The Lingerie Industry in India has been unleashed like never before, it has undergone a transformational change over the past few years. Lingerie business holds the largest pie of market share in India with high margins returns. This segment has created a niche for itself in the garment manufacturing business.
Lingerie industry has been majorly shaped by the changing tastes and preferences of Indian women in terms of fashion and style statement. The growing disposable income, comfort and style have been instrumental in growth of lingerie segment. The Lingerie industry is at both stages one as a the consumer is excited to accept it, two to the manufacturers who are trying to establish a reputation of providing quality product as already done by the other peripheral countries. Lingerie design as a specialisation is a daunting challenge for most Indian designers. Yet, there are a handful of lingerie designers in the country who are breaking social stereotypes and taking baby steps to expand the luxury lingerie segment.
We spoke to a few designers to get their perspective on the subject.
Madhumita Suhas, Category Head – Aristobrat. She has been working as a designer from 2009 and has 8 years of experience. She pursued lingerie designing for one and a half year where she designed women’s Ed Hardy undergarments launch collection in India for Centaraus Lifestyle Pvt Ltd and she also designed lingerie for Strawberry Lenceria. She completed her BSC in fashion & apparel designing from Mount Carmel College Bangalore. Currently she is pursuing her PG course at NIFT Bangalore in fashion & retail management.
Meghana Nyayapati, Founder & Creative Head –Nyamé was always a very creative and a fashionable child. She moved to New York in 2013 and pursued higher studies from Parsons The New School for Design in 2014. She was working with the IHL Group in New York for over an year wherein she had the opportunity to design lingerie collections for different seasons with the help and guidance of a great team.
Kunal Sawant, Freelance design consultant. He did his post grad from NIFT Mumbai, and has worked in the field of design since 2013. He has worked across all of men’s and women’s western casual, fashion and inner wear segment. He is also associated with various other institutes such as NIFT and many more in Mumbai as he conducts design modules with them as a visiting faculty.
Suman Chowdhury, is the COO & Co Founder- Clovia. He is handling the entire product and production range planning. He has a vast global sourcing reach and is also involved in sales and retail initiatives and new vertical planning.
When you have an increasing desire to beautify every tiny detail around you, it means you must create. Design is a process that is must to go through in order to make any object or ambience enticing and exciting to at least any one of the 5 senses.
“The lingerie industry needs to get more organised. Research & development needs to be improved. The supply chain, the raw materials have to get in place, that’s when we can actually compete globally with good pricing and quality.” says Kunal Sawant, Freelance Design Consultant.
Madhumita Suhas, Category Head – Aristobrat, says, “As a kid I have always been fascinated by art, design & storytelling! I always wanted to convert my vision into reality. It gives immense pleasure to create a design that makes the wearer feel beautiful & empowered. Growing up being exposed to lot of family & friends being abroad has broadened my prospects in terms of designs where international brands spoil the customers with such choices! Exposure to international collections makes you create such products & even better product to fill the gap of availability of such brands in India.”
“I was always a very creative and a fashionable child. I loved dressing up and over the course of time I realised I wanted to do something in the field of fashion. I was always fascinated with designing lingerie but was unsure about where to start from. Also, there are hardly any institutes in India that offer specialized courses in lingerie designing. After graduation, I moved to New York where I had my first brush with the world of exquisite designer lingerie. I took classes that helped me hone my skills. Frequent visits to La Perla, Agent Provocateur, Victoria Secret stores and other designer lingerie boutiques helped me understand “designer lingerie” and develop a keen eye for laces, embroideries, fine materials and impeccable finishing techniques. I moved to India a couple of months back and have been researching the Indian market and talking to different people from the industry in order to have a fair insight of the lingerie business here before I launch my line. My approach to design is straightforward and personal. I’m a huge fan of beautiful delicate laces and most of the times they serve as starting point for my collection. I then build my story around it and pick colors accordingly.” says, Meghana Nyayapati, Founder & Creative Head –Nyamé.
The Indian lingerie market has changed beyond recognition in the last few years. There has been use of more innovative techniques in the making of lingerie and technology which is influencing this.
