Ornate turbans, ceremonial armaments, ostentatious clothing and exquisite jewellery, India’s erstwhile maharajas’ impeccable sartorial preferences went down the annals of history. The royalty favoured global luxury houses such as Jeanne Paquin, Schiaparelli, Van Cleef & Arpels, Ferragamo as well as Indian artisans. But over the decades, and since independence, menswear has taken a backseat to womenswear in India, not only in terms of style, but also investment. Womenswear not only occupies more retail space, but also reams of newsprint and attention in the mainstream. But things are now changing. According to a report from Edelweiss Broking, the men’s apparel segment in India is expected to clock a CAGR of 8 per cent by 2020, hitting USD19 billion.
Traditionally, the luxe market catered mainly to occasion wear, with a few ready-to-wear stores thrown in the mix. But in recent times, homegrown labels such as Raymond, Kunal Rawal, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Troy Costa, SS HOMME, Bombay Shirt Company jostle for space along with international labels such as Massimo Dutti, Brooks Brothers, Paul Smith, Ermenegildo Zegna. Clearly, menswear in India is coming of age.
Threads for all seasons
Couturier to Bollywood’s millennials, Kunal Rawal, Founder of the eponymous menswear label that is a melange of Indian heritage in modern silhouettes, says times are finally changing, “Menswear is a nascent but growing market. In recent years it is being viewed as a separate industry rather than just a step-brother to womenswear.” One of the biggest changes has been the shift from occasion specific clothing to threads for all seasons and times, thanks to globalisation, the explosion of social media, the influx of international labels and the appearance of homegrown brands in the domestic retail landscape. Gaurav Mahajan, President-Apparel, Raymond, says, “Men’s wardrobes in India have evolved with the men themselves. Men are doing much more than just shuttling between work and home. There are many more occasions to attend, thus they are sporting wider wardrobes to suit these occasions.” As a result, apparel and accessories are more visibly pronounced, as are grooming and fitness.
Agrees Sanjana Bubber, Co-founder of Bubber Couture, a label which caters to the minimalistic man, the business of menswear has moved beyond the basics. “Men have become more experimental. They have started to express their inner creativity through their clothing,” says Bubber. To cater to this growing demand from the urban Indian male, a host of local sartorial options have cropped up.
The demographic too is broadening, including younger and experimental shoppers. SS HOMME, an Indo-fusion bespoke design label founded by Sandeep and Sarah Shaikh Gonsalves, recently launched its 3,500 sq ft menswear store in Santacruz, Mumbai. “We cater to a very niche clientele of HNIs, comprising NRIs, businessmen, corporates and several renowned names in the business and entertainment industries,”says Gonsalves. The brand appeals to fashion forward male clients, usually older than 23 years.
Rawal goes a step ahead to say that the face of Indian menswear retail cannot be defined by generalisations. “India is a whirlpool of aesthetics,” he says. Rawal’s label isn’t restricted to a demographic, but to a certain audience to whom his edgy aesthetic appeals, across a range of age groups. “The affluent Indian male shopper across ages is looking for something exciting and not run-of-the-mill.”
The Retail Challenges
The retail growth in the segment has been stymied by the lack of opportunities for brands. Mitesh Lodha, Founder of the eponymous menswear label emphasises that the biggest challenge facing the industry is the lack of dedicated retail menswear channels. “This impacts the scalability of a label. Also, the industry lacks platforms that act as a launch pad for labels.” While the womenswear sector is supported by a multitude of retail options, be it multi-brand designer stores, pop-ups and retail websites, menswear is challenged by the lack of viable options owing to men’s unique shopping habit of being focussed shoppers, avoiding exhibitions and such.
The retail strategy of owned stores is an expensive route, but is being adopted by brands to showcase the luxury brand experience, creating an aura around the label. For niche brands, the prime focus is to strengthen presence in the major cities, as they explore opportunities in secondary cities. Rawal’s second store in Mumbai is about to open at the iconic Rhythm House in Mumbai, and he has his eyes set on Hyderabad and Delhi as well. Rawal believes it’s necessary to set the bar high by delivering a cohesive brand story, through curated shows, campaigns, and store design, etc., thus ensuring a differentiated experience.
For Raymond, apart from the metro cities, the tier II, III and IV cities are in focus. “Over the last two years Raymond has opened 200 stores in these catchments and now has stores in as many as 500 towns across the country,”
Given the limitations in establishing a wide bricks-and-mortar presence, menswear brands are increasingly looking at an omni-channel approach, exploring e-commerce to reach out to an audience across the globe. But for custom-made apparel, which requires multiple fittings, e-commerce needs to be supported by intelligent technology. Akshay Narvekar, Founder of made-to-measure shirt making company, Bombay Shirt Company, has created a website which has a user-friendly interface that lets customers pick all the details on a shirt with ease. “The measurements are taken by our proprietary algorithm, which calculates a person’s true size after he answers five simple questions. And our customer-care is always on hand to ensure that people are happy with their shirts,” he says.
Going ahead, a seamless unity of both bricks-and-mortar stores as well as e-commerce will be required by brands hoping to make a dent in the market. “Bricks-and-mortar stores can help you deepen the trust with your clients by understanding their personality and needs more efficiently. On the contrary, e-commerce is a faster and more convenient process and less time consuming,” says Gonsalves, adding in the luxury space the “touch and feel” factor is necessary. “It’s always good to have your brand as ‘the eyes on the ground’ instead of being ‘the data in the clouds,’” he asserts.
Men are looking for value-based products, great after sales services, and most importantly, great design across every facet of their life. A natural extension for the brands has been in the segment of accessories, creating a complete look for the customer. Gautam Sinha, Founder of Nappa Dori, which began as a leather bags brand in 2010 has now evolved into a complete lifestyle company, a predominantly male-centric brand. Though their main customers are women, who comprise around 70 per cent of the shoppers, Sinha says the purchases are being made mostly on behalf of men. Nappa Dori recently opened a concept atelier in Delhi’s Dhan Mill compound, which offers bespoke leather product services, as well as a retail and a dining experience. Sinha laments that despite having one of the world’s largest consumer retail sector that boasts a massive growing middle class with disposable income, opportunity is clipped by the lack of infrastructure. “Our organised retail market is below 8 per cent, whereas a city like New York has about 92 per cent organised retail. This needs to change if we are to compete with international brands at an even footing. We need to get more support by the government to create an environment conducive to retail.”
While the domestic market is lucrative, in a world without borders, social media and e-commerce has opened doors to local companies to expand abroad. Especially as international labels are making a beeline into the country, ‘Make in India’ is pushing home grown brands on an international platform. “With the ‘handcrafted’ element and ‘exclusivity’, one can push western wear as well through various international channels,” comments Gonsalves, who believes the time has come for brands to look beyond their boundaries.
The market today is competitive with a galore of discounts and promotion led sales, favouring modern-day maharajas, till the dust settles. “While this will self-correct over time, it will create a strain on fundamentals in the short-term,” cautions Mahajan, as all brands have geared up for the festive season. Until the market consolidates and matures, the euphoria for the male Indian shopper will continue.