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Clothing firms see early signs of recovery as offices reopen


Clothing companies say they are seeing early signs of a return to pre-pandemic sales, with consumers stepping into stores to upgrade their wardrobes as socializing and office work resume.

With the pandemic forcing people to stay at home for almost two years, consumers went easy on buying occasion wear and formals, hitting apparel companies where unsold stocks grew. To be sure, athleisure and lounge wear sales did well as work-from-home became the norm.

Retailers said they are now seeing a steady uptick in demand for fashion clothing and smart casuals, in line with the latest trends.

Venu Nair, chief executive officer and managing director at Shoppers Stop Ltd said while the pandemic spruced up demand for athleisure wear, the department store chain is seeing a spike in sales of formals and smart casuals.

Nair calls this the “office reboot”.

“During the pandemic, the athleisure contribution to our sales doubled. Since the previous quarter, we have noticed a spike in sale for the formal and smart casual category. We call this the office reboot, wherein now we are seeing a resurgence in demand for work wear,” he said.

“Consumers are rebooting their wardrobes, to suit the reopening of offices and the upcoming wedding season. Formal, and more importantly smart casuals, is expected to not only come back strongly but also with a 10% growth over pre-pandemic period,” Nair said.

Devrajan Iyer, chief executive officer at Landmark group-owned fashion and footwear retail chain Lifestyle International, said his company too is growing over the pre-pandemic period: “Fewer companies had opened up after the second wave; now all the service sectors—travel, hospitality, banks—everything is opened up. Even IT companies are requesting people to come back to office. This never happened in the last two lockdowns. This is not even recovery; we are growing pre-pandemic. This has been the fastest, quickest, and the most robust recovery we have seen.”

With mobility improving and offices resuming partially, demand for smart casuals was up significantly, Iyer said. In the last four to five weeks, the recovery has been much faster, he added. Recovery was reported across clothing types—including casuals, with athleisure reporting “very strong” sales apart from smart casuals.

After reporting a 40% decline in the last fiscal, revenue of brick-and-mortar apparel retailers is set to grow 20-25% year-on-year this fiscal, according to a note by Crisil Ratings.

“Less intensive restrictions and the much shorter duration of the third wave resulted in minimal disruptions in operations of brick-and-mortar retailers. The sharp recovery seen in the second and third quarters this fiscal, and the expected healthy performance in the fourth quarter, will propel revenue to 75-80% of the pre-pandemic level,” said Anuj Sethi, senior director, Crisil Ratings said on Wednesday.

Another retailer told Mint on condition of anonymity that demand was coming back across segments. Fashion wear, in general, was seeing an uptick as consumers stepped inside stores to check out the latest style trends apart from trying out new sizes and fits. ​“As far as formal wear demand is concerned, because of the opening-up of offices, and with the coronavirus cases receding, the demand for formal wear has been increasing day by day,” said Shivendra Nigam, chief financial officer, Cantabil Retail. The chain sells men’s and women’s casual and formal clothing.

At the same time, the retailer that has 375 stores in the county is also rolling out its Spring-Summer collection. “We are expecting continuous growth in summer and the demand scenario is favouring the business,” he added.

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