A Western Fashionista in India

Having spent some years in the fashion industry, it was only fitting I would be intrigued by the fashion e-commerce explosion currently happening in India. On the surface, it appears simple enough. There’s volume (in people) here unlike North America. Yet, the iceberg under the water tells us a whole different story about this large red ocean.

There are quite a few players in the market that target all classes that have access to the internet, but a credit card is not required since most offer “cash on delivery”. It’s definitely getting bloody out there as funded companies are spending money acquiring users while losing money on the free return and COD model. Meanwhile, non-funded companies are few due to the sheer amount of money required to uphold such an aggressive model. It’s a race of the survival of the fittest. Who can hold out the longest and still have some cash in the bank? Who can eat up all the other smaller companies to become the super company?

But in the end, the questions remain, is this all hype? Is there an actual revenue model that is consistent? Do people buy clothes online?

Here are my observations:

  • One thing is true probably all over the world, more women buy online than men. Women like shopping, its just how it is. But, there are more men in India than women, A LOT more.
  • Indian women are not size 0 as much as Bollywood likes to convince us. Actually we have bigger hips and smaller waists. It’s genetic. Yet, there is no average sizing for India; the sizing here is based on Europe. Um, what? Why hasn’t anyone come up with an average sizing for India?? The point is, nothing fits in a store, so there is no point in selling clothes online that will just be returned.
  • Sorry to say, people in India don’t have style (period). Done. But, of course you don’t need style to buy. So what sells? Flashy, ostentatious stuff and anything that shows a high profile brand name, like Gucci, and LV. This is why I have my money on 99labels.com and fashionandyou.com who sell discount brand name items (the leftover stuff that couldn’t sell in stores).
  • Not only do people not have style, they can’t identify themselves with a particular “look” like we do in the west. I would say my style in India is a like a modern hippy (long dresses, bright colours, tank tops, natural fabrics, wide leg pants). If I asked someone in India what their style was, they would say they liked floral dresses. The problem is, people have too many obligations where they must look a certain way – work life, family life, religious/cultural events. By the time, you look at yourself in your free time, you’re basically too tired.
  • Education is non-existent in beauty and fashion. Being a tom boy as a kid, I never consciously learned about make up or even fashion. It all just came to me through external factors – copying other people in school and learning from friends. I am not sure where the disconnect exists in India, I am surprised a bit that its not the same way of learning here, yet common things like how to apply blush are just not known.
  • Payment can be an issue as well. People in India have this mentality that they would rather get pre-paid stuff or pay in cash up front. There is this fear of commitment. Subscription methods do not exist here.

I have mentioned all of the challenges of e-commerce here, yet there is always room for innovation and filling in holes where weaknesses may exist. I haven’t spoken about class I or the “elite” as I like to call them, who are more than happy to pay 5000 to 10000 USD for the latest Balenciaga handbag for full price given the right invite only, membership based portal. Curation of style is more or less non-existent, but perhaps this is a need as well.

Its an exciting time for India as we watch the e-commerce landscape align and consolidate. It definitely has a while to go but I feel this is aligned with India’s overall maturity in the internet space.

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