To counter the rising popularily of women’s western wear, which a fair section of sentinels also saw as a looming threat, the ethnic wear industry in India underwent a complete overhaul. A look at the changing face of the industry that is now suggestive of hitherto unknown design innovation.

From tailored aka made to measure salwar suits and blouses to the concept of mix and match and readymade blouses, the dynamics of Indian ethnic wear have undergone a mammoth change. Brands in this category are now seen giving some stiff competition to western wear but is the category growing at par?

The neighborhood tailor or “master”, as he was popularly known as, isn’t out of business but yes, his business has been aff ected for sure. The Indo-western look and the mix and match concept has completely taken over now. Today, it is more easy for a woman to just pick up a few kurtis off the shelf and team them up with leggings, patialas, etc. The complete salwar suit look is more restricted for formal wear. This applies to sarees as well. A lot of women are opting for ready-to-wear saree and readymade blouses. In terms of designs too, the saree is witnessing a change. Elaborating on this, Khushboo Parekh, Owner, Vamas, shares, “Ethnic wear has completely taken a new look in today’s genre. Sarees have changed from fully embroidered to artistic prints and minimalistic embroideries. Blouses have evolved from traditional matching to contrast and designer. A trend of asymmetric kurtis and Indo-western styled gowns has started a new wave.”
The look and feel of Indian ethnic wear has witnessed an unprecedented transformation. But then, the essence of it remains intact. As Ajay Modi, Director, Mohey, explains, “We can see a fine blend between the two as per the need of diff erent occasions. There are women who opt for Indo westerns yet are willing to wear saree, be it traditional or fashionable. On the other hand, women who mostly wear sarees are also open to gorgeous Indo-westerns. Whatever the choice may be, yet the concept of keeping the Indian theme alive is the key.”
Looking back, there weren’t too many brands specialising in Indian ethnic wear. The revolution happened just a decade back. In the last couple of years, a lot many new names have entered. Industry veteran Aarti Ahuja, Head – Marketing, W, shares her viewes. “Initially women used tailor-made clothing and had to go off shelf in order to buy garments. Keeping this in mind, W pioneered mix and match in retail. Innovation as a value was embraced. Today, instead of traditional Indian wear, consumers prefer stylish yet comfortable ethnic clothing,” she says. Siddharth Bindra, Managing Director, Biba says, “The realm of Indian fashion is constantly evolving the social, cultural and economic phenomenon. Diff erent styles, layers and designs are making their way to the modern wardrobes.” According to him, the current trends dominating the ethnic wear segment are ethnic designer wears, printed broad palazzos, front open jackets paired with long kurtis, A-line skirts, double layered suits and kalidar suits. Adding to this, Vandy Mehra, Director, Study by Janak, shares, “The women’s wear is flooded with capes and unique, interesting silhouettes.”
In the bottom wear segment, the kurti or kurta is mix matched with palazzos, patialas, churidarsor leggings. Stretchable leggings have taken over the cotton churidar market and as Raj K Jain, Managing Director, Vami, shares, “Leggings, especially churidars have become an essential part of all women wardrobes. Initially, it came as a comfortable alternative to the traditional woven churidars, but now is fast becoming a staple, replacing the trendiest of bottoms like jeans, due to its comfort factor.”
A relatively new brand, Indian Ink from the house of Suditi Industries, has been catching eyeballs with their youthful Indian ethnic wear collection. Krina Panjwani, Chief Operating Off icer, Indian Ink, shares, “We see a lot of movement in long straight kurtas, low-high hem tunics, pants, palazzos, culottes and dusters. Mix and match and layering of pieces to create a unique look is very in. A unique play of print and fabric placements, layering, long silhouettes is quite in demand.”
Nagmani Roy, Managing Director, Kazari, shares, “Women’s wear has become a very crucial segment now. This is because the customer has become very sensible and smart in choosing designs. Now ethnic segment has become more like western trends which advocates the fast fashion change. Our brand Kazari changes trends on monthly basis to keep the curiosity of customers alive.”

On the fabric front for the category based on her brand Juniper, Pooja Agrawal shares, “New age fabrics like Liva and poly based textured blends are our key strengths. Beautiful dobby and Modal raise the class of entire range. We do creative amalgamation of prints also to offer good variety in placement print kurtas.”
Coming back to saree blouses, according to Parekh, the concept of readymade blouses has changed the dynamics of sarees and their acceptability amongst the youth. She shares, “I feel bringing blouses to the readymade category was itself a very big revolution. From getting the customers from stitching their respective saree blouses to buying a readymade blouse, it’s been a journey. As I mentioned earlier, the category is so evolved that the blouses are no longer restricted to sarees and have taken a turn into crop-tops segment.”

