A paradigm shift in the Indian fashion industry

The recently held pre-fall 2023 show of Christian Dior in Mumbai was a head-turner in more ways than one.

fashion industry, lifestyle
On an average, a designer’s collection can cost anywhere between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 10 lakh for a traditional piece such as saree, lehenga, kurta or a western wear.

The recently held pre-fall 2023 show of Christian Dior in Mumbai was a head-turner in more ways than one. For the uninitiated, it was not just an event of unprecedented proportions—no luxury house has organised a show in the country of this sort and scale—but it also signalled a rise in attention given by global high fashion to the Indian market.

As luxury houses like Christian Dior are turning to Indian artisans for their exceptional craft skills, there has been a paradigm shift in the Indian fashion industry. Corporatisation, collaborations, global tie-ups and recognitions are helping designers and couture labels to scale their brand and customer reach, and to truly go global.

“Fashion is incomplete without its blithe side, but corporatisation has brought with it a safety net of sorts that has allowed us to push the envelope to be a more extravagant and larger creative force than ever. It empowers us to put the country on a global map and showcase Indian craftsmanship to the world,” says Shantanu Mehra of the designer-duo brand Shantnu & Nikhil that has a bridge-to-luxury brand called S&N and a robust D2C vertical, besides retail stores like Vesimi and Melange in Dubai and Singapore, respectively.

“Indian designers are tapping the global market because many trade agreements have been signed with India and other countries in recent months. Indian designers showcase delicate and precious arts, embroidery work and colourful fabrics, among others, which attract global buyers,” adds Bhaskar Das, associate professor, Department of Fashion Business, Pearl Academy, Delhi.

No wonder India’s place in the fashion world is being truly celebrated and recognised. At the recently held launch of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre (NMACC) in Mumbai, American model Gigi Hadid stole the show in an ivory and gold saree by Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla. So did Hollywood actor Zendaya, who stunned in sparkly glamorous outfits designed by Rahul Mishra.

Meanwhile, actor Ram Charan wore a custom-made classic bandhgala in velvet by Shantnu & Nikhil at the Oscar 2023 red carpet and fashion designers Gaurav Gupta, Rahul Mishra and Vaishali Shadangule debuted at the Paris Haute Couture Week in France in recent times.

The global exposure helps build a brand and gain recognition, diversify the audience base and reduce dependency on the domestic market. “There is an increasing demand for Indian designs and textiles globally, which makes it a great opportunity for Indian fashion designers to cater to this demand. The access to new technologies, resources and materials can help create unique designs and products to differentiate in a competitive market,” says ManMohan Singh, chief marketing officer, Birla Cellulose, Aditya Birla Group, who has collaborated with designers Abirr & Nanki to create the ‘navyasa by LIVA’ collection.

Global expansion

Since the fashion industry in India has completed over 30 years, it’s the right time for the industry to get more investments and brands to go global. “This is the turning point for the Indian fashion industry where it is maturing onto a beautiful level with the potential of global expansion and domination,” says designer Gaurav Gupta, who launched his eponymous label two decades ago.

With his rising status as an international couturier, he is known to deliver larger-than-life creations worn by global A-list stars including Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, Lizzo, Kylie Minogue, Ranveer Singh, Karan Johar and Priyanka Chopra, among others.

Gupta is retailing out of Neiman Marcus, a prestigious department-store chain in Dallas, Texas, and luxury fashion retailer Moda Operandi in New York.

Tapping the luxury brand market, Bollywood stylist and designer Manish Malhotra plans to double his chain of stores and make a debut of his first overseas shop this year in the US, UK or the Middle East.

This business extension comes after an investment from Reliance Brands, which bought 40% in the designer’s label MM Styles last year. With this, Malhotra is expected to start at least six new stores in India and abroad. Currently, he has four retail stores in India.

Tarun Tahiliani became the first Indian designer to showcase at the 2002 Milan Fashion Week, besides gaining recognition in New York, London, Tokyo, Dubai, Singapore and Karachi.

Designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee has created a capsule collection exclusively for Hong Kong’s Lane Crawford department store in 2017, featuring his signature opulent embroidery apart from his New York flagship store that opened in September 2020. Mukherjee’s designs are available internationally in multi-brand luxury boutiques in the US and UK and has a brand collaboration with Swedish clothing giant H&M. Besides, he has also started partnerships over the years with Karl Lagerfeld in 2004, and with others like Alexander Wang, Diane von Furstenberg, Stella McCartney and pop stars Madonna and Kylie Minogue.

Collaborations at work

While the west is not new to the idea of brand partnerships, Indian designers are now starting to step into the experimental world of collaborations. These collaborations are giving Indian fashion a global boost and helping compete designs at the international level.

“Collaborations with other brands, whether international or local, or achieving the possibility to showcase at the Paris Haute Couture, gives you a huge global visibility. Brands are happy to share part of the cost of the shows, and give more cross visibility. If the partner brand has the same values and brand image, then it makes a lot of sense for both. If not, then this can also bring problems for the brand image. That’s why there is so much happening in the market right now. These are very important decisions, where you may risk losing your brand identity and value,” says Vaishali Shadangule, founder of the eponymous label Vaishali S, who showcased at the coveted Paris Haute Couture Week in 2021.

