The suitings segment today is nothing like it was three or four decades ago. Lifestyles have changed drastically, as have tastes and requirements. Top officials of three major brands speak their minds out about what it now takes for the segment to stay suited for the times.

The suitings segment is one that remains small-almost niche, in a way. It has been so since, say, the 1970s. It has also seen a considerable amount of turbulence-many of the well-known brands that often saw film stars and cricketers endorsing them had almost disappeared a few years ago, as have some companies. But let's leave names aside, for they are not germane to the discussion here.

What is, nevertheless, pertinent is how players in the suitings arena are dealing with changes in lifestyles, tastes and requirements in an era where fast fashion rules, when clothes are throwaways. Smart casuals first filled that gap between the formal and the informal, and with Friday dressing becoming first the norm and then spilling over into other days of the week in corporate settings, formals-particularly the suit kinds-seem to have become an endangered form of dressing.

Certainly, on the face of it. Yet, it shows no sign of disappearing under the onslaught- something like that tiny, ebullient Gaulish village that would never bend or yield to the mighty Roman invasion. Moreover, film stars and cricketers seem to be making a comeback as suiting ambassador.

Small Size, Big Impact

The first element that would catch anyone's sight is the almost minuscule size of the suitings segment. Most market research studies put the number at roughly 3-4 per cent of the overall apparel market.

Ajay Agarwal, executive director of Donear Industries Ltd, agrees that the 3-4 per cent may be low numerically, but "it has been strong and constant as the textiles industry in India accounts for 24 per cent of the world's spindle capacity and 8 per cent of global rotor capacity. Textiles contribute 5 per cent to the gross domestic product (GDP). Given the shift in consumer behaviour in terms of preference for convenience and quick purchases, the suiting fabrics' share is on the lower side. I don't see this dropping further-in fact, I see the percentage being on the rise. The need for wellfitted apparel and customised clothing is coming back and this will definitely convert into higher demand for suiting fabrics."

Most of consumers now lead a fast-paced life, points out S Krishnamoorthy, managing director of GBTL Ltd (formerly known as Grasim Bhiwani Textiles Ltd). "With barely any time to purchase fabrics and give them for tailoring, it is an easier and convenient option to buy readymade apparels. The whole fabric, ready-to-stitch (RTS) industry is shrinking. But I see that wave changing, given the fact that the need for well-fitted garments are on the rise and that can only be achieved via tailored suits for the consumers. In addition, custom fit suits give a broader range of shades to the end consumer to choose from."

Vikram Mahaldar, managing director of OCM, contextualises the subject, "Although the advent of off-the-counter retail and e-commerce is steadily taking up a larger percentage of the pie; the pie itself is increasing and therefore the suiting fabric space too. The pie is increasing because of the number of young customers increasing in our target group year-on-year."

Mahaldar too believes that suiting fabrics will continue to increase. He gives two reasons: "With respect to trends, this customer is more aware and attuned to trends and heavily influenced by Bollywood. Customers prefer customisation in this segment because of limited designs and availability in the ready-to-wear (RTW) segment. Take ethnicwear as an example-designer suits and Indianwear are looming large with new boutiques mushrooming to fulfil the need of the customer. The customer demands customisation and variety in colour/design/price/silhouette-and is a very large segment for the RTS space. Second, in India, there is no dearth of tailors/skilled labour. Customised suiting will remain an affordable category in the times to come and will not reduce to a small niche like in the West."