnitude of the importance and the impact of the apparel industry. It is one of the best kept open secrets. There is very little hype, and very little interest. Therefore, there is very little support from anyone else that the industry needs support from. The only time the Indian fashion industry hits the news is when a “Fashion Week” comes to town, representing the interests of a segment that does a total of less than Rs 200 crores of business! So will the Indian apparel export industry be around in 2005, or will it be one of the seven missing wonders of the world?
A 6-year old quoted the following in his school assembly a few days ago, “The real difficulty lies within ourselves, not in our surroundings.” I think that is a very good introspection with which to end this note (although I have many more thoughts to share), and a good starting point for the rest of our thought process.