W Power 2024

The Japanese takeover

Japanese brands like Muji, Wacoal and Uniqlo are expanding their presence in the country and serenading Indian wallets with ease

Published: Sep 12, 2023 06:04:29 PM IST
Updated: Sep 12, 2023 06:26:08 PM IST

The Japanese takeoverUNIQLO DLF CyberHub with its unmatched denims and woollens, came to New Delhi in 2019 and is arriving with aplomb in Mumbai in October with its dynamic line-up of products.
Global Japanese retailer Muji is set to unfurl across a mega plush expanse in Jio Plaza in Mumbai’s BKC. In its seventh year in India, the brand continues to wow Indians with its organic cotton offerings in clothes, and minimalistic household goods. Lingerie major Wacoal too has mushroomed pan-India selling skilfully engineered, long-lasting innerwear across a cross-section of age groups at competitive prices. Uniqlo, with its unmatched denims and woollens, came to New Delhi in 2019 and is arriving with aplomb in Mumbai in October with its dynamic line-up of products. Call it the great Japanese takeover. With their fast-paced, dynamic cuts in fuss-free contours, Japanese wear is serenading Indian wallets with limpid ease.

What's With It?

It has been a quiet, consistent growth in the lifestyle segment for Japanese brands on home turf over the past few years. Whether it is the arrival of the much-loved soy sauce brand Kikkoman (courtesy Harry Hakuei Kosato), the gobsmacking success of sushi cakes, arrival of one-dollar akin stores in Usupso and Miniso, or the growth of Washoku (the traditional Japanese dietary culture hinged on respect for nature) in hospitality and beyond.  

How are we Indians, given to a touch of flamboyance and swish by nature, taking to the simplicity and minimalism of Japanese cuts? Says Pooja Merani, COO, Wacoal India, “Our lingerie solutions focus on quality comfort (using premium materials for all-day comfort), inclusivity (flattering styles in keeping with Indian body types), elegant design (aesthetic appeal with functional excellence), and perfect fit (no compromise on secure fit and support). The idea is to empower women to embrace and express their individual beauty. This principle drives our product development and manufacturing, and has fostered a sense of long-term loyalty among our customers in India.”

With over 65 per cent of the Indian population below 35 years of age, aspirational and trend-savvy, the dynamics of growth are mind-boggling. While none of the Japanese brands carve out a budget for traditional advertising, they are tearing through the Indian skies with growth figures to match. Wacoal India brags of a presence across India through 20 Exclusive Brand Outlets (EBOs) and over 40 Large Format Stores (LFS). “Additionally, we have significantly expanded our presence in the general trade (MBO) channel, establishing 80+ Point of Sale (POS) locations across the country,” says Merani adding that Wacoal has been seeing brisk business on its own website and across major online retail platforms post the pandemic plunge point. The brand hosted a fashion show last year, netting eyeballs and tipping the scales in favour of its glam allure, and is set to add 100 new POS to its kitty in India.

Also read: Japanese giant Kikkoman wants soy sauce to be the 'ketchup of India'

The Indian Way

Remember, the McAloo tikki burger exists only in India despite the presence of the golden arches across the world. Case to point: Uniqlo teamed up with designer Rina Singh during its launch in 2019 in India, to make a splash with the ‘Kurta Collection’. A classic example of Japanese tech meeting Indian tastes in creations synonymous with simplicity, longevity and high quality. Clearly, when in India, do as the Indians do.  

Tomohiko Sei, CEO, Uniqlo India says, “Our marketing efforts during the brand launch in New Delhi brought in cube-shaped displays at different locations in the city, featuring our brand’s logo and messaging—represented in a cube form—together with traditional Indian symbols in cricket balls, kites, and red bangles within them. As a brand we aim to prosper with communities by working closely with them. At our launch, members of the community were an integral part of our entry messaging through a campaign called ‘Together in LifeWear’. This campaign reflected the diversity of the city—bringing together a range of people who were pushing the city forward in their everyday lives, to communicate the value of the brand’s simple, thoughtfully-designed essentials that are made for everyone. Another similar initiative is the Good Neighbourhood Guide, through which we highlight the hidden gems of the neighbourhoods in which our stores operate, by dedicating space to showcase local community businesses. These efforts focus on giving back, highlighting small businesses that resonate with our philosophy of craftsmanship and innovation.”   

