India will finally get affordable, homegrown versions of Zara and H&M

Fast-fashion alert.
Fast-fashion alert.
Image: Reuters/Susana Vera
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Indian apparel retailers are shifting gears to chase fast-fashion.

With foreign labels such as Spain’s Zara and Sweden’s H&M making a killing in price-conscious India, the country’s top garment retailers, too, are now looking to tap “fast-fashion“—trends that move quickly from ramps to stores. This segment responds to real-time trends, taking cues from fashion shows, blogs, and cinema, to churn out affordable clothing.

Earlier this year, the Kishore Biyani-promoted Future Group, which owns a chain of discounted supermarkets and apparel stores, launched Cover Story, its ticket to fast-fashion. “Our intention is to build stores that are as large as those of H&M and Zara, right now the stores (Cover Story) are smaller,” Biyani said in an interview in April to Mint. Future Group plans to add 50 such stores in the next two years.

And Biyani is not alone.

Retail heads at large companies, such as the Landmark Group’s Max fashion or Bengaluru-based Arvind Retail, too, are borrowing the idea of fast-fashion from Zara and H&M while creating newer brands and businesses.

Fast Lane

Men and women in urban India are shopping for apparel at least 10 to 12 times a year, which is much more than they did five years ago. With higher disposable incomes, they are spending more on gadgets, clothes, and experiences.

This is fuelling a 10-12% growth in the Indian branded apparel market worth $10 billion, a 2015 report by brokerage firm Edelweiss Securities said. From 35% in 2014, branded apparel will form around 48% of the overall readymade garment market by 2019, the report said.

Zara, one of the world’s largest fast-fashion retailer, clocked Rs842.57 crore in revenues for the year ending March 31, 2016, from its 18 stores in India. Owned by Spain’s Inditex Group, it entered the country in 2009 through a 50:50 joint venture with Tata Sons, and is already profitable here. Now, consider this: It took apparel retailer Levi Strauss two decades to turn profitable in India, which it finally did in 2014 with a turnover of Rs599 crore.

Indian brands are also working on reducing the time taken to hit the stores, besides prices. “From, say, three-to-four collections annually, we will upgrade their designs every eight weeks,” said Manjula Tiwari, CEO, Future Style Lab, which owns Cover Story. Besides, their products will be at least 20% cheaper than those of Zara’s, said Tiwari.

Meanwhile, Arvind Retail launched the online-only Prym and Shuffle brands late last year for young women. These brands will update their collections between eight and 10 times a year. “By the time Zara gets to tier II markets, we want to already build a strong clout of Shuffle in these markets, at much more affordable prices,” Rajiv Mehta, head of these brands, said in an interview with Mint.

Right now, foreign retailers such as Zara and H&M are largely focused on the top six-to-eight cities in India.

Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail (ABFRL) Pantaloons, too, is set to add fast-fashion to its stores. “Our multi-season fashion store strategy will get implemented six months from now,” Pantaloons CEO Shital Mehta said.

Fashion wars

These retailers’ thrust towards western collections comes at a time when the world’s largest retail players themselves are getting more aggressive on India.

H&M is opening large stores across malls in India. In 2013, it said it would invest Rs700 crore in 50 stores.

Last month, Mumbai-based ABFRL bought the franchise rights for American fast-fashion brand Forever 21 for an estimated $26 million, the company said in a stock filing. It hopes to generate revenues of over $1 billion.

Tiwari of Cover Story is hopeful that the homegrown names can create their own niche, at least among shoppers who cannot yet afford foreign labels. “We are giving them the colours they love and styles that are more suited to Indian tastes and design sensibilities,” she said.