Fashion industry has been a major contributor to the Indian retail, and is now being seen as the most lucrative segment by licensors to mark their presence. Fashion being one of the most lucrative segments in retail, is offering licensing and merchandising industry with even greater success opportunities for brand extension without actually getting into the process. Indian fashion segment, highly driven by the super-consumers who swear by the ever-changing fashion, has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade.
Along with increasing penetration of multimedia in consumer’s life and disposable income, prime reason cultivating fashion licensing practices is the growing consumerism towards brands and quality products. Of overall retail, Fashion contributes to more than 50 per cent of the organised retail in India. Analysis forecast the Indian fashion retail in India to grow at a CAGR of 64.87 per cent in terms of revenue over 2015-2019. Newer and global fashion brands pouring into the market have further unveiled new growth arenas in the sector. Although the brand loyalty is improving, consumer can’t shrug off the fondness towards low cost alternatives, especially in case of licensed fashion merchandise, thereby pushing the brands to have even more meaningful alliances in league with the parent brand’s ideology.
Changing opportunities in Retail: Fashion retailers are constantly keeping up with brand merchandising by adopting the popular television characters and absorbing their DNA with respect to fashion trends. The growing popularity of not-so-old global brands like Sanrio, Me to U etc portrays a clear picture of the kids’ licensing market driven by characters, and to no surprise, kids’ apparel, accessories and even birthday parties are themed around these characters. Striking a similar note, Abhishek Maheshwari, VP and Head, Consumer Products, Disney India said, “Character and entertainment brand licensing is one of the largest segments and probably the part most recognised by the consumers. This category of licensing encompasses properties emerging from films, television, games and online entertainment. With growing awareness of branded merchandise, character based products and increase in spending power; we see a lot of potential for the L&M industry in India.” The success mantra, as cited by licensing experts and stalwarts of the industry, is to transform that emotional connect between a well-known character and its target audiences to merchandising strategy. Modern Retailers like Pantaloons and HyperCity have been leveraging these practices since long while retailing a wide range of licensed merchandise. Briefing the success story of Dora – the Explorer driven by TV viewership, Saugato Bhowmick, Senior Vice President – Consumer Products, Viacom 18 said, “L&M of TV content offers an opportunity to the consumer to experience the brand and the character outside of the television experience and into living inside the TV show in their own life.”
The changing market scenario Kids’ fashion licensing per say revolves around apparel as a core category. Given that the economic sentiment is reviving, combined with the advent of eCommerce, and certain sites exclusively dedicated to kid’s merchandise, the process of discovery of kids’ licensed products is being made more easy. In the words of Renu Nair, Head – Consumer Products, Mattel Group, “Barbie is a little more extended brand by Mattel and has been very successful as a global fashion icon in all segments ranging from innerwear to sleepwear, party dresses to fashion accessories.” At present, this iconic character from the house of Mattel is present across 50 categories including BTS, Home décor, beauty and wellness with 100 plus licensees in India. Given the consumers opening up to brands, the kids’ fashion segment has undergone a huge change – be it in terms of properties available in market, the number of licensees or the product categories catered by the characters. While the iconic properties as Donald Duck have been eternal with a dedicated consumer base, a plethora of new properties like Dora - the Explorer, Chhota Bheem, Peanuts etc is flooding the market. Moreover, the change in kid’s segment is the shrinking age group – while the kids up to the age of eight or nine are more inclined towards animation characters, slighlty older kids prefer the more mature and evolved characters, for instance, the football players, wrestlers or the sports brands such as Nike, Reebok etc. Following the traits, Toonz Retail came up with ICC Cricket World Cup T-shirts for kids, while Viacom 18 is about to launch Wings Club apparel - a fashion heavy girl’s property for young girls. Another noticeable change is the increasing options for girl child which was earlier restricted to just the Barbie. Now she can pick amongst Dora, Disney Princess, Frozen, Hello Kitty, Betty Boop, Sofia the First etc.
The retail acceptance While traditional mom & pop stores still continue to be the highest contributors in total revenue earned which is around 50 per cent, a whopping percentage of retail is driven by organised retailers. For instance – Titan Zoop for Marvel watches, Shopper’s Stop flaunting Tom & Jerry Bed sheets, Dora hair accessories being sold by Mom & Me and the popular shoe-maker Bata being the exclusive retailer of Angry Bird Footwear for kids.
