Culture, Ecommerce

Can Indian Ethnic eTailers Scale Up Globally?

The future for ethnic wear etailers is bright (Source)

The future for ethnic wear etailers is bright (Source)

Author: Paroma Sen, Marketing Head,

When I moved to the US as a young 21 year old, keen to explore the wide world outside, for many years I found my Indian-ness catching up with me when I least expected it. A sudden pang for dhoklas on a Saturday morning, and certainly, a keen desire to wear my stowed away Indian clothes, bangles and all, and dance up a storm at the local Desi nights.

By the time I returned to India, 12 years later, I was no longer what I was when I had first arrived. America changed me in many ways, tangible and intangible. My story is certainly not unique in any way.

The Demand Overseas

While it may always remain difficult for Indians abroad to integrate Indian clothing in their everyday wear, ethnic remains the go-to choice for occasion wear, especially at Indian gatherings. Migration for education and employment have led to over 300 million Indians living abroad, Indians for whom rituals like mehendi and fasting, and the spectrum of colors from the red of  bridal outfits, to that of the darkest kohl, still evoke very powerful memories and emotions from back home.

The Indian fashion market is growing at a staggering rate; estimates from Technopak project the ethnic wear market to grow at a CAGR of 8% to reach $19,600 million by 2018. From an eCommerce perspective, sites selling Indian ethnic wear have projected the international market at $2 billion in size. The global opportunity for ethnic wear is comprised of two main types of customers:

  1. The NRI market, which will continue to remain a steady majority of ethnic wear etailers’ revenue streams in the near future
  2. Non-Indians that are gradually warming up to and rapidly adopting Indian styles, colors and fabrics

As Indians form a growing part of the world milieu, it is but natural that Indian clothing is gradually finding its way into the wardrobes of many non-Indians, including celebrities. From Paris Hilton to Anna Kournikova; from Lady Gaga to Victoria Beckham and Anne Hathaway, the list of western celebrities captured in Indian ethnic wear keeps growing.

Another interesting trend is the demand for Indian craftsmanship and artisan-ware outside of India, not fueled by NRIs, but by non-Indians primarily. Ecommerce platforms that work with ground level artisans in rural India, helping cut out the middlemen, such that these artisan communities can thrive and earn fair wages, are already beginning to cull out specific target markets outside India that not just love these beautiful products, but also support the philosophy they espouse.

Making it Work

Coming back to the apparel category, one interesting way to bridge the divide and encourage adoption of Indian fashion into western choices, is through ethnic fusion. The evolution of fashion has ensured sufficient mix and match of fabrics, colors, patterns and styles across categories, such as to create an entirely new segment altogether. While traditional Indian ethnic garments may be inappropriate for heavy western winters, gym wear, or western cocktail events, the trend around ethnic fusion is bound to make significant in-roads into the way Indian fashion is perceived and espoused worldwide.

In my last years in San Francisco, I increasingly saw Americans begin to experiment with their choice of office wear. Largely led by women, the western world has started integrating paisleys and prints into their more staid choices, and adding flair in the form of bright accessories and decorative buttons/pins. Nothing too loud or overtly showy, but definitely moving in the more vibrant direction.

The future for ethnic wear etailers, therefore, is bright. There is no other ethnic culture that creates and promotes its indigenous fashion quite the way India does. And with Indians making their way into politics, science, media, sports and every other major domain in countries outside India, it is but inevitable that Indian fashion catches on universally. Who can tell what is to come next – a Miley Cyrus inspired anarkali, or a Justin Bieber inspired bandhgala, perhaps?

Disclaimer: This is a guest post. The statements, opinions and data contained in these publications are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of iamWire and the editor(s).

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