The months of March, April and forward, in a fashion cycle, bring in the new collection of light, trendy classics, floral prints and breezy drapes for the summer season in India, and fashion retail brands get all set for the shoppers who are looking at latest summer styles to spruce up their wardrobes. But with the ongoing pandemic caused by coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown that lasted more than 2 months, the apparel retail industry faced a severe blow which resulted in minimal offline as well as online sales even after the nation stepped into the first phase of unlocking. However, the retail sector has stayed alert and has been devising strategies to bring life back to this segment. The industry is liquidating the piled up stock through strategies like skipping a complete season, or discounting, or rebranding the collection to suit the current needs of the consumer.
Fashion retail brands are working on every possible way to turn adversity into opportunity, and so, a number of major brands like Lifestyle, Shoppers Stop, Madame, H&M, Myntra, and FableStreet, among others have repurposed their Spring/Summer lines as Work From Home wear or WFH-wear. The recent trend or necessity to work remotely or from home has had apparel and lifestyle companies clinging on by launching their own WFH ranges.
While the fashion brands are struggling to shift their inventory, they are promoting and marketing the merchandise as apt or suitable for virtual meetings and remote working from homes. These brands, whose sales had stopped completely during the lockdown as shipments of non-essentials were barred, are now hopeful that there will be a pickup now with the launch of this new vertical.
“Due to the coronavirus outbreak and the lockdown imposed, all companies had started working from home. Making the switch from getting ready for office every day to working from home had given us a challenge to look good through a video conference and yet feel comfortable at home. So, the pattern of demand in clothing had changed significantly. Attending to the needs of our customers made us realise the increasing demand of casual wear and lounge wear. So, the rationale behind the range is to sell what people want at this particular time, that is, to respond to the market demand for comfortable clothing or work-from-home clothing which leads us further into making some stories and creating the collection around it. A comfortable wardrobe has become a necessity, and so, we are creating co-ordinates and mini stories around our WFH collection,” asserts Akhil Duggar Jain, Executive Director, Madame.
The retail brands offering such collections are not only servicing the orders and meeting demands, but they are also offering content to engage with the consumers, which is of paramount in these trying times. Fashion retailer Lifestyle is offering curated content telling potential customers how they can optimise a WFH schedule, stay fit besides styling advice and motivational sayings to keep encouraging its consumer base.
Vasanth Kumar, Managing Director, Lifestyle International Pvt. Ltd., avers, “We have launched this collection to provide our customers with curated collections, styling tips and fashion solutions that will enable them to optimise their looks and feel their best.”
With more organisations and individuals adopting to work from home even after the beginning of the unlocking process, retail brands have sensed that this trend will gain more traction in the times to come with the overall theme and focus being offering clothing that offers ‘comfort while at work’.
The back-end processing of WFH range
As the retail brands are tweaking their websites with WFH popups directing shoppers to browse outfits apt for conference calls or Zoom meetings while working remotely, what is it that really makes up this collection?
The apparel brands are showcasing a mix of formal and casual workwear and marketing this range as the so-called WFH line up. The basic of this range is pairing up of a formal top wear with a considerably casual bottom wear. “At FableStreet, we prioritise on the ‘comfort factor’ and offer consumers a stylish alternative to pyjamas or loungewear, and we are marketing them as such. This has become a popular category in the current times and we will be marketing it for a long-term period. As mentioned, people are looking for comfort dressing and have switched to easy pieces such as sustainable styles, antimicrobial clothing, pieces which are easy to take care of, etc. as opposed to luxury, occasion wear. In terms of the products, we are offering breezy dresses, tops, culottes, wide leg pants, etc. And preferable fabrics at FableStreet include breathable and summer-friendly cottons, linens, and we are also introducing knitwear which is easy to manage and machine-washable,” maintains Ayushi Gudwani, Founder & CEO, FableStreet.
The WFH range basically focuses on ‘above the desk’ look and it is imperative to have a workwear top that can be paired up with comfortable bottoms. The idea is to offer loungewear looks and while doing so, including styles that are smart enough for conference video calls. Akhil Duggar Jain says, “A work from home outfit would feel cozy and also look good at the same time. You’ll feel comfortable and look put together all at the same time, making it the perfect outfit if you need to jump on a video call for work. Soft knitted fabrics, pale tones and luminosity for casualwear with freshened high impact colours are the priorities for this collection. Smart clean loungewear or smarter casual clothes would be a happy medium. For an outfit that promises, we think hoodies paired with comfortable sweat pants are both functional and comfortable in equal measures.”
While the range is all about comfort and soothing nature, it is a curation of all the styles that are currently trending across categories. Vasanth Kumar shares, “The WFH collection is all about utility as well as versatility. The collection also showcases trends that are popular during this time of the year, like linen, and gives customers the freedom to choose across casualwear, activewear, loungewear, contemporary ethnicwear, everyday essentials, westernwear and more. We have amplified this range in the ‘Work-From-Home’ journal on our website (lifestylestores.com), blog and social media. This is one such initiative to keep our customers engaged and aware of how to incorporate the latest trends and styles in their looks.” Lifestyle is also sharing the curated collection through push notifications, making it easily accessible.
Is it viable?
Even as the retail brands are launching and rebranding their merchandise as WFH collections on their websites along with styling tips on social media, websites, etc., how feasible is this for the retailers? Profit making and revenue generation are the ultimate goals in retail or any business. While it’s too early for this collection to generate considerable amount of profits, retail brands unanimously opined that the WFH range is the need of the hour and would be a good revenue generator in the times to come.
“We have been getting queries regarding WFH styles. WFH will become a potential category over the next year, as it is currently a crucial situation. However, it is hard to indicate sales or revenue at the moment, but as a category and as a brand, we will do it due to its relevance,” avers Ayushi Gudwani. There has been almost 2-3 times surge in organic searches for categories like shorts and comfort wear on Myntra, which shows the strong intent of consumers in these segments currently.
The WFH collection targets men and women working from home – be it from corporate or creative sector. “Our product would appeal to a variety of customers and we don’t dispute that. Our target consumer is fashion forward and wants to make work from home days a little comfier. Be it the working women or college goers, everybody needs to look up to date with a fun loungewear option or a casual outfit smart enough for that 9 am video call with your boss or professor,” says Akhil Duggar Jain. Priced nominally for the discerning, the WFH range is a good bet for a time when apparel is falling on the bottom tier of the pyramid.
What’s the future of WFH line?
For now, the WFH category is being looked at as a contingency plan for now when majority of offices are still shut and people are working remotely even as retail firms believe that this will become a part of the brand’s offerings permanently, given that working remotely would become a way of life in the coming months.
Vasanth Kumar agrees, “The work from home trend is here to stay and it will continue to evolve with the customers’ growing needs. This collection is quite promising and would continue to give consumers an increased sense of comfort and style at the same time.”
Other brands like Puma, Limeroad, Koovs, as also Amazon, etc. are also heavily promoting WFH collection while also offering prepaid features to adapt to the new normal and also balance the cash flow for the firm. Even as the opportunity is quite nascent, it has the potential to create its niche audience in the coming months.