India being a land of colours, Indian ethnic wear has always been generous with its use of colours. If we have to look at the core of Indian ethnic wear in the festive/ formal category; red has been a dominant color, especially for women’s wear. Things are undergoing a transformation here as well. Brides are opting for bold colours and moving over from red. Modi reiterates this based on the response being received at Mohey. He shares, “Brides are going beyond red with new designs and more experiments with colours.” Bindra shares, “Vibrant colours dominating this season are bright red, deep maroons, intense orange, strong pinks to name a few.” Panjwani adds, “Colours like pinks, oranges, indigos and off whites are most in vogue.” According to Agrawal, festive season calls for jewel tones and rich Indian colours like red, burgundy, royal blue and emerald. In the formal wear range, according to Modi, the colour palette ranges from flamboyant reds, royal blues, festive oranges, majestic pinks, regal yellows to soothing beiges. For blouses, according to Parekh, gold remains the most preferred one.

Cotton for casual and silk and brocade for festive wear have always dominated Indian ethnic wear. Things though are going in for a transformation now. According to industry experts, rayon, modal, viscose satin etc., are catching up. Shares Bindra, “While autumn is known for its festivities, the fabrics
dominating this season will be flowy like poly viscose, viscose satin, jacquards. For wedding celebrations, glorious chanderies with embellishments, cotton, modals and silk will be the best picks to glorify elegance and feminity of the person adorning it.” Agrawal shares, “Viscose and mix of poly and cotton with silk suits the Indian market. Different varieties and weights in fabrics that gives a new age hand- feel will hit the market soon.” Panjwani makes an
interesting point stating, “Cottons and natural fabrics are going to get popular in the future with everybody promoting handlooms and Indian textiles.” Roy further says, “Fabric is playing a vital role these days. There are a lot of new fabrics which have changed the game totally. Polyester, cotton blends, chanderi and cambric are in vogue. Also, Khadi is going to get popular soon.”


Indian ethnic wear has this evergreen charm attached to it. The concept of fast fashion in this category is relatively new and this is primarily because of the brands in this category wanting to be at par with brands catering to western wear. Bindra shares, “Fast fashion trends always existed among the women
due to the availability of wide variety of choices. Like, once short kurtis were in vogue, now they are not. The churidars are replaced with broad palazzos, straight fit pants, skirts, double layered suits which are more into fashion than straight kurtis. Some styles like Anarkalis are evergreen and are always in demand.” Panjwani adds, “Yes, fast fashion trends are catching up a lot as women are more aware of what’s happening around and they are very conscious of what they wear and how they look. Trends don’t seem to fall out immediately as variations in that particular product keep happening for 1-2 seasons before it completely fades away.” Mehra points out, “Fast fashion is everywhere but the kind of regal royalty that comes with classics is irreplaceable, and that is what we boast of in our collection. We are untouched by fast fashion.” Ahuja further shares, “The ever-evolving Indian woman has become very conscious about fashion and trends in the recent past. Gone are the days when a garment was purchased as an asset to be cherished for the next 2-3 or 5 years. Women have become extremely conscious of wearing up-to-date trendy products. Though there still remains a specific space in their wardrobe for classics and basics, but seasonal shopping has become a mandate for keeping up with the trend and contributing to at least 50-60 percent of one’s daily wear.”

Indian ethnic wear is sure to remain an essential part of a woman’s wardrobe. Major influencers like Bolllywood and tele-serials will never make this category go out of vogue. As Bindra puts it, “Bollywood provided a new perception not only to the way we drape apparels but also how we look at clothes. Every time a new design is being worn by a famous actress, it becomes the dominating trend for next couple of months.” Social media too has been a dominant medium to take designer Indian ethnic wear to people across the country and across the globe. Parekh shares, “With designers trying their hands on new and creative concepts every year, the Indo-western industry has indeed received a lot of inspiration from them.” Mehra adds to this, “Indian fashion designers have completely changed the face of ethnic wear in India. They are some of the biggest influencers of ethnic wear in India.”
Keeping the above in mind, the road ahead for Indian ethnic wear is only unwinding further moving to greener pastures. The category has a lot of potential with ethnic wear being made to look stylish, sensuous and sexy.

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