Cus­tomised Cloth­ing: The Next Big Wave in In­dian Ap­parel

In to­day’s world where mass pro­duc­tion is the norm, the In­dian fash­ion space is steadily wit­ness­ing the rise of cus­tomised ap­parel. Samir Alam ex­plores.

Apparel - - CONTENTS OCTOBER 2018 -

A look at the rise of cus­tomised ap­parel in the In­dian fash­ion in­dus­try

Ap­parel and cloth­ing have al­ways been sig­ni­fiers of com­fort, fash­ion and el­e­gance. From the con­sumers to the de­sign­ers, the goal of the ap­parel in­dus­try has been to ap­pease the cus­tomers’ pref­er­ences, of­fer­ing them the best de­signs with the best fits. How­ever, this is eas­ier said than done in the world of mass pro­duc­tion and global sup­ply chains, where the dis­tance be­tween maker and user is vast. The modern eco­nomic com­pro­mise has been built on the idea of scaled pro­duc­tion and stan­dard­ised sizes. With re­gional def­i­ni­tions of ‘nor­mal’ sizes with spe­cial seg­ments for ‘husky’ or ‘tall’, there has never been a uni­ver­sally stan­dard­ised sys­tem for con­sumers to rely on. As a re­sult, an In­dian or­der­ing any ap­parel item from an in­ter­na­tional source feels like he/she is tak­ing a gam­ble when it comes to size and fit­ting. This is prob­a­bly the core cul­tural rea­son that cus­tomised cloth­ing has cap­tured the In­dian con­sumer’s imag­i­na­tion.


In­dian con­sumers want the per­fect fit, with a personalised de­sign that speaks to their unique iden­tity. But this has never been re­ally pos­si­ble in the post-glob­al­i­sa­tion pe­riod when mass pro­duc­tion and glob­alised im­ports have de­fined style and fit­ting. In the ear­lier eras, In­dian con­sumers knew that the sign of af­flu­ence and class was to only wear bespoke tai­lored cloth­ing. In­di­vid­u­als would rely on the mas­terly au­thor­ity of re­spected tai­lors and de­sign­ers in their own cities and neigh­bour­hoods to of­fer them a personalised cloth­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that not only fit per­fectly to their body type, but also demon­strated high fash­ion aes­thet­ics.

Cel­e­bra­tory oc­ca­sions were lit­tered with dozens of unique, yet the­mat­i­cally uni­fied de­signs, each pur­port­ing a sense of class and dis­tinc­tion. But clearly this phe­nom­e­non was con­fined to the up­per ech­e­lons of so­ci­ety, amongst the up­per-mid­dle and up­per class seg­ments. So when glob­alised mass pro­duc­tion be­came a re­al­ity, the bulk of the In­dian con­sumers opted for af­ford­abil­ity over in­di­vid­u­al­ity. That is un­til re­cently. With the blos­som­ing of the dig­i­tal econ­omy, e-com­merce ap­parel plat­forms and mod­ernised tech­nol­ogy, the abil­ity to af­ford­ably craft personalised cloth­ing has never been more pos­si­ble for In­dian con­sumers.


The trend to­wards cus­tomised ap­parel is most con­cen­trated within the ca­sual wear seg­ment. Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent fig­ures from Technopak, the over­all fash­ion re­tail mar­ket in In­dia is worth nearly US$46 bil­lion, with an ex­pected com­pounded an­nual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.7 per cent, reach­ing US$115 bil­lion by 2026. Within this sec­tor, there are many seg­ments that closely re­late to the ris­ing phe­nom­e­non of cus­tomised ap­parel. The men’s wear seg­ment is the largest in the ap­parel mar­ket


at about US$19 bil­lion, pro­jected to rise at a CAGR of nine per cent to reach US$45.5 bil­lion by 2026. Dur­ing the same pe­riod, the women’s wear seg­ment is ex­pected to rise from US$17.5 bil­lion to US$44 bil­lion, at a CAGR of 9.9 per cent.

Also, it is in­ter­est­ing to note that in the af­ford­able ca­sual wear mar­ket for both men and women, t-shirts are among the big­gest prod­uct cat­e­gory do­mes­ti­cally at US$750 mil­lion and are the first stop for cus­tomised ap­parel for most peo­ple. In 2016, there were over 50 start-ups that were spe­cial­is­ing in cus­tomised ap­parel with t-shirts be­ing their lead prod­uct, which was quickly fol­lowed by other items like hood­ies, shirts, po­los and in­ner­wear. Since then, this cat­e­gory has only grown more re­fined as the con­sumer de­mand for cus­tomised cloth­ing in the mid-price range sec­tor has at­tracted the at­ten­tion of high-end ser­vices as well.


