Over the years, the women’s wardrobes in India has witnessed a gargantuan change. From the pre-
liberalization traditional sarees and salwaar kameez to the recent inclination towards western wear, the Indian women’s wear industry has evolved to become one of the most lucrative segments to explore. Leaders Discuss.

A quick look around to check on what women are wearing nowadays will lead us to conclude that Indian women are more inclined to western wear than ethnic. What was presumably the only option in pre-liberalized period, ethnic wear, in general, is now more reserved for festive occasions. Even the erstwhile staple salwar kameez has evolved into an Indo-western wear with kurtis and kurtas being paired with palazzos, patialas or leggings. Women’s wear in India indeed has undergone a complete facelift in the last few years.


From the influx of more and more international brands to social media and its spread that exposes world fashion at a click of a button to women venturing out and working, thus becoming financially independent, to even the slow death of tailored clothes, the wardrobe of an average Indian woman is transforming every single day. Krina Panjwani, Chief Operating Officer, Indian Ink, explains, “With social media promotions and marketing, people have become more aware of the fashion trends, everyone is aware of what is in and what is not, and everybody is making an effort to look their best in every way possible.” This quest has led women to open up their wardrobe and include western wear as well. Saurabh Jhingan, Director and Co-Founder, Latin Quarters, shares, “With a shift in urban lifestyle, it has been observed that families have been more casual about the ladies of the family wearing western clothes. Tier -I and -II markets, where the reach of organized retail labels is still limited, are also seeing similar traction both in terms of volume and fashion trends.” To this, Munish Anand, Director, NOI, adds, “We see many women migrating from ethnic to western; if not completely, at least experimenting and this is what brings in a huge opportunity. The transition started some time back when fusion brands were introduced. Today, there are silhouettes that are common to ethnic, fusion and western category; only the print and the fabric changes. This indicates the gradual move towards western wear which is far more trendy and convenient.” Sudershan Jain, Director, Oner, points out, “The biggest change is that even smaller town and cities are catching up with the trend.

Where we have more and more people talking of how western wear has changed rules for a woman’s wardrobe in India, it is wrong to say that this change has killed the scope and acceptance of Indian ethnic wear. In fact, a visit to any high street or mall will tell us how the market for ethnic wear is growing as well, albeit it is now transforming to more of chic ethnic wear. Siddharth Bindra, Managing Director, Biba, talks about the change in choice of women saying that where initially, women used to wear ethnic churidars, kurtis and sarees for traditional functions, nowadays, people have started becoming innovative and are ready to experiment with different cuts, styles, fabrics and bold colours. He observes, “Ethic wear segment is now splurged with choices starring from short and long kurtis, churidars, mix and matches, palazzos, skirts, anarkalis and sequined jackets.

The urge to look good and stay updated with the latest fashion trends have helped ethnic brands offer innovative designs at affordable prices highlighting the feminine grace of the Indian women. Women have started opting for chic looking ethnics even for their day to day fashion and this change in the customer behaviour has helped brands evolve their collections.” Pooja Agrawal, Chief Executive Officer, Juniper, is of the opinion that the entire suit look is out and contrast kurta or jacket kurta with slim pants or palazzos are in vogue. The duppatta too has been replaced today, as being shared by Aarti Ahuja, Head – Marketing, W, “Apart from this, stoles and drapes have been replaced by gilets and long shrugs which offer you a comfortable, free and glamorous look.”

If we have to look at the evolution of brands in this category, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to point out that the ball for branded women’s wear, at least in the Indian ethnic category, at a national level was set rolling by Biba. In the western wear category, we have Pepe and Spykar, but then their primary focus was on denim wear. The onset of organised retail has been a game changer. Big Bazaar, Pantaloons and Landmark Group’s Lifestyle introduced a refreshing change in this category and then we had a couple of brands follow suit which made the concept of mix and match go viral. W was a leader here where the brand came out with a focus on sizing that would suit the Indian body type the way it is. So it was just not about small, medium and large.

