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Pundits hunt for Indian fashion formula

business Updated: Jan 29, 2008 22:54 IST
Saurabh Turakhia

Corporate heads gathered in Mumbai on Tuesday to unravel a mystery that haunts a nation increasingly obsessed with fashion labels and attractive models. Global investors are seeing a nation of 100 crore people with a fat middle class that provides demand, but there are no meaningful fashion labels to address the sizeable market.

“A lot of consumers in many parts of India like wearing safari suits. Wearing them is fashionable for these consumers. Will big fashion houses decide to cater to them?” questioned Kishore Biyani, CEO of Future Group, which controls the Big Bazaar retail chain, at a panel discussion at the India Fashion Forum.

He drove home the point that fashion in India has to be approached in a different way than it is approached in other markets.

Despite India being a trillion dollar industry, there isn't a single billion dollar fashion brand from India, experts said at the seminar.

Strategic marketing consultant Rama Bijapurkar, Provogue’s managing director Nikhil Chaturvedi and Nokia’s vice-president D Shivakumar were among those brainstorming on ways to make homegrown fashion buzz.

“Unless India innovates or does something radically different, just applying strategies of other markets will serve no purpose,” Biyani said. He divided India into two categories, with the top-crust “India One” forming 12 per cent of the population not paying “India Two” enough to make them active consumers.

One key insight that emerged at the seminar was that mobile handsets are now used to make style statements, while dressing is still not yet there.

"Active government participation as well as innovation by manufacturers contributed to the success of the mobile handsets segment,” Nokia’s Shivakumar said.

Chaturvedi opined that retail infrastructure will see the fashion industry prosper, Biyani contended that innovation will have to be nurtured.

Biyani said steps will have to be taken to make fashion as interesting as other attractive categories like mobile phones, personal travel, children's education, durables and gadgets.

As if to drive home the point, Biyani said Big Bazaar sold 1.28 lakh jeans during its Republic Day weekend sales, compared with 38,000 mobile handsets.