As a quintessential part of women’s western wear, there’s a very strong probability that a woman’s first piece of western apparel is a pair of jeans. Prem Gupta, one of the pioneers of the women’s denim industry in India reflects on how denim, in a wondrous way, proved to be that single piece of clothing that proved to revolutionist the entire way women in India dressed.
In the early 80s when liberation of the Indian woman was at the helm, momentous changes were afoot in women’s apparel choices. The appeal of western wear was finally gaining popularity and an increased number of Indian women started giving in to the temptation of sporting trends that were in line with global fashion. Denim was at the kernel of this revolution. Denim gave the Indian women a new identity and setting her free from the social constructs, it essentially taught her to be carefree.
Today, with the increasing acceptance of western wear in daily routine, jeans have made inroads into the wardrobes of women even in rural India. And looking at this rising popularity of denim among women, it is safe to assume that the demand for the same is going to dominate the apparel business in India in the near future.
Even statistics guns down women’s denim as the next big thing in India. While men’s denim contribute a dominating share of 85 percent to the total denim market, followed by women’s denim at a share of 10 percent and kid’s denim at 5 percent, going forward, women’s denim is expected to grow faster than men’s. It is expected to grow at a CAGR of 18 percent.
I have witnessed the market closely and let me turn the pages of history as to how the denim revolution started in India with the women’s segment.
Back in the late 80s the denim scene in India was in infancy with only Bombay Dyeing making a mock indigo fabric. Then came Soma and Arvind Mills from where the denim fabric production began in India. Till then, the only option the Indian women had was to buy men’s jean and have the hips and waist size altered accordingly. The waist to hip ratio at that time was plus 12 inches.
After denim fabric became available in India, Jealous was one of the first exclusive women’s brand, tailored to fit the Indian women’s curvaceous hips. The limitation was that the fabric available for manufacturing was only rigid and the popular fits were baggy, or baggy-styled jeans with washes limited to different levels of bleaching from dark to ice. Nevertheless, this became a big trend in the 90s. The fashion circle adopted this trend and nicknamed it ‘boyfriend jeans’. These denims were loose-fitted and also looked like one has literally pinched them from the other half. Boyfriend jeans later went on to become a major trend in denim designs and were even worn by celebrities on the big screen.
The 90s also saw a trend revolution at the fabric level as a plethora of mills began to make denim fabric in a variety of weaves and weight.
The late 80s saw a big breakthrough in women’s jeans with the availability of ‘stretch denim’. Since it was a new innovation, the prices were very high compared to rigid denim. The advent of stretch opened up a whole new avenue in women’s jeans. Consisting of both denim and an elastic fabric like Spandex, they typically had a stretching capacity of 15 percent allowing unmatched ease when bending over, backwards, and from side-to-side. Moreover, they always fit well and maintained their shape with no bagging at the knees, elbows or other areas. As a result, stretch denims became an instant hit with the women.
The late 80S saw a big breakthrough in women’s jeans with the availability of ‘Stretch Denim’. The advent of stretch fabric, consisting of both denim and an elastic fabric like spandex, opened a whole new avenue in women’s jeans with a stretching capacity of 15 percent.
The denim, till this time, had undergone a complete new change and its design elements were laying major focus on fits, specially the butt. Improvisation in washing was the next big innovation which caught the manufacturers’ fancy as the designs reflected maturity with the use of imported enzymes and pumice stones. The Indian origin jeans this time had reduced the gap and was getting closer to international trends with their look and fashion elements. By the 90s, the fun and free 80s flares were upgraded for an edgier vibe, with stacks of acid washes and ripped designs, giving a grungy feel to jeans.
By the 2000, the psychological fancy was catching on to the customers and jeans trends soon started grabbing attention with low and ultra-low waists. By the later part of 2000, being fit became the new mantra and as the health consciousness wave swept over, Indian women in urban cities increasingly became figure conscious. Slim physique actresses like Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai got finally accepted as compared to the curvy heroines like Mumtaz and Rekha, etc.
By and by, denim went through a lot more creative avatar as fashion embraced a DIY look. Designs were galore with punch-outs, prints, bling and chunky accessories. This was the era when everyone could get away with personalizing their jeans with whatever they wanted. Butterflies, safety pins, ropes – you name it, your jeans could have had it!
Understanding the geographies and customers in India became paramount and the distribution and the social system reflected that women’s jeans are a little difficult to have a pan India brand presence. On studying the consumer, it was seen that there was a lot of diversity in cultural taste and preference, fits, colours, etc., even in the case of an international product like denim. This became a major concern for brands and addressing the subjective needs of all with a unique product almost became a challenge.
This idea eventually gave birth to what we call jeggings today. It clicked with the masses and jeggings became widely accepted throughout the country. This product came with high stretch content which can fit to any shape and size and the comfort and the colours it offered led to women changing their wardrobe overnight.
TODAY’S DENIM TREND
The trend with today’s women’s denim is retro with boy fits, high waist, with fabric look more towards slubs and less stretch which can give a rugged look. Another trend which has caught on is the excessive tearing with big gaps in loose fits.
I would like to give you example of my women’s jeans brand Tarama where the ‘Push Up’ fit has done extremely well. The old trends are reviving; whether it’s an old-school pair of flares or some nostalgic boyfriend jeans, this year it’s all about wearing the jeans style you love. A piece of expert advice at this minimalist trend age is to keep it simple and straight.
Sadly, the organized women’s jeans market is miniscule as compared to the unorganized market which is mainly of illegally imported jeans from China and Bangkok. These illegally imported jeans cost far less as they do not pay any duty or taxes and are sold freely across the country. All the multi brand outlets (MBOs) across the country prefer them because of the cheap pricing, good washing and other value addition making it a fast selling product across the shelf.
Raw material too poses a big disadvantage to the manufacturer. Although India is one of the leading producers of denim fabric, it still hasn’t been able to match the Chinese in terms of pricing. Indian denim fabric is today priced at 40 to 50 percent higher than that of China. Nevertheless the quality, variety and washing techniques and finishing of Chinese fabric is far more superior to the Indian one in competition.
The greatest challenge today is of sustainability and environmental friendly processes. The amount of water required from cotton to the final wash of the jeans is not acceptable anymore. Efforts are being made in all direction; especially during washing where water consumption and polluting dry process is being replaced with lasers and ozone to get the desired effect with minimal water and less pollution.
The industry has to address these issues to make denim a stronger product in the women’s closet.