Shadangule has a global presence in showroom format in Milan with both B2B and B2C bespoke sales but with no corporate push so far. “We are trying to have sustainable organic growth, relying on our own forces and sales growth. We have an ongoing collaboration with Italian world leader in recyclable and technical shoes Vibram to develop sustainable shoes. We have a collaboration with LVMH that has supported us with our haute couture shows,” says the designer, who has put Indian textiles on the global map with her couture collection featuring craftsmanship from across India, including Merino wool woven in Maheshwar, Khun from Karnataka and other indigenous weaves from West Bengal.

Tie-ups with brands, designers or retailers provide an opportunity to leverage each other’s strengths, expand market reach and unlock new business opportunities. Designers face challenges like adapting to different fashion preferences and cultural norms of international consumers, competing with established international brands, and navigating logistical issues like supply chain management, shipping, and customs. Yet, they are expanding into global markets, driving demand for these products worldwide. Rocky S of the legacy couture label Rocky Star, who showcased at Milan Fashion Week this year, expects 115% growth in business as compared to previous years.

“Despite all the above obstacles, we have developed in international markets, particularly in the Middle-East, Southeast Asia and the US, by tailoring designs and marketing strategies to international consumers. We have gained a lot of exposure and expanded our customer base as a result of our participation in international fashion weeks and styling international celebs like Paris Hilton and Beyonce,” says Rocky S, who is currently focusing on his online business and some tie-ups with international online platforms which he does not wish to disclose.

Acceptance of Indian designs

Data suggests that India is set to move from being an important sourcing hub to one of the most attractive consumer markets. It has now capitalised on the retail segment competitively collaborating with international brands abroad.

According to Varun Vaid, business director, Wazir Advisors, a management consulting firm that collaborates with the New York-based trend forecasting and consumer insight agency, Fashion Snoops, for their regional advisory consultancy expertise to cater to the fashion industry, India today is one of the most attractive apparel markets globally.

“India’s total apparel market size is estimated to be approximately $92 billion that has grown at 7% y-o-y in the last decade. The future projection is that it will double to $180 billion by 2030. This market potential is the key driver for fashion brands to flock to India. Growing disposable income of Indian consumers, catching up with western trends, growth of ecommerce and aspirational purchases has made India among the fastest growing large markets,” he adds.

Indian designs in motifs and weaves are most sought after abroad. Designers such as Raghuvendra Rathore, Ritu Kumar and JJ Valaya, in their experimentation with silhouettes, have drawn buyers by presenting Indian motifs. “Indian clothes with their indigenous designs and prints are being closely followed and appreciated more each day,” veteran designer Ritu Kumar says, adding how western-style outfits with Indian motifs and prints have made it big globally.

In 2021, Reliance Brands bought a 52% stake in Ritu Kumar’s label. The collaboration has not only given the brand the exposure to the high-end market but is also finding great resonance with all designs. “I’m now archiving designs of old costumes and embroideries to recreate the aesthetic that characterised its early work. The weaves will be available to the new generation, and this is how corporatisation is really going to help. Until a decade ago, we used to follow Europe in design sensibilities, our designs were copied, but our legacy in design is slowly and surely coming back to India. There is organic involvement of textile artisans. We are doing mom-and-pop shops. Our design identity must be taken to a larger level, and this can happen at the corporate level. We need tools of the Internet and corporatisation of funds to be able to carve an identity of India. It’s good in the long run,” says Kumar.

RBL has also partnered with designer Rahul Mishra to create a new brand via a 60:40 joint venture.

This year, Rahul Mishra’s Cosmos collection in Paris showcased an ensemble which took 400 hours to 7,000 hours to create. The designer is known to employ artisans from various villages across India who all worked from their homes.

Even in the case of Dior, its creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri has collaborated with the Chanakya School of Craft and noted contemporary artists since 2020, including Judy Chicago, Eva Jospin, Manu Parekh, Madhvi Parekh and Mickalene Thomas. The immersive art installations that served as the scenography for Dior’s Couture shows blend the boundaries between fine art and craft; and these works have since been featured at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco and the Museum of Impressionism at Giverny. Over the seasons, Chiuri pursued this passionate alliance in order to highlight the virtuosity of Indian artisanship, with the show as a reimagination of Chiuri’s vision for Dior in pajama dressing, saris, and wrap skirts in colour palettes and materials.

Indian crafts and techniques have also found greater acceptance worldwide, and this trend is set to grow in the future with initiatives like ‘Make in India’ which have boosted and improved output results in the sector of fashion manufacturing. At the London Fashion Week this year, Khadi Utsav Fashion was organised to showcase a collection spun by 12 young female designers from India’s International Institute of Fashion Design (INIFD) with local artisans and weavers in association with the London School of Trends. This event also relayed PM Narendra Modi’s message of “khadi for nation, khadi for fashion and khadi for transformation” and the mission to take the fabric from “local to global”.

From a manufacturing point of view, designer Shandangule feels we are strong for skilled workmanship especially embroideries, but not so much in design and in quality of the products and the experience. “That is why we have seen many global brands outsourcing this skilled work here,” she says.

