Step into any office and chances are that you will see as many women in trousers and shirts or tees, as you will in ethnic gear.
There is a big, and fast growing market for Western work-wear for women in India, it's plain to see, and in the past few years men's Western wear brands like Blackberrys, Scullers and Allen Solly have launched women's lines to meet the demand.
But the market has hotted up of late with Van Heusen, Madura Garments's premium formal menswear brand, entering the segment late last year. Come September, Arvind Brands's Excalibur, hitherto for men only, will include women's wear as well, for which it has enlisted the services of a "big-time fashion designer".
And now John Players, ITC's mid-priced range of men's wear, has launched a young women's line, Miss Players.
"The Excalibur women's range will have the regulation shirts and trousers, not necessarily in the formal wear domain but also casual mix-n-match T-shirts, dresses, sweaters," says Alok Dubey, business head, Excalibur.
It's the same core product-offering that most players in this segment offer, although recently this bouquet is being extended to capris, cargoes, skirts and so on.
Accessories too is another thrust area, with Van Heusen coming up with a line of bags, cufflinks, stoles, shoes and jewellery. Aditya Joshi, brand manager, reports that Blackberrys too will be launching accessories this year.
As for distribution, most of these women's lines have piggybacked on the well-entrenched dealer, franchise and retail network of their better-selling men's wear ranges. But with rising demand, marketers are getting aggressive in their efforts to expand reach.
For example, Allen Solly women's wear, the market leader with a 15 per cent market and growing 20 per cent annually, is now available in 300 stores and Sooraj Bhat, its brand manager says, "Our retail footprint is expected to more than double in the next year or so."
Blackberrys already has an exclusive store in Bangalore and while it does not have plans to open more of these, it will be increasing the category space for women's wear in every Blackberrys exclusive brand outlet by 20-30 per cent.
The market for branded Western wear for women, estimates Arvind Brand's Dubey, is worth around Rs 500 crore today with high growth of 40-50 per cent a year. That may sound impressive but, as Dubey hastens to add, "It's on a small base."
According to Blackberrys's Joshi, "The major chunk of the growth is happening in the metros, but slowly and steadily the acceptance is growing in smaller towns like Patiala and Bhatinda."
But as Janak Dave, business head for Arrow, which launched a women's range in 2005 with limited success, points out, "The market, right now, is fragmented, limited to the metros and to some extent mini-metros It will take a lot of effort from the industry and a change in office culture before this segment really takes off."