As yet, there is no clear in­dus­try dis­tinc­tion for cus­tomised cloth­ing in the wider ap­parel in­dus­try. We can broadly cat­e­gorise the ex­ist­ing seg­ments into two ar­eas–cus­tomised ca­sual wear, and cus­tomised lux­ury wear or bespoke cloth­ing. Given the his­tory of the af­flu­ent In­dian tra­di­tion of personalised tai­lor­ing, In­dian busi­nesses are fa­mil­iar with the no­tion of bespoke cloth­ing and as­so­ci­ate it with an as­pi­ra­tional con­sumer de­sire. By of­fer­ing cus­tomers an old school ex­pe­ri­ence built on mod­ernised and glob­alised prod­ucts, these com­pa­nies are look­ing to tap into the bespoke ap­parel seg­ment, which is es­ti­mated to be highly frag­mented but po­ten­tially US$5 bil­lion in size.

In­ter­est­ingly, within each of these gen­dered cloth­ing seg­ments, the largest sub­group is for shirts and t-shirts for men, and eth­nic wear and Indo-western for­mal wear for women. This spike in these seg­ments re­flects the chang­ing con­sumer pref­er­ences, as more and more men and women take to for­mal and pro­fes­sional life­styles. Com­bined with the in­ter­na­tional sen­si­bil­ity of modern con­sumers, their de­sire for per­fectly fit­ting clothes crafted from the high­est qual­ity of ma­te­ri­als is now a con­ve­nient re­al­ity and eas­ily funded. This is sim­ply be­cause of the timely con­flu­ence of con­sumer de­mand with in­dus­try sup­ply. To­day’s modern In­dian con­sumers, from Tier I to Tier III cities, are en­gaged in a credit-based con­sumer econ­omy that thrives on as­pi­ra­tional spend­ing. With this rise in credit spend­ing by In­dian con­sumers, where the in­creas­ing dis­pos­able in­come is boosted by fi­nan­cial lines of credit, the abil­ity to in­dulge in bespoke ap­parel is no longer con­fined to the elite con­sumers.

On the other end of the pro­duc­tion seg­ment, the af­ford­able cus­tom cloth­ing mar­ket is also carv­ing a niche for it­self. With the ad­vent of af­ford­able fab­ric print­ing and al­ter­ation tech­nol­ogy, the mar­ket is still de­vel­op­ing a sus­tain­able sys­tem of com­merce for these com­pa­nies. Ma­jor global play­ers like Ama­zon in the US have al­ready demon­strated that personalised cloth­ing can be done in a re­tail model. In 2017, the global e-com­merce giant won a patent for an on-de­mand cloth­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing sys­tem that utilised au­toma­tion tech­nol­ogy. With this de­vel­op­ment, the tech­nol­ogy to cre­ate made-to-or­der, on-de­mand cus­tomer-cen­tric cloth­ing at an af­ford­able rate be­came a more at­tain­able re­al­ity.


The In­dian cus­tomised and bespoke ap­parel in­dus­try is still in a rel­a­tively nascent stage of de­vel­op­ment. With a highly frag­mented bespoke cou­ture mar­ket and a newly emerg­ing cus­tom ca­sual wear mar­ket, we can ex­pect both these seg­ments to grow rapidly in the next cou­ple of years. How­ever, the suc­cess of both hinges on their abil­ity to cater within the ex­pec­ta­tions of their core cus­tomer seg­ment. The bespoke tai­lor­ing mar­ket will re­main up­per-end, with qual­ity and style be­ing their key driv­ers, while ca­sual wear will be a price ad­van­tage game. So while we can ex­pect a slow but sta­ble growth trend in the bespoke mar­ket, it is ac­tu­ally the ca­sual wear seg­ment which will be the area to watch.

Cur­rently, the in­dus­try is still heav­ily in­vested in ba­sic fab­ric print tech­nol­ogy that is driv­ing the bulk of its sales, but with new tech­nolo­gies, it might ac­tu­ally be­come more for­mi­da­ble. For ex­am­ple, Bos­ton’s Min­istry of Sup­ply’s cus­tom 3D knit­ting ma­chines can make a blazer in 90 min­utes. Such tools have yet to make their way to In­dia and have the po­ten­tial to be a game changer. The model of cus­tomised ap­parel is rooted in giv­ing cus­tomers a clear aes­thetic con­trol over their cloth­ing, and this can only be achieved if tech­nol­ogy is ca­pa­ble of trans­lat­ing ideas into re­al­ity. If In­dian busi­nesses can de­velop in­dige­nous tech­nolo­gies that are de­signed around In­dian fash­ion and cloth­ing styles, then their growth po­ten­tial is im­mense. It is clear to see that in this con­stantly evolv­ing space, new de­vel­op­ments and in­no­va­tions in tech­nol­ogy and sales mod­els still pos­sess the po­ten­tial to dis­rupt tra­di­tional ex­pec­ta­tions and make cus­tomised cloth­ing the new nor­mal.


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