Ford, South China Morning Post
Delhi, 6 November 2015
through sweaters in India's first Gap store in a glitzy New Delhi
mall, 21-year-old Ridhi Goel says her grandmother doesn't mind
how she dresses, as long as it's not too revealing.
She's fine with me wearing Western clothes like a shirt
but not jeans and a crop top, said the journalism student,
her grey leggings contrasting sharply with her mother's colourful
All my family wears Indian clothes, but I find them too
uncomfortable. I think maybe there is a generational divide.
Most women in India still wear traditional dress such as saris
or salwar kameez - but things are changing, and on city streets,
dazzling silks mingle with T-shirts and jeans.
Young people's appetite for Western clothes has led to a flurry
of foreign brands opening up in India in the past few months,
including US chain Gap and Sweden's H&M.
Others are expanding fast, including popular Spanish retailer
Zara and British high-street staple Marks & Spencer, which
in October opened its 50th shop in India, its biggest market outside
Urbanisation, a growing middle class, rising disposable incomes
and one of the youngest populations in the world make India hard
The time has come for Western wear to have exponential
growth, says J. Suresh, the managing director of textile
group Arvind Lifestyle Brands, Gap's partner in India,.
If you look at any girl born after 1990 she will be wearing
Western wear. That is the generation coming into college, their
first job, he says. They will be completely in Western
While women are the biggest shoppers, in India men's clothing
dominates, taking 42 per cent of the US38 billion market in 2014,
according to consultancy Technopak. The average customer targeted
by Gap in its US stores is 35, but their Indian counterpart is
five to 10 years their junior, Suresh says.
Gap had a head start in India thanks to Bollywood star Shah Rukh
Khan, whose ubiquitous orange hoodie in 1990s hit Kuch Kuch Hota
Hai (Something Happens) gave the brand a ready-made following.
But it is young Indian women, increasingly affluent and joining
the workforce in expanding numbers, who are driving change, with
data showing sales of womenswear growing faster than men's. And
while Western clothes currently make up only about a quarter of
Indian womenswear, their sales are outpacing traditional dress.
A Marks & Spencer spokesperson cites its Indigo denim range
and lingerie as two of its best-performing lines in the country,
with more than 300,000 bras sold in 2014-15.
As an increasing number of women move into white collar
and blue-collar roles, they are also adopting Western attire,
says Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eyesight, a retail
consultancy in Delhi.
More negatively, media stereotypes of overseas fashion as
a proxy for a modern thought process and conversely,
Indian clothing as backward or repressive, certainly are
an important influencer, he says.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is famous for wearing a short-sleeved
kurta, he is in the minority among India's men. They already dress
predominantly in Western clothes, as do children, whose parents
see it as a practical choice for school.
For foreign brands, fast-growing India is a welcome change from
sluggish markets like Britain, and a loosening of foreign direct
investment laws has made it easier to open shops. Yet the retail
landscape in India - geographically about as large and diverse
as the European Union - is hard to navigate, leading some entrants,
including British department store Debenhams, to pull out.
Tackling the Indian market successfully requires a different
mind-set, Dutta says.
Foreign newcomers also face competition from Indian-owned, Western-style
brands such as Allen Solly or Louis Philippe, which are more familiar
with the nuances of the market. The successful ones adapt their
ranges - Marks & Spencer stretches its seasons
to cater for the long Indian summer and offers polo shirts in
four times as many colours as in Britain. Others aggressively
In a country where the average monthly wage is US$215, according
to 2012 figures from the International Labour Organisation, brands
that are mid-market in Europe or the United States become much
higher end in India.
Dressed in a pink polo shirt and jeans in the capital's new H&M
store, airline officer Sunil Bassi, 49, says he is not fussy
about his clothes and came to shop for his wife.
Obviously Western fashion is very popular. How many people
in here do you see wearing Indian clothes? he says.
(Published in South
China Morning Post.)