Crossing over of the Business of Lingerie in India 

Once, innerwear was a private matter, part of your wardrobe meant only for you. That journey of intimate wear in India has come a long way, since the advent of tiny stores, awkward salesmen and shopping for essentials to a widespread assortment of products, brands and categories.

Gone are the days when the vestment was referred to in hushed tones or as foundation garments. Today lingerie is a vital segment of the growing fashion industry and ranges from intimate wear to sleep wear, activewear and lounge wear.

Yet, still considered to be at an emerging stage the lingerie segment in India is pegged at 6 -7 billion USD, contributing nearly 10% of the overall apparel market with enormous potential of an annual growth of 15 -22 percent

ET Insights delves further in this segment in an open conversation with Amisha Jain CEO, Zivame.

You have known to quote “Innovation is at the core of everything we do”.

You have touched upon something that is close to my heart. 3.5yrs ago, we wanted to set the right vision for the brand. We wanted it to be a brand recognized and available in every Indian woman’s wardrobe. We had the vision to become a billion dollar brand. We aspired to extend it across India, not just in Tier 1 and Tier 2 markets but service smaller towns across Tier 3 and 4.

For a lot of women, intimate wear or an inner wear is a commodity. But, for many it is still a luxury and we wanted to make sure the product is available in the hands of every woman in the country. The only way we could do that is by rethinking what we’re doing and increasing accessibility, not just for the product, but also the consumer’s access to learning about the product or experiencing it right.

I would say as an organization we obsess about three things – First, innovation in anything and everything we do;  second- consumer obsession and the kind of experience we’re able to offer or how we are able to help her, and, third business impact, which is more to do with the results we are able to deliver, be it reach, accessing the consumer, or overall business. These are the three key mantras we live by and we have built the organization around them. As a result, we have a hold in over 2,000 towns across the country.

On another note, how important a role has digitization and AI had in the paradigm shift of this segment?

A lot has changed today with AI, online retailing and the omni-channel model.  The lingerie and intimate wear market has been able to penetrate deep from access to products like tummy tucker panties in Tier 3, Tier 4 markets to educating consumers about the right product and fit and enabling access to these products. Digitization has been instrumental in enabling access, spreading awareness and educating consumers about the right product.

We are looking at tech, with the idea of building a platform that understands consumer preferences and solves issues relating to fit. That’s the thought that goes into technology which allows the consumer to figure out the size, frame or the right product for her. Again, this called for innovation and how we put it within the framework of our offerings.

There are smart apps and machine learning algorithms now which work on demand curves, and demand signals, making sure that with every single product, we manage and forecast the units required, from a future revenue perspective. This is the biggest reason for the success of a very smart real-time ecosystem to dynamically manage the inventory and I think that is the game-changer for the industry.

I would like to highlight that real innovation in the category is working aggressively around real time supply chain management and shrinking supply chain timelines.

You do see a lot of challenges in this segment, whether it’s finance, supply chain or for that matter even diversity

Finance works way differently vis-a-vis the traditional organizations. Investments on priorities like technology and the omnichannel segment continue to be challenging. About 3.5years ago, an investor asked if I really believed in this and I said “I think this brand and many such brands have the potential to be billion-dollar brands” and he said, ‘there’s not a single brand that has crossed 200 crores in this space’.

So, let’s talk about the problems at the very base level

The industry has a classic problem of local players not having built their businesses to meet  actual consumer requirements. There were a bunch of brands or labels that serviced the local markets which ran from small shops. They were sold like footwear or a T-shirt with  consumers having a limited offering to choose from.

The innerwear market has conventionally been largely unorganised. Some of the challenges in the space also made sure the demand in the past remained muted. Moreover, the whole shopping experience is broken and very uncomfortable. The second issue has been the inventory in the market. It is largely the lack of an established supply chain for high-grade raw materials or the ability to produce superior finished goods without increasing costs or impacting the end price.

I think the challenge for the consumer has been that the offerings have been limited. For the retailer too, it was the same challenge because the number of stores were limited, and they could not offer more than a certain number of products. The inventory proliferation would have been massive and configuring the indent would have been a big challenge.

Similarly, for the labels that catered to an offline channel, they would have had to build inventory in a big way. If they began building 40 sizes in every style, they would have had to add hundreds of options. So, brands/labels and retailers collectively reduced inventory to manage. The biggest challenge has been the inability of brands and retailers to manage inventory which led them to take steps that make it unfavourable from a demand point of view.

Although we are in an age of diversity and inclusion, there still are challenges in the segment that persist.

There has been a sea change from where we were ten years ago, with regards to communication or the impact of social media. Still, this category is at a nascent stage. The challenges in women’s intimate wear market in India are not just limited to the market forces, it also has a lot to do with limited access and complex cultural issues.

When I speak to consumers in  Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, they still talk about the category discretely. I spoke to a consumer in Indore recently and she used the terms bade kapde aur chote kapde (big clothes and small clothes) and I asked, chote kapde kya hote hai?

(What are small clothes?) and she said, hum chote kapde hi bolte hai (We call them small clothes). It was such a sweet thing. We have such consumers in our space today.

We don’t want to change the product; we don’t want to change India. We just want these consumers to know where they can find the information they need.

I think we are evolving as a country, but we need to marry our culture with the category and glamour shots don’t work. So, our take on how we want to communicate is not by showing perfectly-fit models and glamorous shots but it’s about making sure we send the right message to the consumer. It is between her and the platform.

I think there is still a lot to be done. These are very early days and a lot of work is left. I think the challenge for all of us as industry leaders is to make sure we communicate and build awareness about this category through the lens of our culture and our social fabric.

Queenie Nair

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