While studying at Delhi’s National Institute of Fashion Technology in the early 2000s, Akhil Srivastava noticed a curious thing – while the institute had courses for fashion, knitwear, leather, textile and accessory design, there were none for lingerie design. He put this thought out of his mind when he started working with Planet M and later the Bharti Walmart joint venture.
In 2008, he joined Landmark Group’s retail team in the Middle East, where he was involved in the fashion business. While working on a lingerie project for the company, he was astounded to find that the Indian lingerie market is estimated to be around $4 billion, growing at over 22% CAGR and expected to cross $9 billion within the next four years. While the unorganized players monopolised this business, hardly anyone had focused on a key potential area – that of plus-size lingerie – be it in organized or unorganized retail.
He teamed up with Los Angeles-based plus size lingerie brand, Parfait, and recently launched the brand in India. Parfait CEO’s and co-founder Ken Zhang and Srivastava talks how the potential for this segment in India and how the brand will partner with retailers and e-commerce platforms to tap this growth.
What was the trigger to enter the plus-size lingerie segment?
Akhil Srivastava: Shoes and lingerie are always purchased on the basis of comfort and size. Sadly, in India, while there are many innerwear brands, plus-size lingerie has always been related to the wearer’s overall weight, rather than cup, band or both. It is presumed that if a lady is over 100kg, she is the target for plus-size lingerie, which is untrue. What was lacking in the Indian market is education and awareness about measuring for the right sizes and availability of alternate sizes.
Why haven’t the other lingerie brands cracked the plus-size code in India?
Akhil Srivastava: One reason for this is that there is no formal skilling or lingerie education in most fashion institutions. While one can name fashion designers who create ethnic, western or fusion wear, can you name anyone who creates lingerie?
Secondly, lingerie manufacturing requires different techniques and machinery. When we talk about plus-size innerwear, it means bras with bigger cups, which requires bigger moulds and corresponding infrastructure.
Right now, most of the lingerie is procured from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia as it is cost-viable. Some of the customization might take place in India. To make plus-size lingerie, these manufacturers will need to invest in different infrastructure, machineries and processes.
Additionally, they will have to make a variety of products because plus size lingerie varies from body to body changing, going upwards from D cup to K cup, while currently most platers are still focused on A to D cups.
How are you creating awareness about this variety of sizes amongst customers and retailers?
Akhil Srivastava: Every month, we will organise workshops in A- and B-class cities for select target customers. Parfait certified trainers will educate them about the right way to measure themselves, making the right product choice depending on the usage, etc.
Ken Zhang: When Kevin Lai, Anthony Chan and I launched Parfait in 2010, we realized now the US and European market were underserved when it came to plus-sized lingerie. Customers would buy free size in E or F cup and it would often be in basic colour and styling. We see a similar situation in India now. There are many brands in the market, but most don’t want to go beyond certain sizes. Since this niche market was not getting enough attention from those brands, we decided that Parfait would be the first to make this change.
Do you think price is another reason why other brands steered clear from this segment?
Akhil Srivastava: Customers are ready to spend money but expect better quality, in terms of fit, fabric and durability. This is a discretionary need-based shopping. We realized that the Indian market is huge, so we divided it into different segments by offering affordable luxury. Hence, our pricing starts from INR 1500 to INR 2500.
Ken Zhang: While we want customers to buy Parfait, we really want to help them find the right product in the right size. This is why we are investing in training our associates to better serve buyers.
Where are your manufacturing facilities for the Indian market located?
Akhil Srivastava: Right now our manufacturing plant, warehouse and production facility is in China, while our design studio is in Los Angeles. Parfait is entering India through 100% FDI, so we will do 30% sourcing from the country. Also, within a year, we plan to start manufacturing in India.
Will you introduce your entire product portfolio in the country?
Akhil Srivastava: Initially, we will start with topwear and bottomwear, swimwear, baby doll and camisoles in 32 styles.
Will this be enough to tap the Indian lingerie market, which is estimated to be around $4 billion and is growing at 22% CAGR to touch $9 billion within four years?
Akhil Srivastava: It is interesting that lingerie is now well accepted as a product category in the market, and in every mall you can find one or two outlets dedicated to it. At the same time, there are limited players in this business – hardly around 20 brands and if we consider the local ones, then it might go up to 40. So, we don’t look at any of these brands as our competition, because none of them are selling plus-size lingerie.
Globally, Parfait has always operated in a B2B model, and this is the first time it is doing direct to consumer. How will you manage this business operation?
Akhil Srivastava: Yes, we are getting into the B2C model for the first time by setting up exclusive business (EBO) and 150 shop-in-shop (SIS) outlets. These EBOs will be Parfait’s signature Experience stores, where we will ladies can experience the size fitting techniques and then shop accordingly. We are coming up with the first one at Vasant Kunj in New Delhi and later we plan to have it in all metro cities. .
We will also be present on major ecommerce platforms including Myntra, Jabong and Nykaa. Additionally, we will have SIS in large format departmental stores like Lifestyle and Shoppers Stop, as well as with ethnic retailers like Jashn. The reason for taking the latter route is that when customers spend close to INR 1 lakh for traditional Indian wear, they will not mind spending on plus-size lingerie that will complement the attire.