Elaborating on the opening up of the market in the category of women’s wear, according to Jhingan, the market has seen many startups emerge over a decade; some have sustained to become a big brand today while some are still floating. Bindra brings out an interesting point on how the spread of brands has evolved over the last few years, “Although ethnic brands for women were present in the market, but there was lack of rigorous marketing initiatives. Unorganised players controlled major market shares as people used to believe that brands were too expensive and sell the same apparels at a higher price. The rise of the spending patterns, willingness to look better and beautiful, readiness to experiment with different styles like Indo western, mix and match, fusion, bohemian, etc. have paved the way for the emergence of more and more ethnic wear brands recently.” Khushboo Parekh, Owner, Vamas, shares, “Women’s clothing was more tailor-made earlier. With life picking up pace and the need of instant readymade clothing, more and more brands are springing up in India.” Radhesh Kagzi, President, 1090F & Fusion Beats, adds to this, “Earlier, women only preferred to wear the regular traditional clothes. Hence the percentage of women open to shopping in the organised retail world was comparatively less. Since the demand for branded clothes was less, there were very few women’s wear brands in India.”

Ajay Modi, Director, Mohey, highlights how the situation has changed now, “There is a shift in the trend given the fact that women these days are working and ‘ready-to-wear’ options give them much ease. Moreover, in this competitive scenario this option gives them unlimited choice along with the scope of customisation, thereby making it a hassle-free experience.” Kagzi talks about the role played by the media in bringing a change, stating, “Media has made women aware about new trends, styles in the fashion industry, thus increasing their aspiration level to buy trendy clothes.” Sameer Patel, Chairman and Founder, Deal, adds, “With globalisation and technology, instant access to fashion around the world became easy, Indian minds started accepting western culture in their day-to-day lives which then influenced their way of clothing. With years passing by, there was an increased likeliness for western wear in India.” Anand talks about how international brands have led to the category opening up, “Entry of international brands have created lot of awareness. The customer is well informed and willing to experiment. Tier -II, Tier -III cities are adding to the consumption. You will see many more brands catering to this segment now.” Sandeep Jain, Executive Director, Monte Carlo, adds, “The situation has now changed. Indian women are now updating their closets but not completely with the western wear rather with the fusion of Indian and western wear. Working women prefer to wear a mix of traditional Indian, Indian-inspired and western apparel to work. Western apparel is the main preference at home or during casual gatherings with friends, and for social and family gatherings, a majority of the women prefer traditional Indian apparel. Studies have also found a paradigm shift in these preferences with working women demonstrating a greater preference for branded western and Indo-western apparel in the recent years. So western brands are developing at an increasing rate in India.” Vandy Mehra, Director, Study by Janak, encapsulates the changes beautifully stating, “It has completely changed because now women are not just the bread-makers, they are the bread winners too. That kind of responsibility gives power too.” Where western wear in India is growing by leaps and bounds, the category still has to see a strong presence of a national brand. The launch of Mango, Zara, Benetton, H&M, etc., has overshadowed the spread of national brands. Sunil Jhangiani, Chairman and Managing Director, Chemistry, talks about why the category still does not have too many players, “It is a risky category and many of the leading domestic brands do not want to venture into this category as they feel it is very difficult to take on the foreign brands in this category. If at all we see brands in the women’s wear category, they try and play with fusion-wear category that is safe as they know the Indian customer and his taste. I really do not know if this will be the way forward in the next 5 years as the Indian target customers is more or less looking at the west. Ethnic wear will never go away as it is culturally linked to the country.”


Sanjay Vakharia, Chief Operating Officer, Spykar, shares, “The situation has changed now due to globalisation and exposure to international trends through different sources such as social media like Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, etc., increasing the fashion consciousness among women coupled with western influences has helped the women western wear segment to evolve into a lucrative market.”

