It is a special date and Aarti Bakshi wants to look especially good. The 19-year-old Mumbai-based college student isn’t exactly flush with cash — “I don’t know where my pocket money goes,” she moans — but that’s not a problem when it comes to clothes shopping; an hour in Bandra should be enough. “Cotton On has this printed halter dress I saw last week and I can pick up a pair of espadrille wedges from Linking Road,” she says confidently. “The total will be under ₹1,000.”
Like most of her generation, Bakshi has her favourite stores — and stalls — for different attire. It’s street markets in Bandra and Colaba for western wear and the latest in footwear and it’s chainstores like Max and Reliance Trends for Indian clothing. There’s a simple explanation: a salwar-kameez suit would cost you ₹800-1,000 and a kurti for about ₹400 if you haggle really well at the Dadar market. There won’t be much variety by way of colour or size, though: perhaps two options in each, if you’re lucky. On the other hand, a couple of hundred metres away is the air-conditioned Max store, where you will get similar clothes at nearly identical prices. No bargaining, of course, but you can pick your size and choose from about three colours in each style.
It’s not just price, though. When it comes to western wear, style is defined by the big, international brands. But as they are expensive, young women especially turn to street stalls where these trends appear first as export surplus stock. In Indian wear, though, it’s Bollywood and the stores themselves that decide what’s hot and, here, retailers are trying to become the trendsetters. “The 18-25 age group accounts for about 30% of our customers,” confirms Vasanth Kumar, executive director, Max. “Ever our styles are tailored to this segment — 60% of our clothes are slim fits; we don’t even do comfort fits.”
According to a study by retail consultancy Technopak, youngsters in the 16-23 age group in the top 50 cities spend about ₹20,808 crore annually on apparel and fashion and another ₹6,834 crore on footwear. But this study was limited to only the top two socio-economic categories — India has 500 million people under the age of 25 and their collective spends on apparel and fashion are likely to be several times larger.