We are long on India, its consumers, and economy: Levi Strauss, Retail News, ET Retail

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Denim maker Levi Strauss & Co said it is scaling up investment in its stores and innovation in India, a market it considers one of the top priority for sales growth amid fear of recession in many developed countries.

“Globally, the first half of 2023 is probably going to be a little tougher than the second half. The consumer in the western world is a little tight with higher inflation and high energy prices. But we are long on India, its consumers, the economy as well as apparel growth,” Harmit Singh, global chief financial and growth officer at Levi Strauss & Co told ET.

“We believe our Asian business, including India, will continue to grow in the low double digits, which is really remarkable when things are slowing down in the western world.”

As the world’s second most-populated country, India is an attractive market for apparel brands, especially with youngsters increasingly embracing western-style clothing. In India, fast fashion brands such as Zara and H&M have been runaway successes soon after they entered the country, much later than Levi’s, which opened its first door nearly three decades ago and now has more than 400 stores across 150 cities.

“Growing our store base, and growing our business digitally in India is important. During the pandemic, we took a call to really restructure our store base. We expanded where we could, relocated the stores where we could, and that’s really paid off,” said Singh.

This reflects in its numbers – the San-Francisco based jeans maker posted a 58% year-on-year increase in net sales in India to Rs 1,154 crore in 2021-22.

However, unlike rivals that report retail sales, Levi’s said its revenues are not comparable because sales are accounted at wholesale prices to franchise partners. The denim brand said it is already a market leader in India within the denim and apparel segment in terms of consumer price.

The steady abandonment of formal attire as de rigueur office wear for young corporate executives wearing smart casuals has been a trend over the past few years fuelled by millennials and Gen Z.

Globally, as well as in India, shoppers are opting for sustainable and durable garments instead of cheap and mass-produced ones. The brand, known for the leather tag having the iconic two-horse design, said it calls itself slow fashion and has set fashion trends. “We are not running after fast fashion, ensuring our product is on trend, ensuring we are able to sustain the cycles over time, and are durable,” said Singh.

Apart from being one of the sourcing hubs, India also has a global capability centre in Bengaluru that works on designs and innovation. In addition, India is increasingly becoming a talent hub for the retailer globally. For instance, more than a year ago, Levi’s named Sanjeev Mohanty, managing director of South Asia-Middle East and Africa for Levi Strauss & Co, based out of India, as its managing director for the US and Canada. Singh was also elevated last month and given additional roles in corporate strategy and global retail real estate.

Levi’s said it sells more than three tops for every bottom in key markets worldwide, but it is trying to push more non-denim clothing and women’s apparel in consumers’ wardrobe. India, however, is an exception, as people buy one bottom for every top on average.

“If you really want to own share of the closet, then we need to sell a lot more tops and India has set the trend on that,” said Singh, who has been instrumental in turning the company around, taking it public, driving accelerated, profitable growth for the global retailer.

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