He further says, “The situation has totally changed today. Women are leaving the comfort of their homes and stepping into the corporate world and hence the demand of western wear isincreasing. The socio-economic factor is increasing aspiration and exposure to international fashion along with the influence of Bollywood, which often dictates what many women would like to wear.”

With economic independence, exposure to global fashion trends that is more inclined towards western wear and also lack of time with juggling home and work, women in India are opting for more of readymade wear as compared to getting their clothes tailored. Panjwani shares, “Women are preferring ready-to-wear garments as its trendy, fashionable and hassle free.” Parekh adds, “With the fast Indian life, every woman is opting from tailor- made to readymade as everybody is lacking time and patience to wait for tailor-made clothes.” Patel makes a valid point on what makes readymade a good choice today, “With brands having dedicated team working on understanding body shapes and fits of women, this has led to improvised size charts for women to pick their perfectly fitting outfit. Women today lack time because of their hectic schedules in handling office work as well as household chores, so preference is now given to ready-to-wear clothing.”


So does that mean that women today are moving more towards western wear? Modi shares his views, “There is a shift towards the western wear these days given that at least one woman from a single household is working as an independent woman and making her own living. For everyday professional chores, we mostly see them wearing western apparel. Since ethnic wear is not only confined to the celebrations and festivities in India hence we see an evolution of Indo-western with a pinch of both ethnic and western as the latest trend.” Kagzi aptly explains that the Indian retail industry has been experiencing an increase in women consuming more western wear is because of the aspirational value that the western brands carry. He shares, “Women in India seek to be western in their dressing. A lot of this is an impact of media and surrounding. Women nowadays aspire to wear what they see on the media channels.”

Narinder Singh, Managing Director, Numero Uno, attributes the work culture as one of the primary reason for the growing demand and acceptance of western wear. According to him, “With increasing women in the workforce, and the growing economic independence of women, the demand for women’s western wear is at an all-time high. Women’s western wear is emerging as a clear winner in the women’s wear market. This trend is expected to continue as more women enter into the workforce or aspire to follow the lifestyle of working women. Within working women, there is a growing acceptance of women’s dresses and western formal wear. The working women in the metros and mini metros, in addition to traditional sarees and salwar kameez, are moving towards dresses, formal suits and business attire. Though these markets may remain relatively small, they are expected to grow rapidly.”

Jain though has an interesting point of view. He shares, “Majority of Indian women are living in rural areas and small cities where still Indian ethnic wear rules the roost. It is only in metros and some urban cities in India where we find working women, preferably, switching over to the western wear. Western wear carries the advantages of comfort, affordability and is maintenance friendly. Western brands are also popular among high profile Indian women, celebrities and women who maintain urbane lifestyles.”

Vinod Kumar Gupta, Managing Director, Dollar Missy, explains, “Tailored clothes require time and come out with limited options, whereas ready-to- wear clothes continuously introduce new styles and lots of variations with comfortable fabrics. The new generation of Indian women is more prone to Indo-western clothes due to their hectic day-to-day lifestyle.”

Keeping in mind the above, the market for women’s wear in India is clearly divided between ethnic, western and Indo-western wear. Where ethnic and Indo-western wear remains the forte of national brands, in the western wear category, the national brands have surely taken a hit with the launch of international brands in India. As Panjwani rightly points out, “With global brands coming in a big way with competitive pricing, it is definitely becoming difficult for Indian brands, specially in western segment. That is why Indian players are entering the Indo-western segment, also promoting Indian textiles which has a global appeal.” Kagzi adds, “Global brands are penetrating the western market at a rapid pace. Their target group is more metro centric, whereas the Indian brands have penetration in the Tier -II and -III cities as well. The key factor that will differentiate and make the Indian brands stand out in the competition is the design style. The contemporary woman prefers western wear with Indian sensibilities, which is well perceived by the Indian brands. Price point is also one major factor to be kept in mind which may be a concern while buying international brands.”