Growing number of working women, changing fashion trends, the increased awareness about better fits, brands, colours, quality, styling, increasing per capita disposable income, rising level of media exposure and entry of large number of international brands have given the industry a new facet. Indian women have become choosy and give importance to lingerie and have moved beyond the over sensitivity to pricing.
We asked the designers as to what their key innovation in the industry have been over the years and this is what they had to say.
“Key innovations since a long time according to me so far has only been in the segment of maternity bras and that is not finely considered lingerie. I as a designer would like to bring in innovations in the ways of building concepts and themes that are more possible by my capabilities than to challenge fundamental or structural aspects towards innovations.”- Kunal Sawant
“Online Lingerie stores making shopping easier for women with thousands of choices, fit guides to get the perfect fit & the cup sizes extending to cater to plus size has been the key innovation, meeting major requirements of the end customer.” says Madhumita Suhas.
“Personally I think the seamless technology and the introduction of shapewear fabrics have been the best innovations in the lingerie industry. As for my innovations they’ll still take a while as I’ve just started a few months ago.” Meghana Nyayapati.
Colors and Trends
Updating our undergarments isn’t simply about stocking up on basics anymore: It’s as much about fashion as it is about function. The times are changing and young women are looking for to spice up their wardrobes with lots of colours. The days of strictly blacks and whites are left far behind. Challenging the traditional beiges, blacks and whites, neon’s have barged into the lingerie closets of Indian women. A lot of overtly feminine tones have taken over the market these days. Companies are constantly bringing out innovative lingerie collections that give woman a chance to look exotic. Intricate detailing can be seen and decorative seams to bring out her sensuality. Fabrics like Italian silks, satins, chiffons, French and Italian laces are extremely popular these days. It takes a lot of research & learning, to be updated about entire world of lingerie. Forecasting the trends, colours & working on the mood board to make sure your next season collection has been well planned. So, as of 2017, we’re enlisting the help of some of our favourite lingerie designers to help us update and upgrade as well as to clue us in on what the big trends are going to be next year.
Kunal Sawant says, ” I come from a family of architects and commercial artists and graphic artists and jewellery designers, etc hence I myself have amalgamation of design principles and philosophies. To me Lingerie is more to do with ones state of mind than influence of the peers. It is either what you perceive of you or wish to project that matters than market “fashion” forecasts.
It is more so important to identify the sensibility and drive of current days women. No woman likes to be the obvious one from a 100 colours in a box, however because industry wants to show it as a pompous affair we come across vast palettes, but to my opinion no woman should part from a pair of refine fitting Black lace lingerie and girl next door Japanese cherry blossom prints.”
“We do trend research, we are in touch with our international and domestic suppliers who help us develop the best in line. Our customer feedback tool is real time data analysis and helps us to take up accurate decisions. We also travel to international fairs to get a feel of what’s trending.” explains Suman Chowdhury.
Meghana Nyayapati says,” I read a lot of lingerie blogs on a regular basis. It helps to know what is going on in the world of lingerie and peoples’ opinions and perspectives on the same. Business Of Fashion has some very interesting and insightful articles. Also, WGSN is definitely one of my most favourite places on the internet. I think this year’s ‘In’ colors have to be the beautiful oxblood shade and also pastel pink.”
The athletic and streetwear influence has become very strong in lingerie/loungewear. We’re seeing certain fabrics from that realm seep into intimates. This mesh crop top mimics both the silhouette and feel of a sports bra.
Lace Bralette Trend
Bralettes which are just bras that typically have no underwire or padding have been around forever, of course, but the marketing and coverage around them seems to be intensifying. In the past, bralettes were relegated to preteens who were looking for “training bra” styles. But these days, customers of all ages are devotees of the comfortably cute and—at times super-sexy style. Sporty lingerie has been a thing for a while, but bralettes seem to be riding the coattails of the athleisure trend and are dominating the market in a way no other style really is at the moment. Bralette is much more comfortable than a regular bra. In fact, many women that use it affirm that it gives you a total feeling of freedom. At the same time, bralettes are really sexy and feminine! and now has transpired into an outerwear trend as well.
