Before Shah Rukh Khan earned the moniker SRK, his fans knew him as Shah Rukh ‘Mayur’ Khan, thanks to his endorsement of Mayur Suitings that dominated commercial airtime on television in the mid-1990s. Around the same time, there was Dinesh Suitings. Its innings with the original little master, Sunil Gavaskar was a long one — the legendary cricketer endorsed the brand for over a decade starting in the early-1980s when he asked the consumers to ‘take the world in your stride’. Another memorable cricket-suiting endorsement affair was Gwalior Suitings’ advertisement featuring cricketer M.A.K. ‘Tiger’ Pataudi and his actor wife Sharmila Tagore with their son, Saif Ali Khan, joining them later on screen. Vimal, another iconic Indian suiting brand, was once endorsed by cricketers such as Vivian Richards and Allan Border.
Today, many of these suiting brands, from Binny Suitings and Lal Imli, the legendary brand from Cawnpore Woollen Mills, to the Bombay Dyeing Cezari collection, Vimal, Ambiking, Dhariwal, Shakti, Vinar, etc., that consumers were familiar with a decade or two ago, and were endorsed by popular faces of those times, are either conspicuous by their absence, or have a minimal presence — in both the media as well as retail outlets. Some brands, Gwalior being one star example, have been phased out. “The entire context and relevance of the category has come under a lot of threat,” says an industry expert who heads the marketing division for one of the dominant brands of the past. “We are not a suit culture,” accepts Indrajeet Mookerjee, branch head at Rediffusion Y&R, the Bangalore-based advertising agency that handles communications for the Arrow range of men’s clothing.
| "Instead of spending on hiring a celebrity, we focus on pushing our brands"|
Aniruddha Deshmukh, President, Textiles, Raymond
(BW Pic By Subhabrata Das)
But for every brand that failed to stand the test of time, there is a Raymond that has not just managed to survive since 1925, but also keep its head well above water with a share of over 50 per cent of the market in premium suitings. How did Raymond continue to flourish, despite seeing difficult times, especially in the past decade? Or why has S Kumars taken a back seat while Reid & Taylor or Belmonte, promoted by the same company, S Kumars Nationwide (SKNL), became star performers? With brands getting phased out, are we seeing the end of Indian brand names in a category that has its origins in the West? Before we get to the answers, let us understand the suitings industry.
The dynamics of the Indian market partly explain why it has become difficult to sell suits for a living in this country. The per capita consumption of apparel in India is estimated by financial consultancy Nomura to be Rs 1,087 (in 2010), which is way lower than those of China which stands at Rs 7,370 in the same year and Brazil (Rs 8,489 in 2008).
Yet, the size of the overall apparel market is large, with industry sources estimating it to be close to Rs 1,58,000 crore. Of this, suiting fabrics account for just Rs 5,000 crore or 3.16 per cent. The lower-end poly-viscose (PV) segment, dominated by Siyaram, makes up almost 70 per cent or Rs 3,500 crore of the suitings market with the high-end worsted suitings (made of mainly wool, which Raymond dominates) making up the balance 30 per cent or Rs 1,500 crore. “Earlier, the biggest spends for suitings happened in tier-1 cities. Now the action is shifting to tier-3 and tier-4 towns,” says Abhijit Ganguly, brand director, Grasim. For instance, points out an expert, places like Bahadurgarh may have more suiting retailers than New Delhi.
|60% The increase in the price of wool, over the last four years|
In the Rs 5,000-crore suitings market, almost 75 per cent of the fabric is bought to be stitched as trousers. Which translates into one in four people who buys suiting material actually stitching an entire suit. As a result, the emergence of the readymade garments industry over the last decade or so has impacted the suitings industry drastically. While brands such as Koutons, Charlie Outlaw, Cotton County, etc., retail trousers starting at Rs 700, stitching a pair of trousers costs the same or a little more depending on the fabric. Hence, it is more convenient to buy readymade rather than get a pair stitched. “Once readymade options were available at that price, consumers were willing to make the trade-off between convenience and fit,” says Ganguly. Plus, readymade garments gave consumers the option of churning their wardrobe faster. Instead of having one custom-tailored expensive pair of trousers, they could buy two readymade ones.
An expert feels suiting brands’ branching out into the readymade category also contributed to a shift in customers’ preferences. “It might not have been the intention, but consumers got a signal that the next level of progression was readymade,” he says.