Neelesh Hundekari is Partner Consumer and Retail at A.T. Kearney
The global consumer spending on fashion crossed US$1.5 trillion in 2015. India’s fashion retail market is itself set to grow to US$115 billion by 2026. However, Indian fashion and textile brands need to warm up to the emergence of a new connected consumer, well synced with the latest in global apparel and fashion trends, if they are to capture their due share of this growth.
In our recent research across the global textile value chain, we found five key trends shaping the future of global fashion and apparel industry. Remarkably, these trends apply as much to the Indian consumer as they do to an American or a British. Our data shows that fast fashion is exploding in influence; as shoppers in India and elsewhere around the world shift to value-for-money fashion, aligned with the latest global trends. People no longer consider apparels as a durable item, to be shopped seasonally; instead, they are now chasing latest trends and hunting for bargains. Clothes are seen as disposable and modern consumer’s closets which can be full of many impractical and infrequently worn items.
Emergence of fast fashion
Apparel brands are forced to embrace what we are calling ‘a new design paradigm’ to create collections faster and at lower Research and Development (R&D) costs. The traditional design process with a three-six months time frame was designed for seasonal collections. It has now given way to a ‘curation over creation’ strategy for monthly collections with a shorter time frame of two months. As a result, players across the textile value chain must reduce lead times.
Rise of fit customer and wearable fashion
The rise of the ‘fit’ customer is another megatrend fueling the demand in activewear and sportswear. Worldwide, there is a cultural shift towards sports including running as part of a growing emphasis on fitness, especially among the urban population. Technology is getting integrated as part of wearables. There are smart clothing items in the market with embedded health sensors and medical monitors. Outside of apparel too, fitness wearables that sync to smartphones have gone mainstream.
Viable eco-friendly products
The third trend is visible in how progressive apparel companies are addressing the latent consumer demand for environment-friendly clothes. US-based Patagonia is an early adopter of recycled materials and organic cotton usage in its apparel. While the Denali jacket from The North Face is made with recycled yarn, recovered from fabric scraps and recycled bottles, which uses less water for dying. From a composite value chain perspective, downstream companies like Bolt Threads have developed bio-synthetic fibers that harness natural proteins; as an alternative to petroleum-based fabrics like polyester or nylon. Patagonia is, in fact, a key user of these alternatives, eco-friendly fabrics.
Preference to product personalisation
Fourth, product personalisation is going mainstream rapidly, creating whole new revenue streams and possibilities for agile brands. Thursday Finest offers custom-tailored merino wool socks that are made on demand using 3D knitting machines to a customer’s specifications: size, shape, and colors. US-based MTailor has embraced smartphone-based personalisation for suits, shirts, and jeans – customers provide measurements and place the order on phone, and get the products shipped via mail. Bombay Shirt Company in India has embraced a similar model. Further, several mainstream jeans brands have started offered personalised fits.
Fulfillment of personalised fashion requires brands to re-engineer their entire value chain, use cutting-edge technology for collaboration and communications and forge new types of vendor relationships to ensure express deliveries; for the customer does not like to wait.
Diversifying product segments
The fifth trend is specific to India and to women wear as a category. Women and kids wear categories are growing faster with a 13 percent and 17 percent CAGR respectively between FY 2010-2015 than menswear at 11 percent. The per capita apparel spending is also highest for kids, followed by women and men. Further, within womenswear, western and Indian ethnic segments are growing faster, with 21 percent and 17 percent projected CAGR between FY 2015-2020 compared to saree at 6 percent CAGR. As saree moves to an occasional wear category, we believe brands with single product focus will be severely impacted.
Indeed, companies like Garden Vareli have already diversified their product portfolio to include non-saree ethnic and western wear. Globally too, apparel brands have sought to diversify products across customer groups to mitigate single-product risks. Ralph Lauren, for example, today has multiple product lines for women, men, kids and even home furnishing.
Embracing digital technology
Finally, three is a clear emergence of e-commerce as a popular channel for fashion and apparel buying – a recent A.T. Kearney-Google study found that 84 percent of respondents claimed to have bought apparel online in the past three months; compared to 79 percent who bought electronics and 52 percent who bought groceries.
The onus on apparel brands is clear. They must collaborate with not just downstream players, but even upstream players to innovate and develop products. For example, Levi’s collaborated with Google to launch a Commuter jacket targeted at millennial urban cyclists that use conductive yarn and offers touch-based interactivity with a smartphone – allowing users to accept or decline calls, access music or navigation by gestures right on the jacket. Nike on the other hand innovated with fabric with fibers that open up to increase breathability when sweating and close when the wearer is cooling down. A brand like Uniqlo has, in fact, carved a unique differentiated positioning by using technology innovations: their Heattech innerwear for winters is 100x warmer than regular cotton.
More importantly, India’s fashion and textile industry need to recognize that the modern Indian consumer is no different from her counterparts in the west. Local brands and manufacturers, who can become distinctly homegrown leaders, will be crucial for enhancing India’s garments industry competitiveness on the global stage. To do so, they must focus on product innovation and development, invest in brand building and customer engagement, create flexibility in manufacturing and supply chain and finally, demonstrate savviness in embracing digital technologies. Trend-spotting, in this case, is a lucrative business indeed.
The author is Partner Consumer and Retail at A.T. Kearney.