Lets start with Corneliani, the Italian clothing brand best known for its suits and sportcoats. The brands unique selling proposition, as says export sales director Cristiano Corneliani, is the nanotechnology its fabrics have (this technology helps fabric take on water and stain-repellent properties among others). Well, so what, says Paolo Canali, marketing director at another well-known Italian menswear label. Canali has the Esperidi to boast of. Esperidi is that special fabric that is made with exceptionally fine yarn just 12.8 micron. It is of Australian origin and has been analysed and certified in four European laboratories to maintain its extraordinary constant even after being woven, thus ensuring higher degree of comfort and texture, explains Canali. And then there is Ermenegildo Zegna. Its fabrics 15 Milmil 15, High Performance Micronsphere, Traveler Micronsphere, Trofeo, Trofeo silk, Summer Trofeo, Cashco are all patented, informs Shantanu Mukerji, general manager, Zegna South Asia. And you thought only Coca Cola has been able to guard its 7X secret for years and keep customer curiosity and taste alive
With competition in terms of eyeballs, sales and loyalty among brands surging, research and development is one subject that has got a shot in the arm. The right tests at the labs can make you get noticed.
For Priya Sachdeva, senior consultant, Technopak Advisors Pvt Ltd, the optimism in R&D is growing at all levelsfibre, fabric and garment. For her, the craziest apparel development has been the fabric developed at a University in Sydney. This fabric emits a groaning sound to warn sportspersons that they are stretching or moving in ways that could harm them. Perhaps it can put a certain bunch of doctors out of business soon! Then come special fabrics that are fitted with monitors that can study the wearers health throughout the day. Another is the embedding of mobile chips in clothes, which in an emergency will raise an alarm to call up the nearest hospital. Shape memory fabrics are also dominant in many collections and have been displayed at trade shows. As per fashion-forecasting website WGSN, glamorous sports styling is key for the season internationally, says Sachdeva.
And these are not just about whats happening abroad. Back home, Arvind Mills produces more than 50 varieties of denim alone for the international market and has a dedicated R&D team comprising textile professionals and international consultants. The company produces over four million metres of denim with its R&D team developing 50 new products each month, say watchdogs. Birla Cellulose had tied up with young designers to launch eco-friendly lines at the recently concluded Wills Fashion Week 2008 to let the concept reach consumers. Raymonds has a range made from bamboo fibre with unique anti-bacterial, anti-static properties and the capacity to retain moisture. Lacostes current summer range has a polo shirt with 50% cotton and 50% polyester anti-UV pique, which gives the person UV protection. In addition, there is a special swimwear where the crocodile print is visible only when the fabric is wet, says Vikas Gupta, MD & CEO, Lacoste India.
Anyone discerning and looking for logic, say the brands. For Zegna, the additional finishes and R&D help the brand get returns in terms of customer loyalty. Since our customers are discerning and have divided their clothes into segments, depending on the usage: travelling, evening wear, work wear, weekend wear, etc, we need to have something for every occasion, reasons Mukerji.
Andreas Gellner, managing director, Adidas India agrees too. He knows what the customer wants, having dealt with clients whose age range from 14 to 24. The youth today are tech-savvy, cynical, and constantly interested in whats cool. For this kind of audience, it is important to have the most fashionable and cutting-edge apparel that reflects their attitude and lifestyle. They are always interested in the latest and coolest every time they walk into a store. Upgraded R&D thus sounds logical to them and to us, says Gellner.
Besides the consumer profile comes the category. So, beyond the limited edition driven luxury brands and sheer-functional sportswear, innerwear too demands tech developments at all levels. Stylist and head of French mens innerwear brand HOM in India, Yatan Ahluwalia of Y&E Style Media thinks innerwear, besides refined fabrics, needs good cuts. Not too happy with the way the category is treated in India, with many Asian (not Indian) sizes on the racks, he thinks there is a lot to be done. Comfort and hygiene are the prerequisites here. Talking just about an urban informed male with a busy schedule, you have to justify your presence in his wardrobe. They also need to be informed about the fibre compositions which again does not happen very much in India, he complains.
Communication indeed works. Gaurav Prakash, who works for a BPO in Noida, recently picked an odour-shield suit from Raymonds. What grabbed him about the suit was the advertising that talks about the suits unique treatment that it permeates fibres at the molecular level to repel offensive odours. The way the concept was positioned made me overlook both odour and deodorant, he laughs. In any case, one would also like to get a product that is different from the others one has, says the software engineer who paid a few thousands more than he would for a regular suit.
And this is another return besides the eyeballs and loyalty. The technologically developed garments could come at a price higher than the others from the brand like the UV-resistant polo at Lacoste coming at Rs 2,750 while it is usually priced at Rs 2,450. But one could not generalise, says Gupta. Since these are mass-produced and mass marketed products, the economies of scale help us with cheaper rates for each of the garments. It is agreed that initially, value-added garments could be priced higher, but at the same time one can find a product with absolutely no value addition selling at a higher price due to its appeal value, he debates.
Despite the price debate, there are takers for these new-age apparel. And, it wont be long before you can wear a UV-resistant, eco-chic, anti-allergic, odour-shield jogging gear that has mobile chips as, phew!, add-ons. And as the brands promise, there is still a lot of value addition that is yet to come.