Sohini Sen

"Often people go to a store, try out jeans, then buy it online": Chakor Jain, Lee India

Recently, Lee held an 'archive tour' at Mumbai, an exhibition of its denim collections over the decades. The occasion was its 125th birthday, globally. Prior to this, the same tour was conducted across China, Japan, Philippines and Australia. The display included installations and rare iconic products that showcased the brand's history.

Lee has been present in India since 1995. In 2006 VF Corporation, parent company of Lee (as well as of denim brand Wrangler), established a JV with the homegrown Arvind Mills. The JV lasted for five years till Arvind sold its 40 per cent stake in the JV to VF Corporation in 2011.

Interestingly, Chakor Jain, who now works at VF Corporation as business head for Lee in India, used to work for Arvind; he joined Arvind in the mid-1990s and went on to hold several positions in the company's Dhaka, New York and Mauritius offices.

We caught up with Jain on his recent trip to Mumbai, and spoke to him about Lee and the segment it operates in.

Edited Excerpts.

Edited Excerpts

Where does the denim-wear segment in India stand? And where do you see yourself in this segment?

The market is growing, lifestyles are changing. People are getting more and more comfortable with wearing denims. More and more offices are allowing people to wear denims to work.

Also, distribution channels are increasing. E-commerce helps us reach our consumers in not just A-class cities, but also in B-class and C-class towns. Thanks to the internet, people are clued in to the styles and trends in the US, thus making this entire category extremely aspirational. It is a very aspirational category for tier two consumers.

"Often people go to a store, try out jeans, then buy it online": Chakor Jain, Lee India
"Often people go to a store, try out jeans, then buy it online": Chakor Jain, Lee India
"Often people go to a store, try out jeans, then buy it online": Chakor Jain, Lee India
Almost 35 per cent of our sales comes through stand-alone stores. From trade (outlets), around 30 per cent business of our comes. The balance comes from e-commerce and other areas...

Our TG lies between 18 to 25 or 30 years of age. Our brand is more urban, so you can say we target the urban youth.

That's why we're present on digital media (Twitter, Facebook) where we run contests. We sponsor brands and events, and also dress up a few (music) bands within India.

We also use a lot of OOH, especially for tier two and tier three markets. OOH works very well there. We don't use TV too much.

Speaking of e-commerce, when it comes to buying certain types of apparel online, like jeans or lingerie, people often get apprehensive about finding the right fit. How do you deal with such concerns?

We have tried to standardise our sizes and fits. This makes people more comfortable with buying online. Also, there is this phenomenon where people go to a store, try out jeans and then buy it online.

In the denim category, brand loyalty is high. People who like a certain brand will continue to buy only that brand. They will experiment with a couple of pairs from other brands but by and large they will be loyal.

So which brands do you perceive as your immediate rivals? And how do you differentiate yourself?

The regular, standard brands, including our own brand Wrangler. Then there is Levis... and Pepe. Also newer brands like Jack & Jones. Of course at the lower end there are many local brands which compete with us but don't fall in the same segment as us. Nor do they target the same TG as we do.

India gets divided into several segments - super premium (Diesel), premium (Lee, Jack & Jones, Levis) and mass.

Our USP is our heritage. Also, our innovation, be it in terms of fit, fabric or packaging.

There is so much of information coming in, and people are constantly demanding something different. That was not the case ten years back. Now it is completely different because the influences are so wide and varied... to cull out what is required is a challenge. You can't be everything to everybody. You have to be focused.

This summer, you launched the 'No Sweat' collection in India. How did it fare?

That is a seasonal collection. It had to do with a lot of insights and research done by our teams in the US and in India. It comprised denims made of anti-wicking fabric (fabric that draws moisture from the skin), denims with moisturising properties, fragranced denims... all meant to give the wearer a feeling of comfort in a sweaty environment.

We use various research methodologies including focus groups, interviews and quantitative research. Sometimes professional agencies help us conduct the research. Our research showed that the feeling of 'heat' was not just about 'sweatiness' but also about discomfort, smell, etc. The collection fared very well and we will bring it back.

For the winter we will launch the 'dual weather denim', which makes you feel warmer in winter and cooler in summer.

Women's wear within the denim sector has grown but in markets like India and other 'oriental' nations, traditional clothes still get a fair share of closet space. To what extent is that a challenge for you?

In India, perception towards Western clothing is changing; people, who would otherwise wear a lot of traditional Indian clothing, are now wearing Western clothing as well. The European and American markets are extremely mature. And compared to South East Asia, most of the Western countries don't have much of traditional wear. But most emerging markets are going through a phase where more and more people are trying to adapt.

You have worked across markets including the USA, Bangladesh and Mauritius... is there any stark difference in the way Indians consume denim as compared to people from other nations?

One big difference is - in India people have taken to stretch denims very easily. I have not seen this happen in most parts of the world.

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