For Mudit Singhania (30), a financial service executive, shopping for office wear, especially shirts, has always been a bit of a nightmare. He would never find the right size in ready-to-wear sections at the mall. “I am 6”1, and thin. I used to buy XL-sized shirts so that the sleeves would fit, but then the shirts would hang loose on my body,” he recounts.
Over the last year or so, however, he has ditched the mall visit completely and started shopping for custom-fit shirts from online portals like Vitruvien and Bombay Shirt Company. Not only did he find the fit better, he also had more options in terms of fabric, collars and cuffs. “It’s convenient, faster and cost-effective,” he says.
Menswear, for the longest time, has been a poor competitor to women’s fashion in the country. But driven by designers, new labels, and a growing tribe of fashion-conscious men, it seems determined to catch up.
According to a July 2015 report by market research company, Euromonitor, retail sales of menswear in India grew 14 per cent since 2014, to Rs. 1.2 trillion. What that means is that the Indian male is more brand-conscious than ever. With more grooming options, and commercials promising ‘smoother shaves’ to perfectly gelled hair, that market, too, is seeing a bit of a boom. The Euromonitor report also mentions that grooming is expected to increase by a value CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 10 per cent from 2014 to 2019.
Popular menswear designer Raghavendra Rathore says it’s the abundance of options that’s allowing the modern Indian male to express himself. “Indian men have been fashion-inclined for a while, but there were few avenues to explore. Now, with more options, they have learnt to experiment, just like their female counterparts,” he says.
In with the new
It is the prospective growth of the menswear market that led to the seismic brand shift for the landmark department store, Akbarallys, in April this year. Aiman Khorakiwala, the fourth generation behind Akberallys, wasn’t afraid to change its 118-year-old personality (the store dates back to 1897) to rebrand itself as a multi-brand men’s store. Khorakiwala says the men’s section in the former Akbarallys was already showing promise, and contributed 28 per cent of their overall sales.
“We’re located at Fort, a financial district teeming with bankers and lawyers. It seemed ideal to introduce the concept of ‘everything under one roof’, this time for men,” says Khorakiwala. Today, the 10,000 sqft store offers Indian and international brands, their own range of bespoke clothing, even an in-house barbershop.
What Khorakiwala says is interesting because she wasn’t just working on a projection, but actual proof of demand. When did that come about? How did we go from denim-message-T-shirts, or staid office-wear, to rolled-up trousers and sharply cut suits? The evolution of our role models had something to do with it. The present generation of actors and cricketers — the gods among Indian celebrities — had started dressing smarter.
Bollywood saw the rise of the fitter, well-groomed man, emerging perhaps with the movie Dil Chahta Hai (2001). The styling in Hindi cinema is now on a par with that in the west. With cricket, too, a present-day Virat Kohli’s haircut and fashion (he now has his own fashion label) gets talked about more than Rahul Dravid’s or Sachin Tendulkar’s ever did.
Designer Ken Ferns has another interesting theory. He says men becoming more social media-savvy changed how they looked at themselves: “People want to look good on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Suddenly, the hair and the clothes are important.”
Rise of the online shopper
While traditional stores perhaps had more for women, online retail levelled the playing field. What gave men a further edge was custom-made menswear websites. They offered more options and the prices were decent. Shirts are priced at Rs. 1,940 onward on Bombay Shirt Company, for instance. “Bespoke fits you like a second skin. We, as a generation, want to stand out from the crowd. And customised clothes enable us to. The trend of tailor-made clothing is on the upswing again,” says Rajesh Goradia, co-founder, Vitruvien, and an ISB (Indian School of Business) graduate with a family background in textile.
Vitruvien uses interactive 3D animation, which they call ‘3D shirt designer technology’, to let customers control all aspects of a shirt — collars, cuffs, buttons and cuts. The Bombay Shirt Company allows customers to design their shirt from scratch (and even include initials), or choose from their ready-to-wear collection. There are other players in the nascent market, such as SS Homme and Vintage Homme as well.
The average annual growth of menswear online was 17.4 per cent between 2010 and 2015 (according to a report on e-commerce by IbisWorld). And as per Euromonitor International, the global menswear market registered a growth of 4.5 per cent in 2014 while womenswear lagged behind with a growth of 3.7 per cent, over the same period. “This is contrary to the popular notion that Indian men do not spend as much as women on clothing,” says Goradia.“This is contrary to the popular notion that Indian men do not spend as much as women on clothing,” he adds.
With online bespoke brands now looking for offline presence — Bombay Shirt Company now has shops in Fort and in Bandra — they are set to compete with traditional tailors. And to do so, they are looking to go beyond the clothes, to offer an overall shopping experience. Bombay Shirt… encourages you to sit in the al fresco section and sip coffee, while you go over the measurements.
But in a busy metro, chances are you don’t always have the time to go to the tailor. Well, the tailor can come to you. Corporate Collars on Wheels, started in 2013, is a tailoring service mobile van that drops by to take your measurements and lets you feel the fabric, something you don’t get online. “A lot of customers waste time commuting. I thought it would be great to have the store visit them instead,” says Harssh Chheda, founder, Corporate Collars. The mobile van, in Mumbai, now clocks about four to six appointments a day.
But look at a more niche market — designer labels — and even the ramp is seeing a steadily growing interest in menswear. This season of the Lakme Fashion Week saw designer Manish Malhotra debut his menswear collection. “Menswear has grown gradually,” Malhotra says, adding, “We’re launching an exclusive store (inside a haveli) in Delhi, so I thought this was the right time to do an extended men’s line.”
Meet the well-groomed man
What are good clothes without an on-trend haircut? Naturally, with your heroes sporting new haircuts, there was a market beyond your local salon. Last year saw the entry of UK-based Truefitt & Hill, the “oldest barbershop in the world”, whose clientele have included the likes of author Oscar Wilde. After opening their first shop in Khar, in September, they quickly opened other outlets in Colaba, Peddar Road and Lower Parel. “There was a gap in the market. Men were neglected in the grooming space, and we wanted to give them a new destination,” says Krishna Gupta, managing director of Lloyds Luxuries, which runs Truefitt in India.
Then, in August this year, Happily Unmarried, the decade-old brand that offers gifting and home décor surprised everyone with a brand of men’s grooming products, called Ustraa. Rajat Tuli, co-founder, Happily Unmarried, says, “Ustraa started with someone ranting about how there are no good products for men in the grooming department.” A body wash is par for course, but a mooch tonic and a beard wash? Really?
It doesn’t end there. Singhstyled.com’s boxes come with beard oils and a beard brush. And now there are grooming workshops: at a recent Big Boys Toys lifestyle event, men were taught ways to knot a tie. Another upcoming one, by the English Manner Style Academy, will teach men how to pick the right shoes, fabrics and accessories.
Are we looking at a near future where the streets of Colaba and Bandra resemble a fashion catalogue? If it does happen, this time, the boys will have something to do with it.