With Indians becoming increasingly style conscious, its nascent fashion industry is certainly on a growth trajectory but one of its biggest challenges this year will be the influx of overseas labels, experts and industry insiders believe.
<b1>Registering a growth of at least 10 percent per annum, the industry's internal expansion might portray a rosy picture. However, with the Indian market steadily becoming a hot destination for international labels, external threat is a subject to ponder in the coming months.
"The biggest challenge the domestic fashion industry would face this year is because of the entry of global players," Ritu Kumar, president of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), the country's apex fashion body, told IANS.
"These brands possess deep pockets and easily cope with high retail prices and would give tough competition to Indian designers," Kumar said.
Renowned fashion designer Raghuvendra Rathore said: "With more and more international players coming in, it is going to be a crucial year for people like us. Retail prices are going up and it would be harder to get retail space, especially for newcomers."
"For instance, earlier a square feet of space in a mall was available at Rs.43, which has now escalated to Rs.250 per sq ft. Selling clothes will be harder as opportunities of renting or buying retail space is shrinking. Half of them have gone to the global labels," he added.
Kumar explained that since the rupee was becoming stronger, they were bound to get less profit from exporting their clothes.
"The landscape of the economy is changing. The consumer is fashion conscious and is willing to purchase products of high quality. This year brings a lot of promise for the fashion industry," said Rathi Vinay Jha, director general of the FDCI.
"There would be demarcation between the good and bad creative experts. This year prices would also become more realistic and fair," said style guru Puja Arya.
Experts feel that because of a large number of players in the market the business would grow but become scattered.
"Because of the presence of loads of players the business would be scattered. There will be varied designs and philosophies. I think it will take little time before it all settles down," added Kumar.
However, Arya was not pessimistic. She said Indian designers would have an upper hand over their international counterparts as they have a thorough understanding of the tastes of domestic customers.
"In any case Indian designers would dominate the market because of access to Indian craft and skills, which is not available to international designers," she added.
Apart from catering to domestic buyers, designers will continue to mark their presence at top international fashion weeks leading to increased count of global buyers as well. Juggling the global and domestic market is another challenge they face in 2008.
"Both Indian and international markets are important and designers must gear up. While international shores provide an important market, designers must not forget the Indian market that is growing at an aggressive speed," Jha said, adding that the purchasing power of the Indian middle class is a good sign for the fashion fraternity.
She said that training and capacity building are important tools to keep up with the changing demands. Fashion institutes contribute largely to the growth of industry in terms of fresh ideas and new talents.
Last year, the government set up a full-fledged National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) at Rai Bareli in Uttar Pradesh, making it the eighth NIFT of the country.
Ironically, two decades after the first NIFT was set up, the country is yet to have an institute for higher studies in the field of fashion. Both postgraduate study and research programmes are distant dreams for those interested in pursuing them without going overseas.