Anand here though has a different point of view. According to him, international brands are yet to get the Indian body type right. He explains, “The key here is to be relevant. Many international brands are struggling because of their fits and colour palettes are being planned according to their region of origin; which are not suitable for Indian customers. We understand what our customer needs; we blend the global trends with popular fabrics and silhouettes to stay relevant.” Chopra adds, “The Indian brands are maintaining the premium quality at affordable pricing. Since they already know the requirements and preferences of the consumers, they automatically have an upper hand as compared to the global brands.”

Social media and increase in disposable income are going to be the game changers for the industry. As highlighted by Bindra, the unorganised segment, which traditionally, and still largely, caters to the ethnic wear industry, has demonstrated steady growth over the past years and is set to grow further by 8.4 percent over the next decade from the present `61,679 crores, or USD 11.63 billion. According to him, modern retail is set to fuel the expansion
plans of brands. Sharing numbers on the size of the market, he says, “Modern retail, especially large format retailers, are ramping up their expansion plans across metros and Tier -I and -II cities. This will contribute significantly to the growth of the Indian ethnic wear market. The women’s segment currently accounts for an overwhelming 87 percent of the total ethnic wear market at `54,425 crores (USD 10.26 billion); it is the growth of this segment that will continue to drive the overall sector. The women’s wear segment alone is expected to grow at a steady rate of 8 percent over the coming decade. The ethnic kids wear segment is projected to grow at a CAGR of 10 percent for the next few years. Even within kids wear, it is interesting to note that the girls’ ethnic wear market is two and a half times the size of the boys’ ethnic market.” Singh talks about western wear market saying, “Women shoppers across metros and smaller cities are increasingly opting for western wear, helping boost sales for branded clothing, making it one of the fastest growing categories in the apparel segment. Western wear in India is between 40-50 percent and it is growing at the rate of 12-15 percent.”

On the overall market for women’s wear, Nagmani Roy, Managing Director, Kazari, shares, “The market has grown almost double in last one decade. The market size in the segment was almost `82,220 crores in 2014. And with a 9 percent expected growth every year, it will grow up to `1,26,210 crores by 2019.”

India is a land of cultural diversity and as Bindra shares, “We still prefer to celebrate our traditions by wearing ethnics. Indians have attire for every occasion. Fashion in India has the perfect blend of tradition and modernity. Going by latest evolution in the Indian handloom and textile industry, the Indian prints like ikkat, chikankari, gottapatti, chanderi, benarasi, are making a comeback into the fashion circuit. The increasing spending patterns of the consumers and constant desire to stay fashionable would offer huge growth opportunities for the ethnic wear segment. Indian fabrics and designs
are becoming popular abroad resulting in increase in demand of the ethnic wear across the globe.” According to Kagzi, relevant fashion and fast fashion are going to be the big growth drivers in the western wear segment in the coming 5 years though he is quick to point out that for the brands to succeed, their pricing, style and quality have to be kept in mind.

Talking about western wear, the category is at its best phase in India as far as women’s wear is concerned. The mall culture too has added its bit to the appeal western wear has. Accentuating the rise in western wear market, Jhingan says, “Present raise only indicates growth in the coming years. As per the Western Wear Forecast 2015, with an increase in personal disposable income and rise in the number of working women, the industry has been growing swiftly and the same is expected to continue for the coming years.” This is accentuated by most of the players in the industry as well.

Jain of Monte Carlo aptly concludes the story encapsulating the dynamics of women’s wear category in India saying, “Women wear market in India is evolving at a great pace due to the general awareness of Indian women about themselves and their identity. Earlier, women were living stagnated lifestyle inside homes bearing children and catering husbands and in laws. Dependency on their husband’s income made them ‘price sensitive. But now they are working and are conscious about their looks, hence increasing demands of women lead many foreign fashion brands to establish themselves in Indian market, thereby mushrooming the growth of women wear industry.”

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