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With both men and women all around seen in track pants, leggings and other comfort wear, it doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that people have taken to more comfortable clothing since the lockdown was announced in March 2020. Fashion retailers Mint has spoken to in the past few months have acknowledged increased sales of loungewear even as the lockdown restrictions eased.

“The demand has shifted from formal to casual wear. Fashion designers are predicting a move from tighter, body-fitting fashion to more loose apparel. You and I are going to see more baggies," said Sanjay Jain, chief executive officer (CEO) at PDS Multinational Fashions Ltd.

When Jain speaks, you take him seriously. He represents a company that clocked more than 6,000 crore in revenue in 2019-20 from doing business with some of the world’s best-known fashion retailers such as Superdry, Primark and Next, as well as with supermarket chains such as Walmart, Woolworths and Sainsbury’s.

PDS runs a global operation that offers product development, sourcing, design and manufacturing services to clothing brands in the UK, Germany, Hong Kong and North America. The company helps retailers in establishing next season’s fashion and fabrics, creates samples and gets the orders manufactured.

Asked about the way forward for fashion, Jain throws up telling numbers. In 2019, for PDS, the spilt between casual and formal wear was roughly in the ratio of 75:25. This has changed to 95:5 in the post-covid era.

“The space emptied by formals has been taken over by an increase in demand in athleisure (Nike, JD Sports), denim and loungewear," said Jain. Athleisure is casual comfortable clothing fit for exercise and everyday wear.

Given the trend, footwear retailer Bata India, too, is eyeing the casual apparel category as consumer focus shifts to athleisure. In a recent interview to Mint, Bata Shoe Organisation’s global CEO Sandeep Kataria said the company was testing its training and fitness apparel under the Power brand.

The designers at PDS indicate that athleisure and denim will be prominent this year. “We are seeing the trend being shifted from causal trousers to denim. Before covid, the split was 70% (causal trousers) and 30% (denims), which has reversed post-covid," Jain said.

T-shirt dresses and polos are also seeing robust demand in Europe and North America. Shirts have dropped by 30-40% in sales across causals and formals, Jain said.

It’s tough to predict if formal clothing will bounce back. “The revival of formal wear is based on the assumption that the vaccine will have an impact, covid will go away and you and I will go back to office. The trends are encouraging, but a structural shift has taken place. There is a realization that work from home is doable," Jain said.

Kataria too believes that even as we come out of the pandemic, some amount of work from home will continue. Therefore, comfort wear will have a lasting impact.

Bata consumers are also seeking casual footwear. “Comfort and casualization will be the driving trends," Kataria said. He expects traction for more open shoes and sandals to continue.

Yet, formals are expected to recover, though they may not reach pre-covid level sales any time soon.

“Formal fashion is one of the trends being looked for the next spring summer collection. A couple of retailers are asking us to work on this," Jain said.

The other takeaway from a post-pandemic world is the move towards slow fashion. Kataria definitely finds that awareness and consumers’ interest in being more responsible towards the environment has gone up and is expected to gain more ground.

The company takes pride in Bata factories already being zero-effluent. Besides, some of its footwear brands such as Power use recycled tyres in its shoes. In other markets such as Australia, Bata recycles shoes made out of polymers and turns them into raw material again.

“As awareness around sustainability grows, responsibility from companies is bound to reflect that demand from consumers," Kataria said.

Jain, however, said that though consumers are getting more conscious about sustainability, affordability is under question. Authentic sustainable raw materials are costlier. Yet, there will be increasing pressure on suppliers and retailers from consumers seeking shopping choices in sustainable products even as their wardrobes get smaller and more comfortable.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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