Bollywood diva Aishwarya Rai’s recent Cannes appearance in designer ethnic wear had India applauding. Ethnic is chic, going by the growth of ethnic apparel in India, as consumers embrace more sophisticated versions of traditional wear.
“Ethnic wear is trendy, fashionable and comfortable. The benefit is that it is available at all price points that suit all pocket sizes,” said Heena Singh, 23, a journalist with a reputed magazine.
"I get the Indian feel when I wear such outfits that reflect traditional skills and sensibilities. I can boast of tasting Indian culture while showcasing them to my family and friends," said UK resident Josie McNally, 36, a shopper one spoke to at the Khadi Gram Udyog outlet, Connaught Place, Delhi.
The entry of the haute couture Indian designers – whose designs graced exclusive fashion shows and special orders from the super rich earlier – into the retail market with more prêt-a-porter (mass) labeled offerings, has brought the element of glamour into ethnic wear.
Khadi Gram Udyog is talking to reputed designer Rohit Bal to work with it.
A number of well known designers have their own-label retail showrooms now at high streets –Anita Dongre, Rohit Bal, Wendell Rodericks – besides the mushrooming of ethnic wear retail entities – Kimaya, Fabindia, Sabhyata. And then there are the well established retail chains such as Shoppers Stop, Pantaloons, Westside, W and others that offer branded ethnic wear.
Also growing side by side are local retail brands such as Hyderabad’s Neeru’s and Lucknow’s Jashn that are rapidly expanding across urban India and looking beyond. And finally, there is the growing clutch of e-commerce portals such as Fashion and You offering branded ethnic wear, which are especially attracting tiers 2 and 3 consumers.
Women’s ethnic wear is leading the organised market growth. Kilol and Jashn are betting on franchised exclusive stores to go national and international simultaneously. Others like the Bangalore-based Soch, Mumbai's Isvarah, Jole Clothing and Hyderabad’s Neeru's have tied up with retail chains such as Future Group's Central and Lifestyle.
“We launched Jashn in 2003 and never grew less than 28-30%. Today, we are present in 21 cities,” said Rahuul Jashnani, MD, Jashn. Unorganised ethnic wear retail is 90% of the market.
“Overall apparel category spends are rising, with special focus on ethnic wear brands, where many new brands have emerged as market heroes. They sensed the vacuum in the market, ease of entry, and attracted women – the most interesting target consumer,” said Arvind Singhal, chairman of management consulting and retail specialist firm Technopak Advisors, which places the Indian ethnic wear market at Rs. 56,800 crore, growing at 9% annually (2010-11).
Investors are also seeing the opportunity. Azim Premji's Premji Invest dished out Rs. 125 crore for a 7% stake in Fabindia, valuing it at over Rs. 1,500 crore. “The handicrafts and hand-crafted apparel sector has to take into account designs, techniques and traditions. We provide market access to rural artisans while providing inputs that give their products a contemporary context and relevance,” said Fabindia spokesperson Prableen Sabhaney. “We have expanded to Dubai, Mauritius, Rome and Nepal.”
“Indian ethnic wear is an integral part of our customer promise. We widened the Westside range and introduced Zuba, which offers silks and authentic handlooms. This autumn will see the launch of two more brands,” said Gaurav Mahajan, CEO, Westside, a Tata group company which operates 66 stores measuring 8,000-34,000 sq. ft., across 41 cities.
Pantaloon plans to open 50 stores over two-three years in metros and tier 1 cities. “There is a significant rise in demand for women's ethnic clothing. There is a big gap between the opportunity and what is being delivered today by organised players,” said Rakesh Biyani, joint managing director, Future Group, at India Fashion Forum.