Plus-size clothing started as a movement for inclusivity for the Indian retail space, but the segment saw gradual development in its early years only through a set of very niche, or solution-based ventures or sub-brands by major retailers, or affordable luxury high fashion brands. Technopak reports estimate the valuation of the Indian plus-size market to be worth almost Rs. 11,000 crore and with a projected growth rate of 25 per cent per annum. Yet, making plus-size a mainstream, trend-led avenue has been a struggle as the market today has more high fashion labels rather than retailers to cater to the trend, and the tiring ‘free size fits all’ phrase keeps on popping up for this consumer base that actually has a lot more variations in body types than the usual size categories. Adding to this gap comes the lack of name in the menswear side of plus-size apparel, as the market is divided in a 60:40 ratio favouring the fairer gender.
“Our aim is democratisation of fashion, and the idea is about giving Indian plus- size population the independence to choose the clothes they feel fashionable yet comfortable in.” Hetal Kotak CEO, aLL
Yet, Future Group’s yearning to create fashion for all led them to fill the gaps in the initial days itself, as they launched India’s biggest retail chain championing everyday fashion needs for the plussize segment with their brand, aLL. The brand has been transforming the plus-size apparel market in India since its inception in 2005, and with revenues recorded at Rs. 130 crore in 2018, it has not only become most popular name in the mix but also a trends’ trailblazer due to its plus-size fashion shows.
In conversation with Apparel Online, Hetal Kotak, CEO, aLL, talks about how the brand has been moulding the plus-size apparel market to make it mainstream, along with its efficient sizing systems that are supported by a strong sourcing network the brand thrives on. “The brand is the brainchild of the pioneer of modern retail in the country, Kishore Biyani, who felt that India needed a plus-size brand. Our aim is democratisation of fashion, and the idea is about giving Indian plus size population the independence to choose the clothes they feel fashionable yet comfortable in. They should not be limited to choices of going to a store that has a very few range of products in bigger sizes or to a very few fashion labels that provide more options but in higher prices. With aLL, they get a plethora of choice which is trend-led, affordable and custom-made for them.”
A BIG OMNICHANNEL MARKET
With an equal business weightage for both men and women, which is another feature very uncommon in the plus-size segment, the brand retails via about 80 stores across 35 cities. As Hetal discusses, “Plus-size menswear is a size game, because for larger men, the options are very less. But in our case, the two offerings go hand-in-hand and are widespread, as we offer one-stop store for ethnic, denims, casuals, eveningwear, formals, corporate clothing and all occasions that you may think of.”
The sizing of the brand plays a major role in dictating its operations, and was formulated with years of tremendous research, continuous feedback, constant primary research on the customers and progressive iterations to the fit. The brand not only caters to basic sizing gradation, but also incorporates different aspects of plus-size clothing such as the body shape, be it oval, pear, or apple. As Hetal continues, “Without a place for such variations, we couldn’t have garnered the reputation and loyalty of our consumer base. Our sizing is not 32, 34, etc.; it starts from 1, 2 and 3 onwards, for both men and women, because we are formulating our own brand language and sizing is at the crux for it.”
To ease the process for the shoppers who made periodic visits from cities to the vicinity of a particular outlet, it started its online venture, and within a span of just a year, the portal has started serving about 8,000+ pin codes, and carries the same merchandise as the store. It is already contributing more than 10 per cent of their overall business, and due to repeat purchases and growing revenues, aLL launched its app five months ago, and nearly half of the business generated online comes from the app itself. “The customers actually own the brand, they speak to us, give us feedback about everything, right from products, to trends, to shops, to apps and it is a very wholesome experience. We are committed to bring excited products and services for them to honour this love and affection.”
EFFICIENT SOURCING FOR SYSTEMATIC SIZING
An efficient sourcing system becomes crucial for a brand like aLL as it believes in ‘fortnightly freshness’ for the consumer. As many in this side of the business struggle to find vendors that cater to the customised sizing prerequisites, aLL boasts of a sourcing network that is at par with any other clothing segment dealing in general sizes. As Hetal converses, “Our goto sourcing hubs are just as any other segment. Bangalore is a massive hub for sourcing for products such as Chinos, jeans and other auxiliary denims; Bombay is a great contender too. Delhi and North India are great for ostentatious wovens.” The brand sources its knits from the biggest hubs in IndiaLudhiana and Tirupur.
aLL’s very own fashion shows that started four years back in collaboration with leading designers at Lakmé Fashion Week were catalytic in the fashion movement of plus-size apparel in India. The inspiration was born from the idea that it is not just about providing clothing for the plussize category, but rather it has the capability to be the trend-setter in the arena and provide fashion solutions as well. aLL Primero, its recent collection with Rina Dhaka for LFW W/F 2019, was a colourful affair with a mosaic of prints including ombré tie-dye, soft plaid, linear floral, subtle stripes or temple flowers highlighted with contrast topstitching, tie-ups and buttons. A hint of tribal elements, appearing as ruched details, were seen for blouses that were ornamented with fringes, tassels, pom-poms and patches. Menswear offered shirts, baggy cargoes, yoked tunics and sleeveless waistcoats.
One segment that aLL majorly invests in is ethnicwear, as being a brand for the Indian consumer, it gives more importance to festivities rather than seasonal transitions, and Hetal observes that if it is time for Pujo in Kolkata, Onam in Kerala, Dussehra in North, then they are more important than Fall for their buying and sourcing operations for the next season. The brand’s go-to destination for this arena is Jaipur, along with a few parts of Rajasthan, which it identifies as critical hubs. It also works with a few organisations, large-scale vendors who are able to cater to multiple product categories at once.
Speaking of the prowess of India as a manufacturing hub, Hetal says, “We find India to be extremely competent to cater to our needs when it comes to plussize clothing; being closer to the end consumer, it is faster for us and better for the shoppers as well. Tomorrow if there is a consumer-led reason that drives me to go beyond borders, we have the resources to do so as we already source for Future group’s other brands. Most of our vendors are practically domestic and some of them may get their trims and fabrics from outside, but that’s all presently.” When it comes to the growing talk about compliance in the industry, the strong compliance-focused team under the umbrella of Future Group makes sure that all its vendors are ethical, and are at par with the Governmental rules and regulations and strive to improve their ethical practices as the years progress.
Adding about 20 stores to make the count reach 100, aLL plans to expand its horizons and open doors to many more fashion enthusiasts in the plus-size segment. Small format stores might be trending in the market, but in the past two years, aLL has piloted large format stores, growing from initial store sizes of about 800 sq. ft. to about 2,000 sq. ft. Today, as Hetal concludes, “We are going for larger stores only as we feel that we can engage our customers better in that way and provide better services. Plussize has become a major market today, especially for a nation like India that has a happy consumer base of healthy families, and we are very excited for our journey.”