Sometimes, with tricky outfits, you simply have to accept that part of your bra will show. It then becomes a matter of accessorizing, matching your bra (or having your bra contrast) with what you’re wearing. That naturally has given rise to bras that are meant to be seen. Layering innerwear with outerwear is such a great way to make an outfit your own. The idea of seeing a hint of lace or strap peek out of a low-cut neckline can add personality and individuality to any outfit.
All About Fit (& Less About Padding)
We’re seeing more and more women trade in their padded push-up and molded bras for more natural looking, tailored lingerie, Today, shoppers are focusing more on finding (and investing in) a great fit. This means we’re seeing a rise in unlined or seamed lingerie; the embroidered cups on a bra are made from power mesh, which can offer as much support as a traditional molded bra.
Demand Forecasting Lingerie Industry
Forecasting demand would be a complex exercise for fashion industry considering how consumer preferences keep changing rapidly. How is demand predicted in such an industry is what would we would like to know.
“Demand can rarely be predicted in case of lingerie as it may not fall in line with systematic analysis. Though it is a tricky segment, it always helps to stick to diverting just a little from the classic looks to create more non serious yet non silly looks in terms of design. In terms of sales unit, the sky is going to look brighter as women go clear and sure of themselves.” says Kunal Sawant.
“Catering to all kinds of demands from the consumer is a bit of challenge. We do lot of market research to get the feedback from the consumers about what changes they would expect, what is not available in the market & has lot of demand. Also we provide the customer with lot of choices trying to cover their needs & preferences as much as we can, still sometimes your prediction goes wrong.” explains Madhumita Suhas.
Suman Chowdhury goes to say, “Our customer feedback tool is realtime data analysis and helps us to take up accurate decisions. Our customer care team collects feedbacks and quick reviews are done. We have pioneered in getting the mind to market time to as less as 15 days. So our offerings are real quick. We introduce a vast range of designs every month, so I m sure there would not be too many unhappy customers.”
“The Fashion industry although constantly and rapidly changing, always “creates” demands by following the fashion leaders in Paris/ Milan who have already created trends which then trickle down to high street brands. An important aspect to keep in mind is that, just because a style/ trend has a lot of demand in one country, it may have lukewarm response in another country. However, looking at your target customer, knowing what she exactly wants and also looking at your current/ prospective customer’s buying habits helps to predict demand to some extent. In the fashion industry it is particularly hard to determine demand because of awareness amongst consumers regarding latest styles, colors, changing trends, new innovations etc. Successful brands like Zara, H&M have shorter lead times because of the inability of predict demand.” comments, Meghana Nyayapati.
Fashion in India is held within the dogma of traditional to a greater extent. And through the passing of time, the Indian designers have broadly worked towards defining the same with a more contemporary and modern twist. But sadly lingerie has never found its place within the design map of India. The few who have worked to define lingerie with some twists have been absorbed by brands to create/add designer elements to their brand’s basic design policies or have gradually shifted to resort or loungewear to become relevant in the fashion map. In India, lingerie is perceived as innerwear, unlike in Western countries where people treat it like a trend and wear it sportingly. That being said now an Indian woman now keeps about 8 brassiere compared with 5-6 pieces in the past. The number of panties in her wardrobe has almost doubled to 10 and with the daily wear fluctuating from ethnic to Indo-western or strictly western outfits, and choice of evening wear getting as vivid as body-hugging tights to the free-flowing drapes, lingerie styles on offer have increased from T-shirt and padded bras to balconette and underwired bras and low waist briefs to G-strings. We asked our designers if consumers were ready to experiment with new lingerie designs and this is what they had to say.
“The Indian consumer is evolving. The mindset and mentality of the people in the Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities is changing slowly but steadily. These days women are very independent as they have become more career conscious and have the purchasing power due to a lot of discretionary income. These consumers are willing to experiment with brighter colors and bolder prints although the traditional black, white and beige are still the bestsellers. For the consumer, comfort, quality, size and right fit are the top priority while shopping for lingerie.”- Meghana Nyayapati.
