History of bespoke dates back decades ago during the advent of clothing and tailoring. Bespoke has been in India since generations and the majority of Indian population had been wearing tailored clothing until the late 1990s. The advent of ready to wear garments with the entry and expansion of international and domestic apparel brands led to increasing popularity of ready to wear segment, especially in the urban areas and ever since the segment has grown at a phenomenal rate and has outpaced the bespoke category. With the rise in disposable income and also growing awareness about global brands, more people started buying branded clothes with graded sizes that best fitted most of them.
However, custom tailoring went out of vogue for only a brief period of time. Not all were satisfied with the readymade apparel options. For the discerning few, the product expectations were still undelivered. They yearned for better quality than the readymade apparel brands and better than tailor- fit. This new demand for the perfect pair of shirt or suit or a trouser led to the emergence to an organized bespoke clothing segment, which evolved in the high streets of metros like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru.
Bespoke retailers use the best of fabrics from around the world and these fabrics and the tailoring came at a premium price which makes the category an extension of luxury market. And with the growth of luxury segment in India, bespoke clothing is getting more and more organized. According to a Technopak analysis, today with the middle class becoming more affluent, bespoke services are seeing higher demands. Customized services account for 15 percent of the $250 million, or about Rs.1,300 crores, luxury apparel and accessories market in the country. Akshay Narvekar, Founder, Bombay Shirt Company, agrees, “More and more people are becoming aware of bespoke clothing and getting impressed by the outcome of it. Bespoke clothing makes an individual look sharp and comfortable in their own skin at the same time. As time is ticking, we can see a wide number of audiences opting for it.” Sandeep Gonsalves, Co-Founder, SS Homme, seconds the thought and continues, “It is one of the fastest growing segments in the apparel section due to the precision of bespoke tailoring and the status symbol it brings with the garment. Every gentleman requires a well- fitted customized suit.” However, implementation of GST has definitely affected the industry in ways more than one. Naveen Pishe, Partner, PN Rao, explains, “The introduction of GST has created a pall of gloom for the bespoke industry. The tax on tailoring has jumped from 0 to 18 percent from July 1st 2017. This has impacted the business in an adverse manner as the tax on ready to wear has gone up by just 7 percent compared to 18 percent for bespoke tailoring and this has spoilt the level playing field that was there before. This is posing a huge challenge for the bespoke industry with lots of labour getting splintered due to reduced demand for tailor made products post GST. We are hoping that the government lowers the rates in the coming few weeks.”
Evolution of Bespoke Industry|
The bespoke clothing, with its exquisite detail and luxurious fabrics, was once reserved for only wealthy style connoisseurs, but custom tailoring is becoming a growing trend among professional men, as prices fall and awareness grows. Sandeep Gonsalves apprises, “There has been a boom in the number of bespoke houses in India as more and more gentlemen become aware about the perks of bespoke garments. The prospect of complete customization for varied body types is something every person is interested in. The fits, the cuts and the silhouettes have definitely evolved over the years. With the advent of technology, there has been a vertical integration of manufacturing and design. SS Homme plans on automating many processes in the bespoke section, considering all patterns are handcrafted, though this will be implemented on client orders only after various stages of trial and error to give clients the epitome of bespoke garments.” Weddings too have contributed to this segment as most of the grooms prefer bespoke suits that have perfect fit and desired fabric quality as well as design. Naveen Pishe accentuates, “Bespoke clothing has evolved over the years to become more experience oriented rather than just being product specific. The main driver for this has being the explosion of the wedding market in India over the past decade and bespoke has made a huge come back. While fit still remains the biggest reason why people prefer bespoke, design has been getting a lot of relevance. The usual bespoke business has also seen regular growth with branded international fabrics entering the Indian market in the last 5 years.”
While there definitely is a surge in this market as more and more Indian players are getting into bespoke offerings, it hasn’t become a national phenomenon yet. The nature of bespoke business is that it needs a lot of personalized attention which definitely requires scaling of business and scaling a bespoke business is a challenging task as the business needs a robust training program, which is another roadblock in the industry. According to Naveen Pishe, the unorganized nature of the business is a major reason as to why the business has not yet become a national phenomenon. While Akshay Narvekar opines, “Custom-made clothing comes with a premium price tag. Also, the masses have a tendency to opt for off-the-rack clothes as they are easy to purchase and do not have a timeline of delivery.” Another roadblock, according to Sandeep Gonsalves, facing this industry, is the assumption by many of a generic suit size as something they can always work with and a bit of discomfort is a given.
