Weaving Ethnic Indian Fashion Experiences

The timeless art of selling ‘ethnic fashion’ in India
Posted April 3, 2018

Indian ethnic fashion, made popular across the world by Bollywood films and “big fat” Indian weddings, is revered for its elegant vibrancy and detailing. India’s art-rich diversity, emerging from 36 states, is worn in traditional colors and styles based on the culture of its origin region. Though overwhelming in range, there are four types: wrapped garments (of which saree is a part), salwaar kameez, churidaar and the traditional skirt and blouse for women. For men there are five:, the dhoti, panche, sherwani, bandhgala and the angarkha, with interesting headgear to complete each ”desi” style statement.

The festival-packed Indian calendar ensures Indian ethnic wear is a year-long need. An increase in women’s economic empowerment and in the workforce has given its popularity an additional push. In the Indian ethnic wear market today, 70 precent is dominated by traditional retailers, which contributes to about 24 percent of the total Indian fashion market, expected to reach 23.8 billion USD in 2019, according to Businessworld.in. The pie is comprised of 83 percent for women’s, 9 percent for kids’ and 8 percent for men, according to a study conducted by Technopak Management Consulting Services.

It’s also heartening to see that the pipeline for ethnic fashion in India is driven by over 4.3 million weaving industries (as reported by an ALC India study), adding timeless value with the intricate art of traditional embroidery, printing, dyeing and handwork. I strongly belive that it is obligatory for stores selling ethic wear to extend this tradition respectfully through their retail design language. Here are few that have impressed me with their inspiring commitment with delightful flair and panache.

Anita Dongre, world renowned Indian designer and founder of the $100 million (USD) House of Anita Dongre, has stores in India, Mauritius and the U.S. Her couture Indian wear is respected for its artistic use of Indian craft, notably Rajasthani, in its exquisitely detailed dresses. The store design emotes her love for the regal splendor of Rajasthani-style havelis (mansions) and propagates Anita’s belief in lending patronage to Indian craftsmen. Polished limestone floors with marble inlay, alcoves lined in Indian block-printed fabrics, handcarved sandstone jallis, Rajasthani Thikri work, blue pottery crafted of Jaipur, and wall fresco paintings are used to create an ambience of stunning elegance.


Abhishek Gupta, winner of the Air France International Young Fashion Designers Award, and many more, worked with famous couturier Rohit Bal before venturing out on his own. He is known for creating textures on fabric using traditional and modern techniques to achieve a look that is unique and contemporary, yet deeply rooted in Indian craft. Master-crafted appliqué and cutwork that are as fine as prints, and exquisite quilting, are some of his trademark techniques. The store design celebrates Abhishek’s craftsmanship through the architecture and visual language that renders depth and spatial intensity. A unique “floating cube,” fitted with a state-of-the-art sound system, presents a surprise element for the lover of luxurious living. The designer’s technique of incorporating gold foiling into the interior design evokes an understated premium experience in this boutique environment.

Neeru’s, a leading ethnic wear chain of 52 stores in India and the U.A.E., has grown from the humble beginnings of a tailoring and embroidery unit to a brand that is synonymous with ethnic fashion. Bollywood stars endorse its dominant range of inclusive and popular ethnic fashion, which may explain the launch of their new designer studio in the city home to many Bollywood film stars, Mumbai. The store design is intended to empathize with the emotions a bride goes through when selecting her wedding dress with her family. The setting is articulated with traditional materials influenced strongly from Indian craft techniques, like stone engraving, inlays and temple metal work. The store revolves around a central space inspired from the ritual of giving wedding vows, or pheras, which are usually said around a fire at a typical Indian wedding. This reference adds a precious emotional touch to the store experience.

In conclusion, I am proud and happy to say that the qualitative and quantitative growth of the Indian ethnic wear market proves that this market is committed to successfully stand the test of relevancy, acceptability and popularity across the globe in today’s constantly upgraded new age context.

Surender has more than two decades of experience in the Indian retail industry in retail strategy, store design, planning and development, retail marketing, visual merchandising, writing and academia. He’s held senior positions at leading retailers like Shoppers Stop, Reliance Retail, Mahindra Retail and as a senior retail consultant working with leading retailers and brands in India. Reach him at surenderg.retail@gmail.com.