Putting their best foot forward

From donning new identities to launching athleisure and premium offerings, legacy footwear brands are stepping up their game.

footwear, brands
As a whole new market opens up in the smaller cities, durability has made way for style.

Names such as Liberty, Relaxo and Metro, that once enjoyed a place of prominence on shoe racks in Indian households, today evoke a sense of nostalgia. In the world of premium international brands and bespoke footwear offerings, India’s legacy footwear brands are playing the catch up game.

Sixty-year-old Liberty Shoes has launched affordable luxury offerings to attract millennials and Gen Z by leveraging its legacy, supply chain and distribution network. The first product under its new vertical is a line of premium fragrances priced at around `2,000. Out of the 600 stores that Liberty operates, it has chosen 70 to showcase this fragrance line. “High taxation in the footwear space has hurt our growth so we decided to enter a new category,” says Adesh Gupta, CEO, Liberty Shoes. He adds that the brand extension into the lifestyle space will have a rub-off effect on its existing footwear business.

Another player, Metro Shoes — which has seen success in tier II and III cities, being the first mover in fashion — is focussing on an omnichannel approach and premiumisation. Farah Malik Bhanji, MD and CEO, Metro Shoes, informs that this has been done “due to increased competition in the space and discount schemes promoted by online players.”

Meanwhile, Relaxo, which operates in the value segment, changed its brand identity last year to target the young, fashion-conscious consumers with higher disposable incomes. “There is a sea change in consumer psychographics. Relaxo is a household brand and we want to retain our legacy as we connect with the youth through modern offerings,” says Rajeev Bhatia, assistant VP, Relaxo. The company houses brands such as Sparx, Flite, Bahamas and Schoolmate.

Style over durability

As a whole new market opens up in the smaller cities, durability has made way for style. “These legacy footwear brands are competing with newer brands like Being Human, Wrogn and HRX that offer a full range and are not very expensive. They opened the market and the older brands are just moving in,” says Naresh Gupta, CSO, managing partner – Bang in the Middle.

That is the reason youth-centric offerings are becoming popular and Indian brands are catching up. In fact, Metro Shoes is not just looking to cash in on the trend with youth-centric designs, but also moving up the price ladder. The company, which has 400 outlets in India — including 200 stores under the Metro brand alone, 125 stores of Mochi, 50 stores of Walkway and over 70 stores of Crocs — is focussing on making the 50 year-old Metro brand exciting. “We consciously tie up with younger brand ambassadors to appeal to the 20-30 age group,” says Bhanji.

Metro Shoes is also launching premium footwear. Its in-house premium brand Davinchi now has a women’s range too, priced at around Rs 3,000. It will also introduce an Italian brand at a price point of `50,000. “Our core product range is under `10,000. We are premiumising the product offerings as a lot of working women are now willing to spend on comfort,” she adds.

Note that Liberty already had offerings in the premium space for quite some time with brands such as Healers that have seen a good connect with consumers. “The idea is to create a new breed of products at a price point of Rs 3,000-7,000, and maybe a separate retail channel for the lifestyle business,” Liberty’s Gupta adds.

Relaxo plans to continue with its positioning of being a family brand for the mass market. “We are like an Indian MNC brand for the masses. We offer badge value at affordable prices. Our focus will be on fitness and athleisure offerings,” Bhatia says.

The market leaders

According to industry estimates, almost 40% of the footwear sold in India comprises branded footwear and more than 30% is organised retail. “This is the highest share compared to categories such as food and apparel,” says Ankur Bisen, VP – retail and consumer products, Technopak. The footwear market in India is worth Rs 55,000 crore and is growing at 15% per annum.

The market is devoid of international players in the value segment, unlike other categories like apparel, for instance, which has seen international brands like Zara and H&M in the space. “Mostly only international footwear companies, such as Nike, Adidas, Aldo and Clarks, have entered the Indian market. The mass and mid-price play is dominated by Indian brands, with Bata as an exception,” says Bisen.

However, despite new-age consumers in both value and premium segments being digitally savvy, online shopping for footwear has not picked up. “Strategic alliances with e-commerce players and an omnichannel experience for consumers could work as a differentiator for traditional footwear players,” says Harsha Razdan – partner and head, consumer markets, KPMG in India.

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