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Huge opportunities beckon designers

By Arvind Singhal
July 26, 2003 12:47 IST
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As in the last three years, in this last fortnight, the Indian media has been besotted with the India Fashion Week and has gladly given hundreds of crores worth of free coverage to an industry that according most estimates is yet to cross Rs 200 crore (Rs 2 billion) mark in annual revenues!

Alas, the India Fashion Week has yet to graduate from being substantially more than an annual 'tamasha' for the page-3 wannabes and socialites desperately seeking their two bytes of reflected fame.

The hype given to the event, and the support lent to it by some corporates reflects a surprising Indian trait: Inability to differentiate between current and real business opportunities from more futuristic, make-believe ones!

The Indian economy has seen an admirable growth in the last 10 years.

Notwithstanding some hiccups now and then, this growth has been steady and the results of this are now beginning to show with the emergence of a genuinely large consuming class across the country.

Even at the top of the pyramid, I would estimate that there are no less than 600,000 households in India having an annual income exceeding Rs 12 lakh (Rs 1.2 billion).

These households are further characterised by having their chief wage earners in their early 30s and generally having a very optimistic outlook towards their future.

These young consumers also have a more international exposure and are exhibiting lifestyles that are an interesting hybrid of a traditional Indian as well as a global one.

My estimate of the annual discretionary spending power of this group alone is about Rs 50,000 crore (Rs 500 billion).

Somewhat lower down the affluence pyramid, I believe that we may already have over 10 million households with an annual income upwards of Rs 3 lakh (Rs 300,000), with an annual discretionary spending power of about Rs 150,000 crore (Rs 1,500 billion).

These households can most certainly form the core of a genuine upper middle class that could have an estimated annual discretionary purchasing power exceeding Rs 200,000 crore (Rs 2,000 billion).

This consuming class has many overt as well as latent needs and desires that can be successfully tapped by existing businesses as well as new entrepreneurs.

In general, I believe that this new consumer is a 'global' one (to use an old phrase in a different context): She / He are increasingly more global in outlook but comfortable with the local traditions.

In the realm of fashion, she / he are more confident about herself / himself and would rather wear clothes that reflect this attitude.

At the same time, this customer is equally conscious about the rich Indian traditions and is comfortable following the same when the situation so demands.

Hence, for instance, we find an increasing trend of seeing the most affluent of Indian men and woman reverting to the very traditional Indian dresses when it comes to wedding related revelry as well as other more formal 'family' get-togethers.

Yet, the same customers also flaunt global up-market fashion labels such as Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, Prada, D&G, et cetera to name but a few.

What does this have to do with 'business opportunity' in the 'fashion' sector? Actually a lot!

Many have lamented the woeful inadequacy of Indian designers to come out with genuine 'ready to wear' product lines. Hence, I would not like to comment on this opportunity alone. There are many others as well that can be focused upon.

For instance, there is a big opportunity for Indian brands / business houses to launch 'ready-to-wear' products in ethnic wear: both for women as well as men.

This opportunity is being currently met less than adequately -- by and large -- through a wide assortment of 'tailors' and 'glorified' tailoring establishments who are able to offer some distinctive styling but fail to deliver on product quality or on overall value-for-money paid out.

Over five million Indians (most of them from the same 10+ million affluent segment) bought their own homes last year as per a recent report in a leading business fortnightly. These homes need to be furnished.

Hence, there is a huge opportunity for designers / companies to launch cutting edge fashion products and accessories for home -- including both hard goods (e.g. furniture, kitchen and dining room hardware etc.) as well as soft furnishings (e.g. bed and bath linen etc.).

Opportunities also exist in fashion accessories such as jewellry, watches, et cetera.

If only the designer fraternity could understand that going 'mass' does not necessarily mean losing exclusivity: I guess that addressing a segment of 600,000 households (or at most 10 million) out of over 200 million in India is exclusive enough!

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