” Consumers have opened up to try fashion stuff. So as such we do not differentiate much based on the average consumer age group. What we focus is on adding needed support and strength on bigger cup sizes. So its more towards solution driven fashion lingerie. We often experiment with new designs and techniques, and that has in fact helped us in improving our sales, so I think it’s a YES. The buying demands have changed drastically.” Suman Chowdhury.
Madhumita Suhas comments, “Growing number of working women has changed the entire requirement from just being a functional necessity to making a fashion statement. Awareness about better fits, brands, prices, colours, styling & the entry of international brands has made Indian women give more importance to lingerie & they are choosier & particular about what they want & moved beyond the sensitivity to pricing. A lot of feminine tones with the intricate detailing offering innovative collection have given women a chance to look exotic.”
“Indian consumers unlike the west is not obvious to assumption based on appearance. We are a very shy and smart at the same time so experimenting is happening but the research report may only reveal when the product type is already accepted.
Currently consumer may not find all variety within reach, either aesthetics wise or price wise that they are looking for hence they are having to make do with what’s available or resort to South Asian imported bulk lots sold here even though they fit terribly to Indian body types. To date the consumer has mindfully accepted the need and aspiration for lingerie and come out of the mind set of occasional’s and regulars to “why not everyday” which is a good thing for the industry if they also don’t forget that at the end of the day India is a value segment market as a whole.” says, Kunal Sawant.
Challenges Faced By Designers
- Unorganised Retail and not being establishing itself in the lingerie manufacturing arena comparing with other Asian countries. Skilled manpower is the biggest challenge and inadequate infra. The need to open up in investing into R&D centres.
- With the varied body types, it becomes a challenge to cater to all segments giving 100 percent satisfaction to customers in terms of variety & fit, as you cant really predict what might work well. Also countries like Srilanka, Bangladesh, China , Hongkong are much ahead in terms of workmanship, accessories, fabric choices so it becomes bit challenging to achieve that kind of product with our technology.
- One of the main challenges for this sector is that the established companies have a high rates of customer retention. For a new designer to crack into this space is a major challenge. In the intimates industry there is no standard sizing. The size varies from person to person, style to style and brand to brand. Hence, when a consumer find the perfect fit they are very reluctant to change.
- Another big challenge of this sector is that a although a lot of women are willing to experiment, there still remains very large section of people still think it’s a waste of money to invest in lingerie. They still prefer sticking to basic styles, materials and colors without trying to experiment. Most Indians are shy and influenced by the age old taboo of not giving too much importance to the physical body and the things associated with it. People are unaware about the potential technical advantages that designer lingerie brings with itself and thus oblivious to the worth of it in terms of money.
Do Manufacturers Share Their Inputs On Designs?
“Manufacturers most of the time they do what has been told to do, so the entire responsibility will be on the designers to give every bit of details. They try to achieve the product with minimum cost & hence the rejection percentage is always high in lingerie industry.” says, Madhumita Suhas.
Suman Chowdhury goes to say, “yes, we do pay attention to design so does our manufacturers. A good product is a team responsibility, which starts from design, all the way to sourcing , producing, quality and so on and ends till its finished and packed.
Somehow banking on competitors designs doesn’t help much in today’s competitive atmosphere. For a brand to be picked from the shelves would need something special to it, something unique.”
Kunal Sawant says, “Yes, off course manufacturers pay attention on design after all that promises them business, however it is the established brands that neglect design aspect in terms of negotiating cost vis a vis turnovers. These companies may want great profits or expansions selling their product with rarely investing interest in this very product. Designers jobs is to romance with the fabrics and colours is all that industry acknowledges without acknowledging the need for investment in such a romance that may lead to an healthy and better looking hence better selling offspring.”
