The Indian women‘s innerwear is a huge potential market and is yet to be explored and penetrated to reach its zenith. Though, lingerie can be traced back to 3,000 BC, lingerie shopping is still a confidential matter, especially in India, and has a number of social stigmas attached to it. Srikant Velu, President, Sangam India Ltd., delves deep into the industry and outlines the challenges it has been facing.
When I decided to write this article, I thought my best guide would be my daughter, who is from the mass media fraternity and a buyer from this generation and can provide me with more deeper insights. To my surprise, she was very reluctant to talk to me on the subject. Lingerie is still a hush- hush matter, not to be openly discussed even between mother and daughters, forget fathers.
I recall, sometime back, when I went to a newly opened international lingerie brand store at one of the leading malls, the store executive told me that the women seek such privacy while buying intimate wear that most of the times, they even request their male companions to be away from the buying area to allow them to browse and discuss freely with the salesperson, who they generally prefer to be a woman. Such is the lingerie buying scenario in our country. However, my daughter finally did open up but with a complaint, that except for the last two years, where she finally had the freedom of roaming around the malls, choosing her own lingerie from the colourful selection, trying and feeling and discussing with the store staff, she has always had to accept whatever was provided by her mother from a local cosmetic store. Her mother used to decide her size without asking her. She was always given a selection of dull basic colours – black, skin colour or white. No styles, no colours, shape or fashion. This routine was followed every two to three months. She gave a blunt statement, “Now I realize that it’s my body, my own, and only I have the right to decide and govern it.”
Yes, days have changed or and are changing continuously. More advertisements, better communication, vivid displays, retail showrooms, malls, the internet, discussions, blogs and growing independence in women, better buying power, etc., are changing the buying habits of women in India but still, there is a long way to go when it comes to lingerie.
The sheer analysis that lingerie is sold more on e-commerce platforms supports the contention. An innerwear salesperson from a prominent store at Dadar in Mumbai, told me once, “I have to ask and inquire around ten times to my customer and then she opens up; she is reluctant to talk freely on what she wants. We want customer satisfaction, and so we want to understand them better, but the understanding part becomes a problem when it comes to lingerie.”
Though, historically, lingerie can be tracked to 3,000 BC in Egypt, still it still has a long way to go, more so in India, the reason being the lack of freedom given to the garment. The word “lingerie” comes from an old French word “LINGE” which means linen, and in ancient times, even the mention of the word lingerie was considered scandalous. In fact, in the olden times, the usage of corsets on teenage girls was to flatten their bust line.
Evidence shows that in Egypt, loincloth was used to make lingerie. Ancient Greek writings have mentioned a band of linen worn by women around their waist and lower torso. During the middle age, linen were worn under clothes by noble women to protect their expensive dresses from body dirt. Chemise and later corsets were used during the fourth and sixteen century. Chemise was typically worn by women below their petticoats.
Modern fashion emerged from medieval Europe, based on tailoring of clothes and design befitting the body shape. This was the age where women started wearing tight clothes and fittings under their garments to manipulate the shape of their body. Corsets were the call of these days. The 20th century gave alternatives to corsets and bust bodies came into play to support the bosoms as a whole.
The year 1914 gave a new twist to the lingerie wear. Mary Phelps Jacob, a young American socialite, invented the modern brassiere and later patented her lingerie design under the name “Caresse Crosby”. Jacob created this brassiere with two silk handkerchiefs, sewed them together using some ribbon strap and a seam in the center. She later sold the brassiere patent to The Warner Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut for US $1,500 (roughly equivalent to $21,000 in current dollars). Warners introduced the first sizing A, B, and C in 1935.
The 20th century witnessed the augment of man made fabrics like nylon, DuPont Lycra, polyester and elastine, and the changes and development in lingerie reached new heights. Then light weight, supportive, flexible, seamless lingerie came into play.
THE INDIAN SCENARIO
In India, the first start-up for making modern innerwear came up in 1962, with a maiden brand promoted by Associated Apparels Pvt. Ltd., affiliated with foreign brands like Jockey. For a decade, black and white bras and long legged “granny underwears” ruled the market. From there although the market stared to evolve in terms of visual appeal, it’s only now that the fashion trendy, colourful dreams are coming into reality.
Today, the trend is moving forward from being merely functional to becoming an accessory and fashion statement. The Indian women’s innerwear market still remains under-penetrated and thereby holds immense business potential. This market, currently worth around Rs 14,389 crores, is growing at the rate of 15 percent and is distinctly shifting from price sensitive to brand sensitive. Also, preference of fashionable, designer, innovative, bold colours and styles are making it a favourable demand market.
Typically, an Indian woman buyer can be categorised into three categories on the basis of demography, behavioural traits, lifestyle activities, and purchase trends — Urbanite Outlook, who are young, good earners, decision makers, independent and fashion conscious women; Ambitious Buyers, who are from mini metros, ambitious, keen to make a mark and eager to experiment; and Home Makers, who are value seekers.
However , all the three category of buyers quoted above are driven by the changing fashion trends, availability of products, increased awareness, seeking better fit, size, style, comfort, internet, advertisement and communications .
Significantly, the changing socio-economic trends in India like increased disposable incomes, organised retail, increasing number of working women, independent income, awareness and lifestyle aspirations, etc., are the real boosters for the domestic innerwear industry. But still, a long journey is yet to be covered to accelerate this industry to reach its zenith.
The challenges to the industry governors still remain the same, albeit in a lesser magnitude as compared to yesteryears, — give it an absolute social freedom similar to male innerwear, spread knowledge and information, make designs that can effectively boost the beauty, look, feel and confidence of the contemporary Indian women.