“Dressing is a way of life” is a popular quote by designer Yves Saint Laurent. But what is the way of life and therefore dressing in India right now? My take is that it is constantly evolving and adapting to suit the changing times our country is experiencing. There was a time when women wore saris to work in India and were considered less successful than men. If you look around today, women have overtaken men in many ways professionally and they literally wear the pants now. You rarely see an office going girl wearing anything besides an indo-western outfit or even a completely western outfit which you would see on the streets of developed countries like US or UK.
The fashion scene in India has changed so much and so fast. As recent as 5 years ago, we didn’t have chains like Zara, Forever 21 as well as high end designer stores like Louis Vuitton and Gucci present in India. And now, we have it all and more stores are opening everyday! Online stores and sites have also joined the bandwagon of capitalizing on the new age Indian consumer. Indian entrepreneurs who have been exporting clothes to international brands are also seeing value in the Indian market and launching their collections here.
One question that comes up in my mind as a researcher is whether these international brands or even the local ones sprouting up actually understand what consumers want, how price elastic or inelastic they are and what they like in terms of style, communication, customer experience, etc. I decided to speak to some veterans of the retail and fashion industry to understand what level of research and planning goes into their new collections and launches. I contacted a buyer at a popular and trendy Indian brand of fashion forward western clothing to get her take on research. I also spoke to a marketing professional who has worked at international designers like Jimmy Choo and Salvatore Ferragamo and a senior marketing consultant who has worked Pantaloons and implemented many of their current best practices. Talking to these experts gave me a much better picture at how different brands work on drilling down what they think consumers want and how they go out executing those ideas. It’s a bit complex but I will try to simplify it for you. Here is my take on the topic.
High end fashion brands like Jimmy Choo and Louis Vuitton play the role of creating trends, not following them. People look forward to their take on fashion and mid range brands like Zara and H&M follow their trends to develop their lines. High end designers don’t do much consumer research because that would curtail their creativity. They however do indulge in large sales analytics exercises internally to see which colours and styles are more popular so they can insure that their products will sell. When launching a new line, they also travel to various parts of the country from where they want to draw inspiration. For instance: travelling to Rajasthan, Jaipur in India to launch an Indian ethnic line or to Mumbai to launch a Bollywood collection.
Fast fashion international brands like Zara and H&M subscribe to fashion forecasting agencies like Style Sight and WGSN. These agencies follow designers, seasonal trends, and consumer trends and travel extensively to deliver fashion forecasts in terms of what colours, styles, and mood are in trend currently. Some of these brands also conduct their own qualitative research to find out which styles will sell more. This helps them in inventory management and lowers their risk of mass producing a style that won’t sell. Some even indulge in ad copy testing studies but this seems like a rarity in the industry.
In India, many local companies are trying to capitalize on the new fashion forward India. But with limited resources, these brands have limited budgets to spend on research. So they do whatever they can internally drive their success. They subscribe to the fashion forecasting agencies and also travel to fashion centers of the world like New York, London, and Paris to spot trends and bring them back to their collections.
The fashion industry is getting more and more competitive in India. Consumers are being exposed to various international brands and also experiencing the power of local brands who might understand them better. Forecasting agencies will still exist and aid the back end designing and manufacturing/production departments but a more focused need for consumer insight exists in the fashion industry, particularly for mass brands which thrive on volumes for their success. I feel that consumer research will play a critical role in a brand’s success in the future. Market research can play a vital role in refining brand and customer experiences. Indian consumers think in a different way and understanding what they need, want and expect when they walk into a store, can help local and international brands cater to them better. Also, with the online shopping growing as an industry in India, consumer behavior will become more and more valuable in the fashion industry.
This blog post is written by Reema Notani, Insight Consultant, Brandscapes Worldwide
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