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.
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.
HISTORY OF CUSTOM AND BESPOKE APPAREL
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.
OVERVIEW OF THE APPAREL INDUSTRY
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
INDIAN CONSUMERS WANT THE PERFECT FIT, WITH A PERSONALISED DESIGN THAT SPEAKS TO THEIR UNIQUE IDENTITY.
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.
CUSTOM OR BESPOKE?
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.
TH THE NEXT WAVE
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.
THE MODEL OF CUSTOMISED APPAREL IS ROOTED IN GIVING CUSTOMERS A CLEAR AESTHETIC CONTROL OVER THEIR CLOTHING.