Youth live it now: Not entirely away from cartoon characters, yet seeking sophistication with verve is the new age youth who is the newest kid on the radar of brands. Often labelled as millennial youth, this audience base is a hit for all reasons from being experimental to tech-savvy along with developing a penchant for brands and hence is open for various genres from celebrity style to charity and movie merchandise to collegiate fashion. Collegiate fashion labels as Oxford University are gaining popularity for all good reasons. “The name and fame of Oxford University is very tempting to somebody producing a tee-shirt or booklet carrying the name,” said Cris Evans, Managing Director, Oxford Ltd. who currently operates across seven nations through brand licensing. Describing what leads to success of such fashion centric deals, Ankur Gupta, co-founder and Director of Campus Mall asserted, “People feel proud to be associated with impeccable institutions of education such as Oxford or IIMs.” Other genres like celebrity or charity inspired fashions are also an instant hit, which is evident from soaring success of Being Human Clothing, which now has over 300 retail and 7 online selling points worldwide, including 220 retail and 6 online selling points in India. Moreover, Myntra’s brand Kook n Keech is also in the competition with a collection specialising in pop culture, Marvel and Disney printed T-shirts, tops, dresses, jerseys and flip flops…and more. Again Comic characters are a big hit with this age-group, which is evident in the entire revival of Amar Chitra Katha when it unlocked the opportunities with Chacha Chaudhary. Striking a similar point, Kalra asserted, “Comics have always allured teenagers alike and continue to be a popular source of merchandising in India. With the emergence of the new young Indian who has grown up with technology, his love for comic characters on products like apparel, and accessories is quite evident.”
Where is the market moving? Change is the constant thing in collegiate and youth licensing market as apart from the Mascot of licensing industry Mickey Mouse, an entire new gamut of properties has hit the stores. Superheroes are the flag-bearers of licensing in this segment; with 1.3 Billion USD worth retail sales of Spiderman products globally. Again, brands like Being Human banking on celebrity licensing are a big hit followed by pop culture inspired merchandise like Breaking Bad, Mad Max; old classic characters like Elvis Presley and social communities like Threadless. “Iconic brands like Threadless reinforces our commitment to provide T-shirts that are high on design to people across the country,” says Siddharth Taparia, CEO, VoxPop. The sales are moderately distributed among modern retail and eCommerce for this age group, while traditional retail grabs the meatiest chunk.
For affluent adults Comprising an affluent audience base, fashion licensing for adults is a different ball game altogether with Corporate licensing being an integral part of fashion retail. Corporate licensing contributes to 12 per cent of the total retail sales, and the entry of popular global brand as Marie Claire and GAS at regular intervals is helping to ensure that the adults fashion market is exploited to its fullest. What started with alliance between Murjani Group and Tommy Hilfiger to India has now reached the stage where U.S. retailer, Aeropostale, is expanding with new licensing agreements in India. Citing licensing as effective brand expansion strategy, Fabrice Taupin, Vice President - Licensing, Marie Claire Group said, “We are working with local companies who understand the differences in terms of cultures, because colour, perception etc. would be different in different areas of the countries, and so will be sizing and shapes.” Following the same trait, Shoppers Stop and Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. (BCCL), have announced a strategic partnership to extend Femina into the consumer products space as a part of ‘co-create and co-own’ licensing partnership for the premium space, targeting today’s urban, independent, progressive and discerning woman, who is working and residing in the top 25 cities. Highlighting the brand positioning for premium class, Govind Shrikhande, Customer Care Associate & Managing Director, Shoppers Stop Ltd. said, “The premium positioning of this brand fits seamlessly into our diverse portfolio of premium brands.” Speaking on the development, Sandeep Dahiya, Director & business head – Brand Extension, BCCL, said, “This partnership re-formats the existing licensing template in India, by creating a unique ‘co-create, co-own’ model that creates far more value at both ends.”
Dealing with the grey areas While the L&M sector is growing at a steady pace, there are a number of challenges, the biggest being piracy. It is no secret that licensors are worried and finding ways to address the rapid expansion of counterfeit merchandise. Protection of Intellectual Property Rights ought to be of paramount importance to any brand owner. It is important for brands to actively work with industry bodies and government to take strict antipiracy action against wholesalers/retailers who manufacture and sell counterfeit products. Nevertheless, the India Brand and Character Licensing story has just begun and the potential is enormous.