Interview with Jimmy Rowe

Jimmy Rowe
Jimmy Rowe
Strategic Insights Manager (Market Research)
Cotton Incorporated
Cotton Incorporated

Fit remains biggest driver, followed by comfort
Cotton Incorporated is a not-for-profit company tasked with increasing the demand for and profitability of cotton through research and promotion. At Cotton Incorporated, we have research focused on every area of the cotton lifecycle-from fibre to the finished product, and beyond that to consumer and retail research. Jimmy Rowe, Strategic Insights Manager, in a tete-e-tete with Fibre2Fashion, discusses the key research findings done on Indian consumers with respect to cotton clothing products purchase.

What kind of research studies do you conduct?

In my areas we focus on two different types of research-consumer and  retail research. For the retail research that is done every year in India, we audit apparel retail stores, both in-store and online to better understand the apparel retail marketplace in India.  

We have been tracking that for a while so that we understand how apparel product offerings are changing in the market here in India. We have built a good foundation on what product categories have been growing, how prices have been changing, what trends are affecting the market, and how cotton is positioned in the apparel marketplace.  

On the consumer side, we do our Global Lifestyle Monitor™ study every two years across 11 countries. In Asia, we do India, China, Japan and Thailand. The last one was completed in 2018 and we will have another one next year in 2020. We also do an annual survey here in India in conjunction with CCI (Cotton Council International), to get a better understanding of changing consumer sentiments. We survey over three thousand consumers in India across both metro and non-metro cities, to understand what trends are shaping apparel shopping in India.  Trends like how apparel shopping is occurring online vs in-store, is how important is sustainability to consumers, what categories are most popular with consumers, etc. We track many different topics so that we can really have a pulse on the changing needs of Indian consumers for apparel.  

What are the demographics of these consumers?

We try to make our research as representative of the Indian population as a whole. There might be a little more focus on some of the bigger cities, because it can be harder to reach some of the consumers in tier-II or tier-III cities. We continue to work on expanding our research every year to improve our understanding of the different regions and demographics across India. This last year we expanded our research to include some of the smaller non-metro cities like Ahmedabad, Jaipur, and Guwahati. We are now conducting our consumer research across 10-12 different cities across India capturing a mixture of metro and non-metro areas.

What were the top five broad parameters that are considered for the research?

I think the top parameter is that we want our research to be representative and accurate of consumers here in India.  
Number two is that we want our research to be reflective of what's happening here in India. We try to design questions in the way that we can understand or at least find out what's consumers opinions on topics like sustainability, activewear, denim, online shopping, and apparel in general We try to pick topics that make the most sense for based on retail and consumer trends here in India.   
Next, we really want to understand the key factors that are influencing clothing purchase. Whether it is comfort, fit, colour, price, performance features, etc…. We want to better understand what is really driving purchases and what things are shaping what and how consumers are shopping for and buying apparel.  
Then the big picture for Cotton Incorporated is how does cotton fit into all of that, how does cotton fit into influencing clothing purchases, changing closets, and ultimately consumers' needs in India.   

Lastly, and this is something we are continuing focusing on is how to improve our research.   We want to continue to expand our research to reach and understand more of the consumers across India. Many brands and retailers may have an understanding of consumers in the bigger cities but what are the consumers apparel shopping habits and opinion for Indian consumer in the smaller cities and regions.   

What are the key findings of the research study?

One of the biggest takeaways would just be if you look at India versus a lot of other countries across the world, the growth rates for both GDP and apparel expenditures is going to be much higher than are being projected for most other major economies across the globe.  Because of this we are seeing a lot of international brands on the apparel side trying to come to India to really be a part of that growth that you are not seeing necessarily in the developed markets like the US, UK, Japan. India and China, from a growth prospective, are seen as the bright spots for apparel for over the next five or ten years.  

Some of the key things we are seeing from a research in India is continued growth in online apparel shopping, increased interest levels in sustainability and transparency for consumers, and a fundamental shift in Indian consumers closets, away from traditional wear into other categories like denim and activewear especially for the youngest generation of Indian consumers.   

What is the buying behavior of Indians when it comes to cotton products?

There has always been a very high affinity for cotton for Indian consumers, as nearly 9 in 10 Indian consumers say they prefer their clothing be made from cotton. And in the apparel retail space in India it has been a very cotton rich from clothing standpoint for a long time now. I don't think that will change especially when you see denim continuing to become more popular which is a strong category from a cotton standpoint. If you look across the different categories there is very strong or high preference for cotton as the majority of Indian consumers feel like cotton really meets their primary needs when shopping for clothing such as comfort, quality, and durability.

Are Indian consumers warming up to circular fashion? Is fast fashion on a decline in India?

So far, I would say it's more of a superficial thing. Some consumers are aware of the circular economy and what that relates to fashion standpoint. But in India we don't see a lot of offerings from different brands or retailers for recycled clothing or even offering to take back old clothing for recycling. In the US it is bit different where we see a lot more brand retailers making that effort. I don't think it's picked up here in India yet. But with sustainability being so important for brands and retailers especially in the apparel and other things, it is going to come at some point especially when I think India is going to be the largest population in the world in the next 10 years. That is going to be a lot of clothing. We have to find new ways to recycle or reuse that apparel so that it is not ending up in a landfill. I see consumers across the globe are concerned about what the future will look like and they don't want to have their clothing end up in landfills and not be reused.

Any brands that seem very keen on bringing that recycling culture?

At Cotton Incorporated, we continue to explore new technologies and opportunities for recycling old cotton clothing.   We have one program called Blue Jeans Go Green™ that with the help of our partner brands and retailers collects old denim clothing items which are upcycled in housing insulation.  But really, we fell like all brands will need to consider the impact of their clothing items at the end of the life cycle. Everybody understands sustainability is not an option anymore, especially when we talk about consumption levels rising so much in India. There is going to be a lot more apparel in the market. Brands and retailers are starting to recognize there is an opportunity to not only tell a sustainable message but also to do something good for the environment which is what brand and retailers have to do to create a more sustainable world.

So fast fashion is not declining in India anytime soon?

If you look at fast fashion, we are seeing a lot of fast fashion brands even though they are offering cheaper clothing, they have started to return a little bit more towards quality. If you look at the Forever 21 and bankruptcy in the US… if you continue to have that model, it is not going to be as successful as it was in the past because sustainability is becoming more important for consumers and they want that quality, they want something that they can wear for two years and not have to throw it away after two or three washes. Consumers are beginning to recognize, especially the young consumers who are little more forward thinking about things, that quality and having some last is more beneficial to not only them but also the environment.

Also, do you think that consumers are even looking at the fabric composition or fibre composition? Or looking into clothing label to see what is really going into making that piece of garment?

In India, close to 70 per cent consumers say they always or usually check the concept label. That's a little higher than we see in some of other countries we do research in. Again, it is that affinity for cotton here because it is something that is so ingrained and keeps apparel beautiful for so long that I think it is important to a lot of consumers which is why they look for on it on the labels.  But that's always something we are trying to focus on getting consumers check the label because we have seen over the years that sometimes consumers get so used to touching a garment a purchase point. But that sometimes can be inaccurate because every time they touch, they might just assume that it's cotton, but it may not be so.  

Published on: 11/12/2019

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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