If one had to give the credit for most changes ever brought across segments and habits in a single year, it had to be 2020. The year saw drastic changes in the overall retail segment, the way people shopped, consumer behavior, their lifestyle, their shopping choices, etc. and this is being continued to the current year.
In the apparel category, since most people are still working from home and are spending the maximum of their time inside their houses, sleepwear, and innerwear categories are growing in terms of demand and sales. Similar to the lingerie market surge last year, the men’s innerwear category is booming with millennials leading the charge. However, innerwear is no longer a basic need but has evolved to offer comfort, intimacy and has basically become an extension of a person’s personality. Young consumers now are more interested in innovative innerwear by brands that embrace relatable aesthetics, body positivity, and authenticity.
According to Grand View Research, the global men’s underwear market size was valued at US$ 29.41 billion in 2018 and is expected to register a CAGR of 5.3 percent from 2019 to 2025, courtesy of increasing awareness about health, best fit, and personal hygiene coupled with growing millennial population. Furthermore, the availability of a wide range of products and designs in the category suitable for various purposes is anticipated to fuel the demand and also the entry of newer, better, more innovative brands offering men’s innerwear.
In India particularly, the past few years have seen a number of innovative brands (FREECULTR, XYXX, Tailor & Circus, etc.) in this space, experimenting and offering the best innerwear options. FREECULTR, for one, was a popular Henley t-shirt brand that relaunched recently in its new avatar – the brand launched as a digital-first D2C brand offering the most premium innerwear to the discerning.
Harshit Vij, Co-founder & CEO, FREECULTR, avers, “Men's innerwear has evolved from being one of the most overlooked clothing pieces for men to now men seeking out comfort and quality in their innerwear. Driven by increasing discretionary income and brand awareness, men's innerwear is no longer an afterthought category. Innovation in this category has always been very minimal and with FRECULTR, we are trying to use the newfound awareness of personal care and modern consumer approach and adoption of newer fabrics like modal, Tencel, etc. for this product range, to excel in the men’s innerwear category.”
In 2014, the Indian innerwear market was worth Rs 19,950 crore and is estimated to grow at 13 percent to reach Rs 68,270 crore by 2024, according to a Technopak report.
What’s Making the Space Comfortable?
While there is competition from already established brands offering innerwear, and men have been in habit of picking up the traditional brands from the strategically placed underwear section near the billing counter, FREECULTR is trying to change that. The brand was launched with a digital video film advocating the need to promote natural fabrics and neglected inner wear problems.
Shrey Luthra, Co-founder and Chief Strategy & Product Officer, FREECULTR, says, “Already established brands like Jockey has a mass presence, and hence a greater awareness among customers. Innerwear is usually an overlooked category and so customers usually go for the brand they are aware of instead of trying out new brands. This is one of the biggest challenges we face from the established names - customer inertia to switch. However, what sets us apart is our unique product proposition - our signature blends are backed with a lot of research and technology. Our product is differentiated, provides a higher level of comfort, and directly addresses daily comfort issues with inner & loungewear.”
The D2C brand offers a range of silk-soft, featherlight innerwear (both briefs and trunks), vests, lounge tees, boxers, and other accessories.
Today, millennials are slowly and gradually moving towards an innovative innerwear range that features function and comfort while allowing for self-expression through unique designs. In fact, brands have also started using sustainable material for their innerwear range, since functionality and eco-friendliness are becoming important aspects for both brands and consumers.
A PWC report has also indicated that 21 percent of the respondents to a survey were willing to shell out an additional 5 percent on sustainable fashion and this includes innerwear. FREECULTR’s signature blends – bamboo cotton and air micro modal are both natural fibers made of bamboo and beachwood tree respectively.
“We source from vendors who engage in responsible afforestation and ethical farming. Our product development processes use a considerably lower amount of energy and water compared to standard cotton. We have always wanted to curate something that creates an impact for good,” adds Shrey Luthra.
FREECULTR ensured that it has all the correct boxes ticked while relaunching the brand. Besides being eco-friendly, FREECULTR established itself as a direct-to-consumer brand, in order to stay as close and engaged with its customer base as possible. And what better a time to enter the D2C segment than now when the overall retail segment is getting inclined towards the business model.
Harshit Vij asserts, “The benefit, as well as prerogative of a D2C organization, is to be accessible to the customer, solve their issues on a more personal level which is something bigger organizations/marketplaces lack. Being D2C, we are quick to respond to the market trends, have quick design and shelf timelines, among other advantages. Being a D2C brand, we responded quickly and adapted our processes and product proposition to meet the post-pandemic world requirements. The general sentiment towards supporting homegrown brands gave us the much-needed push.”
Responding to the market trends and consumer behavior during the pandemic, FREECULTR had launched its loungewear collection, which helped the brand stay relevant to its consumer base and the line soon became a dominant category in terms of contribution towards sales and revenue.
The Backend Intricacies
One of the major factors driving the innerwear segment is the fabrics being used for manufacturing. There has been a recent demand for new and innovative products in terms of color, fabric, print, and style and newer brands in the category are excelling in offering what the millennial consumer is looking for. Fabrics being used for the innerwear range are cotton, polyester, nylon, rayon, silk, and cotton blends.
Shrey Luthra maintains, “As our blends are unique and researched well considering sustainable approach and solving consumer problems, we work on product lines that fall in our existing product categories and consume the MOQ(s) along with solving problems of the said product. We have created out-of-the-box product lines and accessories keeping cash flows in mind. We believe in a parallel vendor channel approach and to maintain our supply chain smooth, we not only procure FOB shipped garments from our vendor partners (who source the raw material from our nominated vendors making sure on saving carbon footprints at every stage) but also procure raw material and get our products manufactured through selective quality garment manufacturers. Our supply chain team members do QC at regular intervals and they are completely responsible for the same. We are looking ahead to appoint senior QC(s) stationed at our nominated vendors at all times going forward.”
FREECULTR is constantly striving towards product innovation and has been launching products using BreatheTech fabric which is breathable, skin-friendly, and moisture absorbent.
While the challenges have been many in the segment and the pandemic definitely did not help, FREECULTR relied on its quick response time and supply and delivery partners to quickly overcame the challenges and go back to the business as usual.
In the times to come, innerwear would definitely not be an after-thought product category for shopping and will become a fashion statement, and the demand will not only come from the urban areas but also from tier-II and beyond towns.
“We know from data that tier-II & -III cities are generating considerable demand for premium men's innerwear. With increased internet penetration and the population getting highly social media savvy, brand awareness has massively increased which in turn has positively impacted sales for the premium innerwear category as well. The increasing disposable income has also been a major contributing factor. We are currently getting almost 40 percent sales from these areas. In the months to come, we are planning to expand both our innerwear and loungewear categories and are looking to introduce women's wear as well,” informs Shrey Luthra.
FREECULTR is currently around ARR of Rs 15 crore and has secured angel funding and seed funding rounds from D2C brand leaders.