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Rising luxe economy

The attention given to Indian designers comes at a time when the country’s luxury market has been predicted to experience growth despite uncertain global economic outlooks. As per global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company’s analysis of fashion forecasts, the overall luxury sector is expected to grow between 5% and 10% in 2023, driven by strong momentum in China (projected to grow between 9% and 14%) and in the US (projected to grow between 5% and 10%). Europe, on the other hand, is under high pressure from currency rates and a growing energy crisis, which is likely to result in modest sales growth for the luxury sector (projected to grow between 3% and 8%), as per the forecasts.

“We have a considerable percentage of young customers who are willing to spend. This segment of sophisticated customers in the luxury segment is at an emerging stage now and will increase in the future,” says Singh of Aditya Birla Group.

Meanwhile, the global demand for luxury goods will see a robust rise across the world as people have now started to spend, travel and socialise more in a post pandemic world. The global market for luxury goods, as per, was pegged at $242.8 billion in 2022, and is estimated to reach $369.8 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 5.4% over the analysis period 2022-2030. India alone will reach $60.9 billion by 2030.

“We are moving on towards the ‘gold collar’ worker. It’s a term that defines the well-paid, highly paid professionals, who are happy to look good, happy to feel good, and are expanding the consumption of today,” says Sanjay Kapoor, founder of Genesis Luxury, a luxury retail conglomerate as quoted in an article posted by McKinsey & Company, adding that higher incomes are likely to create a whole new class of consumer.

In 2022, India’s apparel market was worth $59.3 billion in the world, and comparable to the UK ($65 billion) and Germany ($63.1 billion), as per data from McKinsey’s FashionScope.

Ecommerce, social media and the Internet, especially in the post-pandemic world, have also contributed to creating awareness on global fashion trends. There is constant participation and representation of designs at the global platforms which have proven well to establish one’s own brand.

David Abraham, the creative director of Abraham & Thakore, one of India’s leading resources for fashion and textiles, is looking at massive brick-and-mortar extensions for his A&T brand in a post-pandemic retail environment in India.

“This may seem like a risk to most, especially as others focus on an omnichannel approach, but we are determined to expand since our partners in India (Reliance) have access to the knowhow, skill set and range of options to support us as a brand. We have the freedom to focus on being more creative because we are not the ideal businesspeople,” says Abraham.

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In March last year, Reliance Retail Ventures, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, acquired a majority stake in the fashion brand for an undisclosed sum. “Reliance will help set up in India. They have been selling luxury for long and know the market here,” adds Abraham.

The duo’s 2010 debut collection in India—a double ikat silk houndstooth sari and shirt—is now in the permanent archives for textiles of Victoria & Albert Museum in London that also consists of designs from couturiers like Coco Chanel and Christian Dior.

Money matters

According to global market research company Proficient Market Insights, the haute couture fashion industry was estimated at $11,472.61 million in 2021 and is projected to reach $13,456.60 million by 2028, exhibiting a CAGR of 2.3% during this period.

While a fashionista informs FE on the condition of anonymity that a designer has to spend millions of rupees for a publicity fashion show and work on the operations, on an average, all the glitz and glamour of over 50 ensembles, music and ramp design can cost anywhere between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 5 crore depending on the designer’s budget.

On an average, a designer’s collection can cost anywhere between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 10 lakh for a traditional piece such as saree, lehenga, kurta or a western wear.

The financial impact is huge and only a handful of Indian fashion brands have attracted institutional capital. In 2017, designer Gaurang Shah was estimated to invest close to Rs 10 crore including stocks for his international expansion, famous for saris, besides other stores in Ledbury Street in London and Dubai in the following years.

In 2019, Ritu Kumar was estimated to raise over $20 million, after Everstone Capital, an Indian private equity firm, had invested Rs 100 crore in the company in 2013. In 2019, the brand was also looking to raise more capital from an undisclosed source. The designer added two Dubai stores in 2014 & 2016 to her growing list of flagship locations across India, over 90 mixed-format stores in more than 30 cities in India, two stores in Mauritius and one in South Africa.

Anita Dongre, who has dressed the likes of Beyonce, Kate Middleton, Kim Kardashian and Hillary Clinton, launched her Dubai store in ready-to-wear dresses, kaftans, evening gowns, co-ord sets, and skirt sets, after opening her brand Grassroot store in New York’s Soho area in 2017 and a multi-floor flagship store in West Broadway in 2018.

With her global retail presence, the House of Anita Dongre (HOAD) had revenues above Rs 1,000 crore (about $130 million) in 2020, as per news reports. With five brands under its banner (AND, a ready-to-wear label; Global Desi, a line of Indo-western boho clothing launched in 2007; a bespoke namesake bridal line launched in 2012; the jewellery brand Anita Dongre Pinkcity launched in 2013; and the sustainable fashion label, Grassroot, launched in 2015) HOAD has a retail network with almost 1,000 stores. US private equity firm General Atlantic acquired a minority stake in HOAD in 2013 with $20 million investment.

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First published on: 14-05-2023 at 01:00 IST