Potential of the Market
Naveen Pishe informs, “The size of bespoke industry is about $4.3 billion and was growing at a rate of 15-20 percent per annum. 80 percent of the business is unorganized, 15 percent is organized and 5 percent is super premium/luxury. Kids segment is largely limited to weddings and forms a very small part of the business.” For women, bespoke category has always been there in the market although there might not be dedicated shirting brands for them. There are many new trends like European cuts, slits and large amount of embroidery coming together in the women’s category. The potential of this overall market is definitely increasing with continuous penetration into tier-II and tier-III areas. Sandeep Gonsalves believes, “While most made to measure and bespoke boutiques are limited to metropolitan cities, believing that that there is not much market in smaller cities is a misconception. There is much potential in the smaller cities. SS Homme has a lot of customers travelling from various smaller cities due to lack of good brands in their hometown.” Furthermore, online options too are giving a push to the bespoke category. As Akshay Narvekar points, “Tier-II and tier-III regions are fairly new to the trend and are slowly absorbing it with time. With the country going digital and lot of custom-made stores opening online apart from the brick and mortar stores, it’s much easier to tap this market and customers don’t have to wait and plan a travel to the metros to avail this experience.”
The growing sense of perfect fit, awareness of best fabrics, quality international brands and companies offering impeccable bespoke products and a higher detail of product understanding, has led to a drastic growth in people’s inclination towards opting for bespoke clothing. The idea of buying “what I exactly want to buy” is the driver of this service category. Gonsalves from SS Homme, asserts, “Bespoke suits are completely customized. Utmost attention is given to even the tiniest of detail. It gives the consumer the best fit for his body type without compromising on the comfort factor, unlike ready-to-wear suits. Although our target consumers are businessmen and industrialists, during the wedding season, we also offer perfectly customized suits and Indian wear to grooms and groomsmen.” SS Homme handipicks fabrics from the finest mills in Biella. “We have ties ups with prominent fabric houses such as Dormeuil, Huddersfield, Holland & Sherry and Scabal. We have an extensive variety of high quality English and Italian fabrics by Zegna, Loro Piana, Vitale Barberis Canonico, etc. For shirting, we have 100 percent cottons by Soktas, Vaugh and Pickett, Grandi and Rubinelli and Dormeuil. We also have pure linens by Solbiati amongst others. All SS Homme garments are finished with a 1/4th inch burgundy piping. We use horse hair on the chest piece as well as lapels. For closures, we use the finest zips sourced directly from Japan,” he adds. Besides weddings, festivities where customized Indian wear are a big hit or business and travel where normal classic wear is preferred, there also exists a new generation theme in corporate wear. Talking about this new rage in formal, or rather, semi- formal wear, Naveen Pishe says, “The corporate world today accepts people who dress down to workplace. Use of jackets is largely accepted when they are matched with fashionable formals, jackets with shirts and trousers. A wide range of jackets are available at all our PN Rao stores for the semi-formal line/ fashion formal line with different hues, cuts, colours and different fits suiting all body types and need. We see a lot of potential in this segment and are seriously looking at it to tap into the opportunity.” PN Rao prides on its fit, quality and customer experience. “At PN Rao, the process is completely bespoke with the measurements taken on the customer and the pattern made on the cloth just for him, he is called upon for a trial post which necessary changes are made and the garment is delivered to him. We have a high first time right percentage and 45 percent of our business is repeat business and 80 percent is referral,” adds Pishe.
They say, change is constant and same is true in case of trends in bespoke segment as well. With constant up gradation from the fashion house of the world like Milan, Paris, New York, etc., accompanied with growing urge for experimentation, bespoke segment has witnessed changing trends time and again. Akshay Narvekar asserts, “In the world of tailored dressing for men, we can see a transition happening with people opting for powder blues, camel, taupe and teal to stand out from the crowd. This season, scarlet reds and sunshine oranges are showing their presence in accents like pocket squares, patterned satin neck ties, socks, etc.” According to Naveen Pishe from PN Rao, the Autumn/ Winter 2017-18 has two highlight colours, i.e., green and purple. “Our new collection named ‘Infusion’, a combination of two different things is a reflection of that. There will be some more products and accessories in the hues and hints of the two colours mentioned above to complete the look. We also have products in motive draping and asymmetrical cuts that are in right now. Additionally, three patterns are making headlines in global fashion circles, i.e., print, checks and jacquard. The big trend we are seeing is that men like to use subtle optics such as use of contrast colour threads on buttonholes, etc. They want a high level of customization options with their names or initials on the product. The fit is still slim and would continue to be that for some more time,” he informs.
Moving forward, bespoke clothing segment is to become a rage soon with more and more people opting for cleaner, custom- made apparel rather than readymade garments. There is a high potential for exponential development of bespoke services in upper mid market ‘affordable luxury category’. It’s just matter of time. Sandeep Gonsalves apprises, “As more and more clients are becoming aware of the need for a well-fitted garment, the bespoke industry is becoming more known. Be it Indian wear like sherwanis, bandhgalas and bandis, or western styles like tuxedo, suits, dinner jackets, every gentleman looks forward to a trendy garment with the added comfort factor. The future for bespoke industry has a lot of potential.” Meanwhile, Naveen Pishe points, “The market is growing at a healthy pace; we are seeing a year on year growth of about 15-20 percent. However, this year witnessed a slow down, possibly due to demonetization and implementation of GST.”