Shreyas Kulkarni
Interviews

Demand is going to come back, formal is here to stay, casual is here to stay says Raymond’s Shantiswarup Panda

The CMO weighed in on Raymond’s new range of anti-viral fabrics, the challenge to get people to dress up and more…

“Indian men are much more fashion-conscious now…” said Shantiswarup Panda, Raymond Lifestyle's chief marketer over a Zoom call while he explained how despite the lockdown and work from home takeover, “formal is here to say.”

The lockdown was tough on the 95-year old Raymond. As per an Economic Times report, it had to cut jobs, rent, and marketing to decrease expenses by as much as 35% for the financial year started April 1.

The Mumbai-based Raymond reported a widening of its consolidated net loss to ₹247.60 crores in the first quarter ended June 2020. Now with the rest of the country, the company looks to return to normalcy during the 'unlock' mode.

Raymond has a total of eight brands under it: Colorplus, Raymond. Raymond The Story Respun, Park Avenue, Park Avenue Woman, Parx, Ethnix By Raymond, and Next Look. It offers not only fabrics but a range of garments for men and women and accessories.

Since the lockdown, the company made available several offerings to its consumers such as video call shopping experience, WhatsApp buddy, and in-home appointments.

Now, in an interesting move, Raymond has launched a range of anti-viral fabrics called ‘Virasafe’ - over 600+ range of suiting and shirting fabrics priced from Rs.487 onwards.

Many players launched it already during the pandemic and received flak, Raymond, for some reason, decided to play the waiting game.

Edited Excerpts

You recently launched ‘Virasafe’ but other players entered this particular space a month or two ago, a bit late to the party?

This product (Virasafe) was always in our innovation pipeline even before the pandemic. Yes, a lot of players have launched the product but if you recall, ASCI had pulled up a couple of them on their offering… People trust our brand and they know if we launch a new product, we would have done due diligence and proper product development before the launch.

When you’re launching something and there’s a lockdown like situation, it’s not the right time because you’re talking about innovation and nobody is there to buy it. We also thought it was appropriate that all India markets open, now, even stores and malls are open, and it made sense to first distribute it before we even talk about it.

There was no point talking about it because some other people are… without giving consumers the experience or opportunity to buy the product. Hence, the time just before the festival for the launch.

People are worried and anxious, a lot. What's your main challenge in driving home Virasafe?

We (Raymond) aren’t assuming this (Virasafe) will replace every other suiting, fabric, or jacket in consumers’ wardrobe… India being a tropical country, we used our jackets only in winters or for important occasions and, therefore, they see little cleansing. Thus, Virasafe acts as a hygienic product.

We want to drive adoption and see this as a long-term proposition from a consumer usage point of view rather than as a fad that will come in now, give sales, and go away. This range will continue across our price and product offering including the different lengths we sell.

Our communication is not “clinical in nature” saying there is a virus and I am fighting the virus, it is in the space of reassurance. We don’t want to build on fear-mongering, creating or hyping concern and then saying here is the solution because there is a problem. Fashion is beyond the problem-solution space.

Overall adoption will be basis the positivity people see, the realism in our communication – you see the protagonist (in the ad) still with a mask and taking precaution and not just going out valiantly because he’s wearing Virasafe.

We don’t want people to drop the guard. All these put together (creative route, long-term usage, and proposition), we really believe this proposition will strike consumers and they’re going to use it.

Raymond conjures images of fabrics more than anything else, worried people will hesitate to step out, buy fabric, get it tailored considering the pandemic?

The concern is not going to go away. We’re cognizant of this fact and taking precautions… Go to our shops, they won’t allow an unlimited number of consumers but only a limited number.

We have changed the interior design of our shops to allow more social distancing inside… for measurement and tailoring, the person who takes it and even the person who’s working behind the scenes… only healthy people come into work with complete precautions.

Yes, there is a risk but as long as businesses behave responsibly and have the right standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place, we all can come out of this and still maintain the business cycle.

You offer in-home custom tailoring appointments but people are still apprehensive of letting outsiders inside their homes, how’re you dealing with it?

When we started this a couple of months back right into the lockdown, the idea was “Can we take shops to homes?” rather than the other way round which wasn’t possible. Yes, we did have this concern that there’d be people who would be worried and many gated communities too will not allow people.

In a metro like Mumbai, we saw the worst of the pandemic but go to the smaller towns, the lockdown had minimal impact and people were out for their commerce, office work, and daily activities. Our recovery in smaller towns is way faster than metros.

With big cities, it depended on people’s convenience and their ability to invite people… some preferred it, some did not.

For the ones who did not, we had a WhatsApp shopping buddy kind of facility where you can call up the store at an appointed time and they will take you through the complete collection on a video call and you can order what you want and it will be sent to you.

When we started this service, people were not comfortable with someone so close to them taking their measurements so we only showed them swatches of fabric and requested them to give us their best-fit clothes for measurement. Once they did, we’d send their old clothes along with the new-stitched ones together.

With people now buying fabrics and clothes for festive events, there is bound to be a lot of exchanges, it’s quite a risk during these times, what are you doing about it?

If somebody tries a garment at the store, there’s a proper SOP for it so people shouldn’t worry about it. Also, we try and minimise the number of trials as much as possible so that after people figure out what they want, they can try it… We are cautious about the number of garments given for trails but anything that is tried goes for sanitisation; that process is sacrosanct and then after a certain clearance peiod, the garment returns to the store.

Technology never appeared at the forefront of Raymond’s strategy but it changed in the last few months, take us through this change.

For Raymond, technology was always a priority. It’s just that with the pandemic, we all realise how important and core it is to the business. During the first two months of the lockdown, everything was done over e-commerce.

We’ve launched a new retail site called ‘myraymond.com’… We’ve refreshed the collection line that’s far more casual and youthful and integrated it with our WhatsApp shopping and loyalty programme. Technology has always been our priority.

Your equity is formal wear, but only a few offices have reopened and most work happens at home and on video calls, how’re you getting people to dress up again?

Let’s be honest about this, there’s a lot of use of informal and casual wear because people are working from home… there are jobs say banking or consulting where formal attire, even during the lockdown, was part of their look. But, for the rest of the cases, many offices are opening.

We (Raymond) go to the office for a couple of days and our attire hasn’t changed. Whatever we wore pre-lockdown is what we’re wearing now; that habit doesn’t change.

The formal wear usage has dropped which also means people may not buy as much but an interesting thing to note is that people’s fit and size has changed during the lockdown; it’s increased or decreased based on their fitness and this is a huge opportunity for fashion as a category.

And please realise that consumers stayed back in their home for months without spending money… Our target group is affluent and they have this urge to go out and spend over fashion and food… Demand is going to come back, formal is here to stay, casual is here to stay.

Indian men are much more fashion-conscious now and they understand the importance of presenting formal attire versus having a proper loungewear in the evening. With such fashion-conscious consumers, we are definitely going to bounce back to normalcy.