Van Heusen’s bespoke pitch


February 3, 2015

Sharleen D’souza, Business Standard

Mumbai, 3 February 2015

In search of the next sales pitch, some of Madura Fashion and Lifestyle’s (part of Aditya Birla Nuvo) apparel brands are turning to customisation. The first to let consumers have a go at it was Madura’s Louis Philippe, but that was seven-eight years ago. Now, Van Heusen, its mid-to-premium formal clothing brand and its casual clothing brand extension, V Dot, are set to take it up on a mass level.

Ironically, the readymade apparel market flourished and overtook the unorganised tailoring segment when customers eschewed bespoke shirts and pants. And yet, one of the major readymade players is bringing some of the latter’s characteristics back.

Van Heusen is calling the move MY FIT, and it will run parallel with its regular readymade offerings. Van Heusen’s entire range will be customisable in the next one month, at its own stores. The consumer can change the collar style, sleeve length and add or take an inch or two for a better fit.

Van Heusen is betting on the fact that most of its competition, such as Park Avenue (Raymond), Zodiac and Blackberry, operating in the same price range, do not offer such customisation. However, it will go up against Raymond’s ‘Made to Measure’. Both will now have shirts priced upwards of Rs 2,000 (inclusive of Van Heusen’s extra charge of Rs 300 for customisation). In case of Louis Philippe, customised shirts begin at Rs 6,000.

Van Heusen will deliver the garment in seven to nine days, with plans to cut short the delivery time to five to six days. “We are looking at a deeper customer engagement with the brand. This is a complete change in our business model,” says Vinay Bhopatkar, chief operating officer of Van Heusen.

The jury of experts seems to be divided on the move. Some feel that customers walk into a branded readymade apparel store because they want to buy what is available and not spend their resources of time and money to add to that task. “Customers want a complete product when they walk in. They are not designers who would want to alter a product if they are not happy with it,” says Prashant Agarwal, joint-MD of retail consultant, Wazir Advisors.

Yet others say the hybrid model could be a way forward. “It is a fairly significant move for the brand. For a customer, buying readymade clothes is a question of trial and error. Not every product suits the body frame. The concept of the brand going back to the single piece is huge,” says Devangshu Dutta, chief executive at Third Eyesight, a retail consultancy firm.

Aditya Birla Nuvo, which has been shoring up its apparel business by not just adding to the count of its branded stores but also with acquisitions such as Pantaloons, has been trying to include a greater scope for customisation across its brands. Besides Louise Phillipe and Van Heusen, its casual clothing brand, Allen Solly, too, had introduced the option of choosing from a palette of 670 dyes for a custom colour, last year. These options can also drive footfall to the brands’ exclusive stores where these are available, rather than shop-in-shops or multi-brand outlets where trade margins are lower.

Van Heusen’s litmus test would be the extension of MY FIT to its women’s line in the next few months, as Bhopatkar informs. Launched in 2007 but scaled up since 2013, it contributes 10 per cent to revenues (in 2013-14, Van Heusen’s total sales stood at Rs 1,500 crore). Women’s readymade clothes are the largest ready-to-wear segment and Van Heusen claims its business is growing at 30-40 per cent.

The brand will dedicate 10 per cent of its in-house manufacturing capacity to customisation. The store staff,too, has been trained to guide customers.

The overall apparel market is around Rs 2.75 lakh crore of which branded apparel is around 25 per cent.

(Published in Business Standard.)