Fila India – Global disrupter takes on the Indian market by tapping on regions’ specifications and price

by Anjori Grover Vasesi

09-January-2019  |  14 mins read

Fila India
Image Courtesy: thoughtoverdesign.com

In a relatively short span of time since its entry into India, the global sportswear retailer has carved its way to more than 1,200 counters across 350 large format stores, along with a distributor in every state. Operated in India by Cravatex Brands Limited, Fila deals in footwear, apparel and soft accessories, which include bags, socks, caps, scarves, etc. for men, women and kids.

A part of The Batra Group, Cravatex was founded in 1951 by Ram Kumar Batra when he diversified into garment export, textile processing and printing. Today the company has evolved into global retail, brand licensing and distribution and also operates as a sourcing company with a presence across the Indian Subcontinent, United Kingdom, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Driven by a revamped product offering specific to Indian sensibilities and pockets, and an aggressive expansion drive, the company is blaring big guns in India’s fertile retailscape. Team Apparel Resources had the opportunity to have a candid chat with Rakesh Singh Kathayat and Abdon Lepcha, COO and Creative Head for Fila India, respectively who illustrated on the brand’s robust growth plans.

“We are in a multi-fold expansion mode and have allocated a larger budget for building the brand. This year would see Fila flagship stores opening in top cities of the domestic market in addition to franchise-owned stand-alones in Tier-2 and Tier-3 markets. We are also looking at opening our own retail stores with additional categories of exclusive merchandise being added to the existing product mix.” – Rakesh Singh Kathayat

The brand continuously features amongst the top three in large format stores such as Reliance Footprint, Central and Metro, and is getting into a strategic alignment with Shoppers Stop wherein it will be launching its Heritage line as part of shop-in-shop formats. Online, the brand is available on players such as Flipkart, Amazon, Koovs, Myntra and Jabong.

“We are amongst the top 3 brands in major large format stores, along with a strategic alliance with both Flipkart and Amazon where we are also collaborating with them according to consumer taste and preference to send them products (SMEs).” – Rakesh Singh Kathayat

REBOOTING FOR THE DOMESTIC MARKET

For long, sportswear has been a segment globally dominated by the United States. In recent years however, owing to increased health and fitness awareness, innovative technology and popularity of athleisure and functional clothing, the need for sportswear brands has soared, making it one of the top most in-demand categories in the country.

According to a report by Global Industry Analysts Inc., the global market for Sports and Fitness Clothing is projected to touch US $ 231.7 billion by 2024. The report also elucidates that the Asia-Pacific region is expected to be the fastest growing region, with a CAGR of 6.9 per cent over the said forecast period. Emerging markets such as India and Thailand, as well as China, are now being considered by top sportswear retailers for expansion.

Attempting to capture a significant market share of this pie, Cravatex is undertaking various measures, right from price definition to region-specific merchandise to tap India’s growing sportswear and athleisure market and to expand into the booming product category.

“We tailor our price points based on products, depending upon the channel segmentation strength. The brand has penetrated into smaller towns through MBOs at entry price points starting at Rs. 1,999. At retailers such as Shoppers Stop and Central, we operate on the mid-price point. In our own stores or premium shop-in-shop counters, we observe the Heritage line, which starts from Rs. 3,999 and goes up to Rs. 16,000,” Kathayat explained.

The license owned by Cravatex is very unique and gives them flexibility to operate as per market requirements which helps the brand to cater to the diverse consumers based in the Tier-2 and Tier-3 markets as well. This serves as a huge opportunity area given the fact that the second round of India’s retail revolution is expected to emerge from the country’s smaller cities.

“We incorporate location-specific merchandise – not only at the design level but also at the retail and sales department level. We map out the looks to capture each region and consumer segment across India,” Lepcha said, to which Kathayat added, “One big trend we have been seeing after launching the global product is that the price barrier has been broken and distributors from North (especially UP), as well as north-east regions are now ready to accept good quality products even at a higher price point.”

DESIGN, DEVELOPMENT & PRODUCTION

Designing for Fila in India is completely undertaken by Cravatex, which is licensed to solely design, manufacture and distribute FILA merchandise across India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. In addition to these, Cravatex also serves as an exclusive licensee for Fila in the Middle East and North Africa. This is a clear-cut advantage which instantly places the brand on top of its contemporaries as it gives them the flexibility to tailor the product mix to suit the local market.

The design and creative inspiration are aligned with its global partners like Fila in China, Korea and Brazil but lately it has also hired a local design agency. “There is a very clear design language which is followed for the concept… There is a design book that is approved by Fila globally, which is completely in line with international standards,” Kathayat corroborated.