First and foremost the field of lingerie has to treated like an important subject in fashion schools. It has to be taught as diligently as designers are taught to make dresses, pants, skirts, Indian wear etc. This would be a huge step towards removing the taboo that the words “lingerie”, “bra” and “panty” hold in India. It would also give a lot of students an opportunity to explore this field and maybe pursue it in future. The Government has rarely addressed lingerie or even innerwear segment which needs to change. Just like training missions of rural Indian towards various skills such as sewing, weaving, printing, etc is carried out, lingerie sewing and finishing must also follow as it is a even tedious and acquired skill. Fashion weeks need to aspire and include lingerie designers to present their lines. Fabric & accessory choices have to improve in terms of manufacturing so that lingerie designers do not have to pay high duties to import & provide their customers with best possible prices.
Technological Advancements Influencing Lingerie Design
“My journey as a designer, started from witnessing the white poplin bras to laser cut, stick on bras. Technology is a very important factor in today’s garmenting business. Its made the work easier and faster. Technology in fact has helped us to connect to consumers in real time and offer what they desire.”- Suman Chowdhury.
“I think my designs have got bolder and classier over the years. This is also a result of living in New York, getting acquainted with the world of designer lingerie and also working for a lingerie company in New York with a great Head Designer who pushed my limits everyday by giving a lot constructive criticism, genuine feedback and always showing me ways to improve. Working with an amazing team for around 14 months catapulted my design skills to another level. As for the Technological advancements, there have been major developments in moulding and bonding technology. Machines can bond and trim fabrics smoothly. This eliminates the lumps and bumps that would once have disfigured a tight-fitting tops. Due to this, the designers can experiment more freely.
The introduction of shape wear fabrics have influenced the lingerie design immensely. Nowadays, there are also breathable shapewear fabrics which are a lot more comfortable and also help in keeping the body temperatures slightly lower.” Meghana Nyayapati
Is The Intimate Lingerie Industry Ready For Lingerie Designers?
“Yes. Customers have started demanding styling, colours, fabrics etc. its no longer the regular cups and white, black and skin. There needs to be a lot of research put in to understand the needs of customer, gap in the space and source the correct materials to achieve the desired products.” says, Suman Chowdhury.
“The concept of “Lingerie Designers” is fairly new in India. As this concept is still at a nascent stage, the awareness amongst the consumers is very low.
For obvious reasons these consumers prefer the tried and tested brands. Although the lingerie designers in India have a lot of potential, the biggest challenge is to convince the consumer to buy a designer lingerie and not from the retail brands they are already comfortable with.” Meghana Nyayapati.
“It is ready but only if it comes with a guarantee to great sell throughs. It is chosen to gamble on some product found online and already selling than to gamble on an artists abilities. India only needs Stylists not designers at this point till the game is redefined.” Kunal Sawant.
Future of Indian Designers In the Lingerie Industry
“There is no dearth of talent and craftsmanship in India. There are a ton of factories which produces cotton based lingerie in India at far superior quality than the rest of the world. However as of today we do lack the machinery and the skill set to deal with production of lace/ polyamide lingerie with high quality in low quantity. The high quality and high quantity is associated with high cost of production which is a difficult investment for a lot of upcoming lingerie designers. Low quantity production does not necessarily guarantee high quality as the manpower is most likely not skilled enough. People who have the investment power are not ready to plunge into the premium lingerie category as they feel the Indian market is not ready yet. This continuous cycle is clearly hampering India’s potential to be a powerhouse like Victoria’s Secret or Agent Provocateur.
However, I do feel with the right investment partner/ mentor, marketing strategy and the perfect product we do have immense potential to be at par with a lot international brands.
As for domestic demand, a continuous growth in disposable income has resulted in an increase in buying power of women. With the entry of right products which have a great quality, fit, comfort and awareness of various brands and options, the Indian woman is definitely going to be willing to spend more money just to feel comfortable and confident in her skin.” Megahana Nyayapati.
“I have my doubts about India having openly accepting to be a conscious customer of something like Agent Provocateur however VS is not far to imagine as VS is projected more as a fairy tale which is still tickling and sweet to our sensibility.” Kunal Sawant.