In late 2012 when the Clarence House announced that Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were expecting their first child, the international media's eyes were glued to maternity style of the Duchess. Celebs are now more watchful of how they carry themselves during the special nine months. In India, former Miss World Aishwarya Rai Bachchan's wardrobe was closely followed and scrutinised by fashion police as soon as her family confirmed that the couple was soon expecting a visit from the stork. International celebs like Kim Kardashian, Drew Barrymore, Rachel Bilson, Mila Kunis and many others have earned bouquets and brickbats for their maternity wardrobe. These celebs have inspired the regular would-be-mamas too to flaunt the baby bump in style. The maternity apparel market is thus predicted to reach US$ 12.7 billion by 2020.

The global scene

"Although general clothing retailers have suffered from weak consumer sentiment and subdued discretionary spending, the industry has benefited from strong demand for maternity wear from fashion-conscious consumers," said industry analyst for IBISWorld Lauren Magner.

The maternity apparel market has an awful impact on sales with dwindling global economy and lack of interest among expectant mothers to invest in maternity wear. However, in the five years to 2019, the industry is likely to rebound steadily.

In countries like Russia, where a law offering subsidies to families with two or more children was introduced in 2007, have witnessed baby boom. With global economic already on a recovery path, the maternity apparel sales will definitely soar high.

In emerging markets like India, Philippines, Venezuela and South Africa, birth rates are approximately at over 20 births per 1000 people, but this is yet to translate into huge sales of maternity wear. Another major global player China is also working on controlling its population; strict one child policy in China has affected the maternity apparel market.

Among the developed nations, the United States continues to remain the chief market for maternity wear. The average number of births in the United States of America stands at some four million a year, making it a profitable market for maternity wear. The scenario in other developed nations is not the same. Countries like Japan, Germany, South Korea and Italy have registered slow birth rate in the past decade. The shrinking customer base in these countries is a cause of concern for maternity apparel retailers.

Modern way of life leads sales

According to industry analysis by Ibisworld, the maternity wear retail sector is already in prime phase of life cycle. As per Ibisworld analysis, the industry's value added (IVA) which is calculated as its contribution to the economy, is predicted to develop at an average annual rate of 3.7 per cent from 2009 to 2019.

Though unlike other garments, maternity wear has short life span for mother-to-be, still there are many factors that make pregnant ladies invest in chic maternity styles. One of the notable factors is that pregnancy, which was once considered a hush-hush matter following social stigma in many countries has become a period of celebration and pampering oneself. The modern day moms refuse to wear frumpy clothes that lack glamour and comfort.

Among maternity apparel, dresses signify the principal product section and approximately represent 35 per cent of industry revenue. Dresses are generally more expensive than maternity shirts and tops and therefore account for a greater portion of revenue.

Many women continue to work till the very last day of their third trimester, which makes it mandatory for them to buy clothes that are suitable for the work place. Also as many as 178 countries worldwide offer guaranteed paid leave to working mothers. The overall rise in middle class family income has also given expectant moms freedom to spend liberally on their wardrobe. Moreover, with media's potent role in highlighting celeb maternity wardrobe, expecting women have become more conscious about how they carry themselves throughout their pregnancies.

Some stores have also reported that even non-pregnant women are inclined to buy maternity wear. The modern day maternity wear is made to fit gracefully and is designed to accentuate curves. Most of the maternity wear is also used during nursing period. The dresses, tops, etc have opening concealed by layers in the material over the chest to make breastfeeding convenient.

Owner of Linea Negra, a 10-year-old store at Queen's Road Central, Hong Kong Patty Nelson said, "The goal of many maternity wear makers and designers these days is to create clothing that looks like it isn't maternity wear."

Impact offsets on markets

Even as women are open to the idea of buying good quality trendy maternity wear, there are certain markets that are dissuading maternity wear sales. First and foremost reason is social norms, following which women are still reserved about wearing trendy clothes during the special nine months. In traditional countries like India, Pakistan, etc, hiding a baby bump comes as an obvious choice.

Birth rate in developing nations, especially India, is high, but the desire to wear traditional dresses during pregnancy period is more deep rooted than the retailers realise. Despite the fact that in India's tier one cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, etc, pregnant women do not shy away from buying western dresses, the market in tier two cities is gloomy.

Some of the retailers and owners disagree that India is not a rewarding market. Like Priya Bhave, of Nine Maternity Wear believes, "The maternity wear market in India is booming, no doubt about that. Earlier, there was very little awareness about this segment and women who were pregnant usually went for bigger sized clothes that would accommodate their baby bump but would be ill fitting on the rest of the body. Now that's no longer the case."

However, the statistics tell a different story. In India, Mahindra Retail decided to close down 10 per cent of its Mom & Me stores in 2013 following losses. In 2015, it is planning to close the doors of 25 per cent of Mom & Me outlets to cut costs. Also, there has been a steep decline in overall fertility rate, as couples delay parenthood for their careers. Those going for costly treatments are too overwhelmed to spend on maternity wear. Sticking to large sized clothing is a palpable solution. In spite of all the awareness, many women in India still wear plus sized clothing to hide the growing bump and stay comfortable. These pieces come handy even after pregnancy when the body is yet to get back to its pre-baby size.

Brands positioning

However, there are also some positive signs. In India, e-tailers like Babyoye, Snapdeal and Jabong are now selling a wide range of maternity wear. But, with launch of online maternity wear, the troubles of brick and mortar stores continue to mount. The prices offered by online retailers are definitely lower than what the stores offer. The price range for maternity wear on, which has launched maternity wear in association with Morph Maternity, is in the range of? 400 to? 4,000, varying across brands.

There are a few brands like W that are still managing well. After a successful trial run of maternity wear in 2012, W - the women's wear brand - launched maternity line in the summer of 2013. "In India, women have started accepting maternity wear not as a luxury, but as a need. Most women are working, and even if they are not, they want to maintain their style statement and feel good in their clothes during pregnancy," design head of W, Shreyashree Haldar said.

The chief reason behind W's success is that it offers an impressive range of traditional wear. Most of the international brands in India like Mothercare or Destination Maternity, have western wear in their collection.

Unlike W, three big international maternity brands - Mamas & Papas and Mothercare - are in a state of disarray. In 2014, Mothercare reported loss £ 21.5 million, whereas Mamas & Papas is dealing with problems involving over-expansion.

In the United States of America, the two largest maternity clothing retailers Liz Lange Maternity and Destination Maternity, which includes brands Motherhood, Pea in the Pod, Oh Baby and more, have their niche clientele, but finding new loyal customers is difficult, as pregnancy is a one-time phenomenon and many women wear their old maternity clothes during subsequent pregnancies. Old Navy, Gap along with some other renowned brands like Seven for All Mankind, Citizens of Humanity and Joes Jeans also have their own maternity clothing line.

The economic downturn has taken a toll on maternity wear, but coming years are promising, as maternity wear becomes a necessity rather than a choice for fashion conscious moms-to-be.