In line with its international design studios based in Shanghai and Korea, Fila India also boasts of its own state-of-the art design lab or design centre studio which aims to ensure that the products are locally relevant. A major chunk of its sourcing is done from India, China and Bangladesh, among other countries.

The brand has a UK Design Sector which acts as a design source in accordance to which global discussions and interactions are taken up to ensure that the end product is on the same page as the global theme being followed.

Abdon on the other hand, begins the designing process for each season with market research that spans two seasons ahead. “At the onset of each season, we discuss thenew trends forecast along with the global design teams to reflect synergy and continuity. It is followedby market research that spans two seasons ahead, cross-competition analysis, and global trend forecasting.” Post this procedure, the team undertakes research pertaining to an active mapping of the past season’s best and worst sellers followed by extensive internalized brain storming sessions which finally lead to India specific designing and selections.

“When we get the sign off on the product, we take it to the product development stage and the first sample takes around two months (45-60 days), to come out,” Lepcha explained, adding, “Following the test phase, selection and a sign off on the samples, the collection is presented to all internal stakeholders and customers and then we move into the final phase which is the trade show, where the collections are presented to the external customer. For this, we hold both a global buying camp and a local buying camp as well.”

These shows act as crucial steps in the entire process of designing and sourcing because they entail industry-specific feedback and fit tests from the retail and sales teams. The locations for these shows are mostly fixed and the bookings are made a year in advance.

“We are sourcing from India as well, and we occasionally tie up with Indian and Chinese factory owners, in collaboration with Fila US whose design centre is situated in China. From Bangladesh, we source apparels; we also have distributors in Bangladesh, and for knits, we have our own factory,” Kathayat said. He then further stated, “If there is a specific requirement for the Indian market, we try to meet it locally.”

The brand uses premium fabrics designed to incorporate the brand’s Italian craftsmanship, while allowing maximum flexibility and performance. Through its R&D centres based in China, Brazil and Korea, the brand has introduced materials such as Energized Rubber, DLS cushioning, Evergrip and Evergrind abrasion resistant outsoles and FLOW cooling technology, which set the brand apart from its competitors. The brand has also introduced HEXO and COMFORTX cushioning technologies to ensure comfort, flexibility and lightweight performance in both lifestyle and sports footwear.

Product assortment ratio includes 30 per cent as Core-designs that serve as regulars and are very reasonably priced. These don’t go into any promotions or discounts. For some of our partners, the Core contributes almost 50 per cent to 60 per cent as well.

Keeping the global concern of sustainability in mind, the company’s new design lab in India tests the use of multiple sustainable materials that are available locally and are indigenous to India. These are incorporated into the brand’s material development for domestic production.

Situated in Mumbai, the mothership warehouse of Fila India operates and supplies to various distribution points across the country.

To tap into the Indian market, the brand continuously collaborates on exclusive limited edition capsule collections with e-commerce players, as well as leading Indian designers and brands, the most recent link up being with cult-favourite Indian designer brand NorBlack NorWhite.

Fila’s popularity soared last year (2018), after it collaborated on a one of its kind, exclusive limited edition capsule with Italian luxury fashion house Fendi, for Fendi’s Fall/Winter 2018-2019 collection. The collection saw unisex apparel, footwear and accessories featuring FILA’s iconic ‘F’ fused with the FENDI Roma logo.

According to Lyst, items with the Fila logo were viewed once every 6 seconds in May.

BEST PERFORMING LINES AND FUTURE PLANS

With a license for SAARC countries, Cravatex owned Fila, is looking to actively expand in Bangladesh. They also have partners in Sri Lanka and Nepal. In the pipeline is a complete rebrand of their accessories segment, for which a recruitment process for a designated team in India is currently underway.

“We are in the process of creating one of the best design studios in India because of India being such a dynamic market with multiple states and regions,” Kathayat said. “Currently we have our own footwear and apparel design happening in-house. Footwear design is one of the key strengths we have as compared to other players in this industry. We have also introduced a category called Motorsport targeting a very important market of India and this is where we have seen the maximum sale last year. Watersport is another category we are now building on at a very accessible price point. Apart from this, we have our lifestyle and training lines coming out,” he concluded.

In the coming year, the brand would continue to focus on its Heritage apparel range and footwear collection, and is also looking at expanding key categories as its Motorsports, Tennis and Basketball ranges. Also in pipeline is the brand’s debut performance collection specially designed keeping the Indian consumer in mind.

Going forward, a keen focus on creating a clear omnichannel environment has also been expressed.

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