In a 2016 survey of 300 Indian men, 75 percent said their innerwear purchases were need based and not based on what was trendy in the market. Why is this so? Underwear to the common man is not a top priority garment. The awareness regarding the product, usage, care and lifecycle is almost non-existent…
Indian Buying Behavior
Men would spend time to pick out a shirt or a trouser at a retail outlet and on the way to the billing counter would encounter the strategically placed underwear section. Here they would head straight for their usual brand, that they have always been using, the same usual style. They would go on to pick up ‘a few’ as they don’t really know how many they really need. This is the typical buying behavior of the average male. The customer doesn’t even see what the other brands in the neighboring racks have to offer. It is an almost blind purchase.
Most men tend to purchase underwear before travelling, as they realize they might not have access to laundry and would need fresh underwear to last the duration of the trip. In a 2016 survey of 300 Indian men, 75 percent said their innerwear purchases were need based and not based on what was trendy in the market.
Why is this so? Underwear to the common man is not a top priority garment. The awareness regarding the product, usage, care and lifecycle is almost non-existent.
Most Indian men tend to use their underwear well past their shelf lives, unmindful of any rips, tears, or loss of elasticity. Underwear usually last for around 30 washes, which means on an average, a pair of underwear should be replaced every four months. This isn’t the case in India, where they are used for well over a year, unless they are rendered utterly unusable.
By and large, the industry has been quite stagnant in terms of innovations; there haven’t been many game-changing disruptions, save for the increased accessibility to premium fabrics such as MicroModal, Tencel and Supima cotton by a larger audience, with new brands such as XYXX, Tailor & Circus, Damnesch, and Dashing coming into the fray.
Urban India aspires to wear global brands and trends, whereas rural India wants to wear what urban India wears. Brands like Amul, Rupa and Lux have played the value and volume game and caused a shift from the informal to formal innerwear market. Jockey is now an aspirational brand in India, while it isn’t considered so overseas.
The market can be divided into three segments – the sub `200, `200-1000 and above `1000. Most of the unorganized sector falls under the sub `200 segment which has been thriving so far on a customer base that has lacked awareness. This means that there is huge untapped potential in the market, with an enormous opportunity to grow. The growing middle class consumes products in the `200-300- price bracket. The premium and super-premium segments of the Indian innerwear market are expected to double in the next three years. As they perceive that they have risen above the mass-market brands and have entered into the entry level products of international brands. They remain consuming this grade of product and often do not venture into more premium products even if they can afford them. This is mainly due to a lack of awareness.
The usage of underwear can be compared to that of a toothbrush where users don’t typically know when to replace them. A dental hygiene brand introduced a toothbrush that lets you know when it needs to be discarded; maybe the underwear industry could take a cue from here.
ICICI Securities estimated the market to be worth `24,000 crore, with mid-premium and premium segments making up 40 percent or about `9,500 crore. This is expected to grow to `47,000 crore by 2020, and the premium, mid-premium segment is expected to double, growing at 17-18 percent CAGR to `20,000 crore by that time. A majority of the market is a part of the unorganized sector. Page Industries grabbed 55 percent of the premium innerwear market with it’s licensed brand Jockey.
One sub-segment that is gaining popularity of late is ‘kinky underwear’. This segment isn’t widely advertised or promoted as its conservative counterparts, yet it has a considerable demand. With consumers being exposed to similar products globally and with the LGBTQ community being more open, the demand of such specialized products has increased. Online shopping has made purchasing of these easier, as one doesn’t have to face the stigma of talking about these to a vendor face to face, as it is till date, considered a taboo.
However, the above statements hold true only for a niche set of consumers. These emerging trends are yet to catch on en masse, even amongst the urban populace, for the majority still treats such innerwear with disdain. Changing this perception is one among the many challenges faced by the men’s innerwear industry in India.
Challenges & Bottlenecks in India
The biggest challenge is the low level of awareness regarding what one should wear that will have a good life span and with proper wash care. Retailers don’t try to educate their customers either as they are either not aware themselves or consider it delicate to talk to customers regarding a personal product such as underwear. The general public is neither aware of the value nor existence of superior fabrics such MicroModal, Tencel, Supima fabric etc.
Packaging and marketing campaigns are also very generic and similar across brands, which make the consumer immune to product differentiation and value. Currently they do not create sense of aspiration, limiting the products to a necessity, rather than a want or craving.
Improved awareness would be an incentive for a person to discard a pair of underwear and get a new one. Manufacturers seem to play it safe by producing same staid colors and designs, instead of attracting consumers with bright shades and innovative designs. This repetitive product, though it has a long shelf life, does not excite the buyer to buy more. For example, a person would own about 3 sets of uniform for a whole year, as they all look the same, while they would own many more outfits, which are casual. The same applies to underwear as well.
The usage of underwear can be compared to that of a toothbrush where users don’t typically know when to replace them. A dental hygiene brand introduced a toothbrush that lets you know when it needs to be discarded; maybe the underwear industry could take a cue from here. The current buying experience of underwear isn’t very friendly either. Most customers prefer sticking to their usual brand, as they are confident of fit and size. Men do not have the option of trying underwear before buying. Hygiene pads could be provided to customers thereby letting them try the product before buying. Some brands are now providing a free replacement or cash back if a customer isn’t satisfied, which was unheard of until very recently.
The Future of the Segment
In the days to come it would no longer be the norm where one shops for innerwear as an after-thought. Innerwear, once considered only as a basic necessity for personal hygiene, will become a proper fashion statement. What was once the bastion of staid white will be breached by the emergence, and acceptance, of bright colors, funky prints, and kinky designs. There would be specific products for sporting activities, for lounging, for the office, date night and so on. Underwear too would become like apparel where new products would be launched every season and the current shelf life of a particular product style would come down considerably.
Men will provide the same importance reserved for shopping clothes while shopping for innerwear. They would look for comfort, functionality, and style, while ensuring it matches their outfit and the occasion. The growing aspirations and increasing disposable incomes will only ensure higher consumption of premium brands and goods but will insure increasing the market share of the organized sector.
Currently, the designs for underwear are universal; what works for Americans and Europeans won’t work for Indians and Asians. They need to be tailor made for the local body type and weather conditions. When one wouldn’t wear the same clothes for winter and summer, why should underwear be any different? The body type of a typical Asian is more petite compare to the average African or American. Just as how jeans would have a pencil fit, a relaxed fit and so on underwear too would be available with options, as the consumer who is aware will demand specific products.
Brands would be able to grow on the booming high street, e-commerce and Omnichannel distribution model. Brick-and-mortar stores would never become obsolete but online platforms would contribute a large extent to the growing demand, as it is far more convenient and at times cheaper.