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Home > Business > Special

A chestful of laughs

Maitreyee Handique | May 21, 2003

The coolest way to make a personal statement this summer is to wear humour. T-shirt companies of all stripes, including those started by microbiologists, textile tycoons, lingerie manufacturers, freelance cartoonists and advertising professionals, are taking the plunge to cash in on street gags.

Among the new brands launched in the last one year are Tubelight, Off-beat, Kali and Karma. Add to these brands like Moral Fibre and Barking Dog, launched a couple of years back and you've set the stage for a highly competitive market.

If Moral Fibre has launched design numbers on Sardar jokes this season, Off-beat is capitalising on the irreverent with its 'Hell is full, so I'm back' slogans.

In the largely disorganised T-shirt industry, companies are weary of sharing numbers.

But a study done by KSA Technopak for Images, a fashion business magazine, puts the market size at Rs 1,250 crore and total quantity at 77 million pieces.

Says garment consultancy Apparel Production & Management System's director Abhay Gupta: "The T-shirt market is growing by 25 per cent annually."

"It's like the gold rush syndrome. Or like the Internet boom," says Ranjiv Ramchandani of Tantra, one of the first companies to creatively capitalise on humour.

Launched in 1997, it went on to establish its Barking Dog brand in 2000. Today, it has separate humour ranges for men, women and children. With its product retailing in 22 cities, the icrobiologist - turned - entrepreneur is now looking for franchisees to open Tantra outlets in Europe.

Its brand proposition? To capitalise on the life of the brown race as opposed to big American pop icons. And its humour will remain provocative.

Talking of mottos, Mumbai-based Moral Fibre's promoter Ankur Patodia says that his T-shirts are "television for the body. Like a TV, T-shirt is an accessible and communicative medium. Our humour is friendly and not about angst."

Launched in 1999, Moral Fibre is a sister company of the Rs 400 crore (Rs 4 billion) GTN Textiles.

"We currently have capacity to produce 5,000 T-shirts a month and are set to supply to large departmental stores."

Its ambition? To produce 20,000 T-shirts a month. Moral Fibre has recently hired KSA Technopak to do a market study.

Freelance cartoonist Mangal Kothari, who set up his company Off-beat a year ago has entered into a production tie-up with the Italian company LiberBlue Enterprise that markets its products under the Liberty World lingerie brand.

"Our main target is college students and people who tend not to be depressed," he says. With the aim to produce 20,000 T-shirts a week, Kothari says, the market is "large and big enough to justify our production and plans. We plan to expand to UP, HP and Punjab soon."

The Tirupur-based company also makes customised T-shirts for the Cafe Coffee Day chain.

Mumbai-based Tubelight Clothing Company also relies on the anti-establishment stance to sell.

"Our slogans take a while to understand but make you smile," says Ramesh Hingorani, who set up the company along with budding cartoonists Amer Jaleel and Narender Yadav.

It plans to enter the Delhi and Chennai markets soon and produces about 3,000 T-shirts a month. While Moral Fibre prefers to advertise its products at college fests, Off-beat hopes the wearers will be brand ambassadors.

As big ideas translate into big bucks and competition heats up, it's also getting tougher to be funny.

Says Ramchandani, whose products are worn by the likes of Paul McCartney and Sting, "We receive at least 1,000 designs from people every week, but printing all of them will dilute the quality of the brand."

But right now, it's the anti-brand formula that's making them laugh all the way to the bank.

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