Mumbai: Reliance Brands Ltd, an arm of Reliance Industries Ltd, has signed a long-term franchise agreement with 130-year-old Dutch lingerie maker Hunkemöller International BV, which it will bring to India by March next year, chief executive officer Darshan Mehta said.

The two firms are looking to open 20 Hunkemöller single-brand stores in India in the first five-year phase of the partnership, Mehta said in an interview.

Lingerie is the latest addition to the portfolio of Reliance Brands that has largely catered to men with casual wear brands such as Diesel, Superdry, Gas and tailored brands such as Ermenegildo Zegna, Brooks Brothers and Pink. Last year, it expanded into women’s fashion in partnerships with BCBG Max Azria (BCBG) and Juicy Couture.

In April, the company opened its first BCBG store in the country. The firm also has a clutch of footwear brands with Steve Madden, Stuart Weitzman, and DC.

The portfolio will be expanded in the next couple of months as Reliance Brands has announced one more new partnership. The company is looking at expanding its portfolio to enter children’s wear and cosmetics segments, said Mehta. Across brands, Reliance Brands plans to open 40 new outlets this year, taking its total store count up from 101 to 141 by March next year. In the last financial year, Reliance Brands opened nine new stores.

After a subdued year, brands are once again expanding and a number of new brands will enter the market this year, including Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M), Massimo Dutti and Gap Inc.

Spanish high-street label Massimo Dutti will launch nearly a year-and-a-half after it had sought government approval to invest in the country. H&M, which received approval to enter India under the September 2012 single-brand retail foreign direct investment policy, will finally open its first stores this year.

Last year, the total amount of new mall space that came into the market was 1.6 million sq.ft.

This year, incremental mall space has more than tripled to 5-5.5 million sq.ft and already 70% of this has been pre-leased, said Pankaj Renjhen, joint managing director (retail services) at property consultant Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.

Men’s and women’s innerwear market in India is estimated to be worth $30 billion a year and growing at a rate of 17% per annum, according to Intimate Apparel Association of India (IAAI). It accounts for 11% of the women’s wear market, according to an April presentation by Yusuf Dohadwala, the chief executive of IAAI and editor and publisher of Inner Secrets magazine.

The super-premium segment, with garments priced at as much as $56, is 1% of the overall market while the premium segment, with prices ranging between $25 and $55, makes up 5%. The mass segment contributes 39% with the pricing ranging from $5-$24.

The economy category makes up the remaining 55%, with garments priced under $5, according to IAAI.

In India, Hunkemöller will be competing with brands like the UK’s Marks and Spencer’s, which operates as a joint venture in India with a unit of RIL, and La Senza. The high-end lingerie sector saw the exit of French lingerie label Etam in 2009.

Emerging economies such as India and China are a big part of Hunkemöller’s future growth plans, said CEO Phillip Mountford in a phone interview.

“Last year, the firm added 80 stores to its network and the plan this year is to add another 80-100 stores," Mountford said.

India is also a manufacturing hub for sleepwear and swimwear categories of Hunkemöller.

The partnership with Reliance Brands does not include manufacturing. Over a period of time, once the brand gains scale in India, the partnership could look at manufacturing, said Mehta.

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