Is denim dead? If the trend in the West, and the Indian response to it, is any indication, it would seem so. Or at least two brand marketers, Pepe and Levi, would have you believe, given the latest noises they are making on their khaki launches.
Being hip, now, means wearing not blue, () but khaki – in all its shades, beige, and muddy or corresponding shades -- as baggy as possible. The keywords are cool, comfortable and casual.
Beginning with the nationwide launch of Pepe's range of Khakhi Deluxe in March this year and followed by the Levi's range of Dockers soon thereafter, the colour is all over the place. Two premium brand launches within a few months of each other, and that too, both in shades of khaki, the war for the khaki market share is clearly on.
Chetan Shah, managing director, Pepe Jeans London Clothing India Ltd, the wholly owned subsidiary of UK-based Pepe Jeans, denies that Pepe's Khakhi Deluxe and Levi's Dockers are in competition with each other. According to him, Pepe's products are 10-15 per cent cheaper and are targeted at the 14-23 years age group, while Dockers are for the young working men or women in the age group of 23-34. So there is really no competition between the two.
Mr Shah says that, ''Pepe's Khakhi Deluxe is inspired by the outdoors and adventure. It is a casual, loose and relaxed clothing that refreshes you throughout the day.'' The company's product line comprises loose pants, cargos, combat pants, cargo shorts, drawstring pants, capris and hipsters in fabrics such as micro twills, polycotton, polynylons, peached canvas, tussar and corduroy.
Levi Strauss, which launched its Indian operations five years ago, has joined the bandwagon with its latest offerings in the Indian market. These are the Dockers range of trousers in shades (surprise!) of Khaki, khaki and khaki and the Double Detachable collection which, according to the company, is a great success.
Dockers claims a long history dating back to 1846, when Harry Lumsden of the British Army invented a light-weight wide legged pant that was dyed with mulberry juice, to outfit his troops in the hot plains of India. As the US armed forces began to adopt this material, it went through several refinements to become the preferred material for the armed forces. Finally, when the American troops came home after the second world war in 1945, khakis immediately became stalwarts of American culture. They represented qualities like strength and style and simplicity. From their heavy-duty 9.0 oz. Cramerton Army Cloth to the use of melamine buttons cast from original 1940 U.S. Military mold, Dockers Khakis recall an era when quality wasn't negotiable.
Vivek Raju, consumer marketing manager, Levi Strauss (India) agrees with Mr Shah in saying that Pepe's and Levi's respective khaki coloured brands pose no threat to each other simply because they target different audiences. ''Levi's targets the young urban Indian in the age group of 23 to 34, while Pepe is focused at the youth'', says Mr. Raju and adds that ''Khakhi Deluxe is a fashion oriented brand while Dockers is the original khaki brand.''
According to C S Suryanarayan, country manager, Levi Strauss (India), with the introduction of Dockers in India, the company will now have a strong presence in two rapidly growing consumer segments in India: Levi's jeans in the youth segment and Dockers in the young adult segment.
The Dockers range – currently available in upmarket stores in the cities of Mumbai and Bangalore -- includes wrinkle-free pants, shorts and woven shirts, cotton polo pique performance shirts, cotton sweaters, dress slacks, cargoes. Levi's has 17 active fits in Dockers internationally, out of which seven trouser fits have been made available in India. The range is divided into three categories -- business casuals, smart casuals and active wear.
The company plans to take the brand to five more cities, with exclusive showrooms to cater to the product, by end of the year. Levi Strauss India plans an increase in its retail presence through the introduction of more stores. The company is working on setting up separate Docker stores that would sell only Dockers. The aim is to have 25 per cent of its total sales coming from Dockers over the next five years.
Mr. Raju also says that, ''Plans are afoot to add more products like wallets, belts key holders, caps and socks to the range of Dockers accessories.''
Pepe doesn't seem to be planning many exclusive stores for its Khakhi Deluxe products. It does plan to expand its retail presence though, from the current 70 or so of high-end stores and in-shop franchises and its own three exclusive stores, to 150 stores by 2001. Out of these, 14 will be exclusive stores in metros and mini metros.
Pepe's advertising in India had, so far, not really been focused. Black and white advertisements with a strong European theme have not exactly gone down with an Indian audience. All that is set to change now. A new aggressive print campaign is in the pipeline, highlighting the spirit of fun, adventure, outdoors and freedom. And of course, wearing Khaki Deluxe is the secret recipe to achieving this feeling. The campaign has been shot in the Caribbean on the personal beach property of Julio Iglesias, the classical
Dockers' advertising spells attitude and its cool theme is consistent with the overall Levi Strauss communication strategy. Levi's, has also launched its detachable collection, aimed at trendy youngsters.
While declining to give hard turnover figures, Mr. Shah says that, ''the launch of Pepe's khaki range has ensured that the 2000-01 business plan projects an aggressive growth of 50 per cent in sales over the previous year. Pepe has had 10 years of consistent growth and profitability (it was launched in 1989 in India) with an average compounded sales growth of 25 per cent annually.''
On market share figures without revealing actual numbers, he says that Levi Strauss is the clear market leader in the premium jeans category and Dockers is the leader in its category. Future plans include extending the Dockers brand to include the top metros and mini metros and to further strengthen the Levi's brand in its current markets.
"Our aim is to ensure that the market for premium clothing expands and we emerge the clear market leaders" says Mr. Raju of Levi Strauss.
According to Mr. Shah, the total size of the premium jeans and casualwear segment in value is approximately Rs 300 crore (at retail price) and is growing at the rate of 20 per cent annually. He claims that Pepe's share of this segment to be around 30 per cent. Eventually, over the next year or so, Pepe's portfolio will comprise 40 per cent jeans, 30 per cent casual trousers and 30 per cent shirts and T-shirts.
Truly, the marketing war will only see more action on this front.