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A Sole-Stirring Arrival In India

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Shoes are the new handbags of the luxury market,” says Sunil Choudhary, senior consultant at Tecnova India, a company that advises global luxury brands on their India strategy. 
 
What he means is that if earlier bags were the entry points for aspirational consumers in India buying luxury accessory brands for the first time, today they start with footwear.
 
Ankur Bhatia, executive director of Bird Group, which recently brought in Swiss make Bally shoes to India, agrees that the well-heeled are now splurging more on luxury footwear. “With growing fashion consciousness among India’s urban middle class coupled with the Carrie Bradshaw and Victoria Beckham cult, shoes are fast becoming a very important accessory,” he says.
 
This space is certainly seeing a lot of action. A host of luxury shoe brands have put their best foot forward in India. Other than Bally, recent entrants in this space include Steve Madden, Paul & Shark and Tod’s. Also, brands such as Ermenegildo Zegna, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Hermès, Chanel, Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Bottega Veneta, Armani, Versace and Hugo Boss have brought in their footwear collections into India. Reliance Brands has got in Kenneth Cole. 
 
According to Tecnova, the luxury footwear market will touch nearly Rs 300 crore in 2012-13, and it is clocking a 30 per cent annual growth. 
60% of the Indian luxury shoe market is dominated by men
 
Choudhary says that a few clear trends are emerging. For one, there is an Indianisation in designs of the global luxury brands. So you have a bridal range from Gucci, embellished with sequins, a jazzy Bollywood range from Christian Louboutin that has unleashed funky pairs of heels. “The influence of India is increasingly showing,” says Choudhary.  
 
In other trends, the men’s share of the footwear market is coming down. Choudhary says that the luxury footwear segment is dominated by men’s brands. Till two years ago, 70 per cent of the footwear market share was hogged by men. “Today, it is down to 60 per cent,” he says. 
 
Bhatia agrees that the women’s footwear segment is currently underleveraged. “In India, the women’s and kid’s footwear segments largely remains untapped due to purchases taking place in the unorganised market,” he says, adding that this actually presents a big opportunity for growth.
 
Significantly, despite the opening of single-brand retail and 100 per cent foreign direct investment allowed in the segment, none of the luxury footwear brands have opted for this route, though the interest is high. “Eight of the 10 brands that have approached us to help them enter India are keen to enter on their own steam,” says Choudhary, but says that the 30 per cent sourcing-from-India norm is a deterrent so they end up coming through the joint venture route. Significantly, though, Versace 19.69 has entered into a manufacturing tie-up with Majgenta Fashions, and there are reports of others having talks.
 
Although the growth of the luxury footwear segment has been encouraging, Choudhary also says it has to be looked at in context. It’s three years since Jimmy Choo entered India and it has just five exclusive stores in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore —nothing compared to the 50 stores in five years in China.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 04-02-2013)