Eyeing India as a long-term market, the brand is busy innovating to cater to tacit needs. “India is an important part of our global strategy—we see tremendous potential here to grow along with the community. Simply put, we aim to become the number one brand in the country,” he adds. It is a clever knit, grasping the Indian fascination for collaboration with foreign designers. The designer collections and limited-edition products from the house of Uniqlo—including the Roger Federer polo shirts, collections with JW Anderson, MARNI, Ines De La Fressange, and recently Clare Weight Keller—have been raging sell-outs.

With our Indian fondness for bright colours and VFM, the brands are bringing in cutting-edge Japanese techniques, processes to factor in the priceless quality and functionality of products with comfortable price tags. Gen Z is a fashion-forward bunch. Add to that a rich sprinkling of social media, rapid consumption of global fashion trends and red-carpet appearances, and meatier disposable incomes. The Round Mini Shoulder Bag by Uniqlo—announced as one of the year’s hottest fashion products by the Lyst Index—went viral on digital platforms, internationally and nationally, with sales for the utility bag marking a colossal 300 per cent growth within a week in India.  

What the women in India are looking for is a mix of comfort and self-expression. For 45-year-old marketing expert Sanaya Batliwalla, in Mumbai, the lingerie market is not really a crowded space in India, with the only other players meriting a mention being Brit brand Marks & Spencer and Netherlands hot-footer Hunkemoller. The accessibility of diverse fits (availability in 44 FF cup in Wacoal is a huge bonus in India), and secure, stylish fits make the cut. “Nothing succeeds like form-fitting lingerie when it comes to boosting your confidence level,” she says. “The seamless cuts, availability in a pleasing palette, and snug fits work beautifully.”  
Of course, a solid digital plan, together with in-store events, influencer marketing, and e-mail marketing campaigns prompt visibility and brand recall.  

The Great Ride

Four years old in India, Uniqlo holds fort at 10 brick-and-mortar stores across the country (with two mushrooming in Mumbai next month). Forget Delhi, the astute Japanese major has stores in Chandigarh, Lucknow, and Zirakpur—the first of its standalone ‘highway stores’ in India. Call it a smart move, in keeping with the cash-strapped winter markets catered to by the brand in north India. Its bestsellers range from its Ultra-Light Down jackets, HEATTECH thermals, AIRism inners, and fleece jackets to the ultra-thin fibres of the AIRism line-up including AIRism T-Shirts, premium linen, UT graphic T-shirts, and AIRism innerwear to meet the needs of hot summers, monsoon rains, and cool winters across the length and breadth of the country.

The challenges are many. “The lingerie market predominantly belonged to the unorganised sector, posing several key challenges. These challenges encompass limited awareness and knowledge about proper sizing, cultural taboos, limited size and style options, concerns about quality and durability, challenges with online shopping, and price sensitivity among consumers,” says Merani. “Our journey as a fit and size-driven category is also a challenging one. Overcoming traditional industry norms and promoting accurate sizing awareness remains a persistent hurdle. Addressing diverse body types while ensuring top-notch quality further adds complexity. However, our commitment to personalised fit and size solutions drives us to redefine excellence in the lingerie market. Since our entry in India in 2015, over the last five years we have grown 3X year on year. Our contribution from online to offline is close to 10 percent, which we plan to take to 30 percent in the coming financial year where Wacoal India is targeting a turnover of Rs 100 crore.”

Luxury is clearly a sunrise industry in India now, and with Japanese majors making a go for the evolving Indian sensibilities as seen through the Japanese lens, our fascination for all that comes from the Land of the Rising Sun is here to stay. Yen it?

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