The around `2,000 crore women’s shirts market in India is huge by all standards. Despite he substantial size of the women’s shirts market, the segment is phenomenally fragmented; and none of the brands seems to have garnered mentionable market share. Nischal Puri summarises the challenges being faced by this product segment that‘s contemporary and even seem to have great fitment with the consumer trends and desires.

The Indian woman has been an enigma from the fashion point of view. It’s only in the last 10-15 years that the working woman segment emerged as a strong sub category. The marketers rushed to create By late 2002, many other brands, such as Benetton, Mango, Wills Sports and Blackberrys, had either launched or were planning to launch exclusive women’s wear in the country. This rush to enter the segment was not difficult to understand, considering the fact that the market was almost completely in the brands and products that they thought she will need in her new avatar.
Indus League was one of the initial entrant in the branded women’s wear segment in the country. In the year 2000, the company launched a women’s range named Scullers Woman as an extension of its men’s wear brand Scullers. Promoted as smart casuals for work and after, the Scullers Woman range was launched in three basic lines – Essentials, Manhattan and Chromium.
Around that time, many players began taking interest in the western women’s wear segment in India. Arrow planned to enter into the women’s western wear segment by early 2003. Around similar times, Raymond ventured into the western wear for women by its new venture ‘Be’.
In September 2002, Madura Garments launched a line of readymade women’s western wear under the brand name Allen Solly women’s wear. This was the first-ever nationwide exercise by any company to offer readymade western wear for women in India on this large a scale.
By late 2002, many other brands, such as Benetton, Mango, Wills Sports and Blackberrys, had either launched or were planning to launch exclusive women’s wear in the country. This rush to enter the segment was not difficult to understand, considering the fact that the market was almost completely in the hands of the unorganised sector and had very few branded players.
So for a category that gained attention almost 14 years back but still has eluded significant market share for any significant player is, in all standards, not normal.

We, at Horizon Consulting India, believe in mapping the consumer trends by research. While conducting FGD (focussed group discussion) across Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata for an on going project, we decided to extend the scope and added the women’s shirt segment to our study as the FGD sample being identical with the ongoing project. The consumer base was 19-25 years, urban Sec A working women.
The insights we garnered in the research has brought to surface many thoughts that can help brands fine-tune the way they address the consumer needs besides understanding the key segment drivers. Some of the pertinent insights has formed the base of this paper.

The brand recall in the category is not consolidated still. Many brand names were mentioned but no complete unanimity could be established.
About 20 percent of the respondents mentioned Mango, 20 percent of respondents mentioned Zara, close to 60 percent of the respondents mentioned that brand name is not the prime factor that influences their purchase. They stress more on shopping in organised retail formats and online, and choose a product based on the aesthetic appeal and price factor.

INSIGHT: Top of the mind recall for a single brand is still not established in the category. No single brand emerged as the preferred brand in the segment, although the category started witnessing action almost 14 years back. Though most of the initial entrants were brand extensions of the respective men’s range, the women’s category was always a smaller portion in the portfolio and most brand building initiatives were undertaken more for awareness building and not for market share capturing.

A majority of women feel that the sizing across brands is arbitrary and that there is no sizing uniformity.
There has to be three measurements that need to be perfected and communicated. first Being the chest width, second being the waist width and third, the hip width.

Around 30 percent of the respondents mentioned that the styling is one of the most important determinant of the purchase. And 45 percent of the respondents regard fabric type to be the most impactful feature for their decision. Further, 25 percent of the respondents mentioned colour and the print type.

INSIGHT: Women shirts have evolved over the years. The styling has been one of the key variable for consumer delight and it still is.
The study also revealed the three products that are considered as ‘must haves’ in the women’s shirt category — a white cotton long sleeve shirt, a black cotton long sleeve shirt and a cream coloured silk long sleeve shirt.
The fabrics used in the ladies shirts have been expressed as an area of improvement.

As one of the respondent mentioned “Go through any women’s clothes section and put your hand inside all the shirts and dresses and see if you can see it. About 50 percent of the time, you are going to get a pretty good view of your hand.” Consumers have been baffled on this count. Why the fabric has to be so thin? Surely an insight to be considered by the brands.

The respondents were unanimous on this factor “That means if a woman wears just that shirt, her inners will be visible; it violates workplace dress code. This necessitates the woman to wear a camisole inside, which is cumbersome. The solution is supposed to be layering, which has really caught on in the recent years. Stores also sell plenty of tank tops, camisoles and plain form-fitting t-shirts, sometimes dedicating entire sections to clothes specifically designed for use in layering.
While the group was trying to search the reason why see through and sheer fabrics are used, a respondent in Mumbai had an interesting commercial insight. “They do this deliberately to make women buy more pieces of clothing. Once you found out that you could sell this concept to people, why wouldn’t you? Someone who used to buy one shirt is now going to buy three from you. And you get to use less material,” she said.
The use of sheer fabric and diaphanous material perhaps is fine in the western markets where the weather requires jackets and other layers, but is not a preferred option in tropical climates like India. On top of that, super-thin cloth isn’t very durable as mentioned by many respondents.

A majority of about 60 percent of respondents said the sizing across brands is arbitrary. Some mention sizes in XS- XL while others mention sizes in 2-22. “No two brands with the same small size has the same measurement,” mentioned one agonised respondent. “There should be some uniformity in sizing, its so simple to buy men’s clothes, 32 waist, 34 waist or 42 collar size and most brands have consistency, why can’t there be uniformity in women’s shirts too?”

INSIGHT: Women consumers struggle to find the best fit. In another study on lingerie, 65 percent of the respondents mentioned that they were not satisfied with the lingerie fit. Different brands have different cup sizes. Its another matter that the consumers have invented a formula on which type of styles they prefer in which brands. Thus, it seems sizing uniformity is a major concern across all categories in women’s wear.


Sizing in women’s shirts is indeed tricky, as mentioned by most respondents, there is indeed a surprising extent of disharmony in the way the sizes are expressed, some brands follow S- XL while many others follow 6- 22 sizing leaving the consumer to struggle. This cue is perhaps very pertinent for the online players where the trial option is very limited. Brands need to educate the consumer on the sizing of their products in a more lucid and easy manner. Most of the international brands follow these measurements and they vary with the fit (slim fit, tailored fit and many more). Its crucial for brands to develop a uniform measurement guide for better consumer understanding. About 45 percent of the respondents mentioned neck shape and neck depth as one of the area of major concern. Also, 60 percent of the respondents mentioned the gap being a point of concern. There has to be three measurements that need to be perfected and communicated. First being the chest width, second being the waist width and third and most importantly the hip width. “Most of the images shown in portals are of perfect models. The consumers are normal women, not models. So clear transparent measurements showing the waist and hip measurements of the garments are extremely important,” mentioned one of the aware respondent who frequenty uses shirts as office wear.
About 45 percent of respondents also mentioned improvements to be done about button openings from the middle. Dual buttons, we observed used by many brands, is a good solution.

The women’s shirts market is witnessing a lot of action — men’s brands becoming unisex brands, exclusive women’s brands being launched, large format retailers developing their own private labels and the democratic brands making era unleashed by e-commence, all have ensured that the consumers are spoilt for choices like never before.

Despite many players in the segment, the status of a preferred brand is still vacant. The competition is steep and arduous and marketing as a tool to drive loyalty is still in its infancy. The consumer is expecting lot of attention and with so many choices to be made, the fight for the market share has perhaps just begun.

<< Previous Creating iconic personalities with clothes
Next >>The Future Beckons: Get the basics right in womenswear fashion