Grasim pushes eco-friendly fashion, but will the trend stay in style

According to various industry estimates, the domestic textile industry in India is projected to grow from $150 billion in 2017 to $223 billion by 2021
Are fast fashion and sustainable fashion mutually exclusive? Not, if you wish to make that the USP of your brand.

At a time when the ready-to-wear industry is increasingly being driven by fast fashion, there is a small yet growing tribe of consumers who are rooting for sustainability by opting for eco-friendly fabric and clothing lines. Looking to tap this segment of “the conscious consumer” and making sustainable fashion a mass proposition, India’s home-grown textile major and Aditya Birla Group company Grasim is giving a major push to its fibre business. With the objective of building on the success of its four-year old consumer brand Liva, made out of eco-friendly fabric, the company has introduced a new variant of the fabric, Livaeco, with a higher eco-quotient. To match up to the competition put up by global fast fashion brands, Grasim is focusing on offering consumers more choices in terms of fabric and design.

According to various industry estimates, the domestic textile industry in India is projected to grow from $150 billion in 2017 to $223 billion by 2021. What’s interesting is the slow yet growing demand for sustainable fashion within the segment. The State of Fashion 2017 report, citing Global Lifestyle Monitor, shows that 65 per cent of the consumers in emerging markets actively seek out sustainable fashion versus 32 per cent or less in mature markets. “Usually, people do not associate sustainability with fashion. For many, if a fibre or a product is sustainable it may not be fashionable. By introducing new fibre variants and more design choices, we want to tell the buyers that sustainable can be fashionable too,” says Manohar Samuel, senior president, marketing at Grasim Industries Ltd.

The company has put the learnings and consumer insight gleaned from its global and Indian consumers to come up with the Livaeco line. The textile major notes that consumers in Europe and United States are far more aware about the existence and the need to adopt sustainable fashion. Its internal research in India shows that only 2 per cent of the consumers talk about sustainability in a passionate way. They go out of their way to purchase sustainable products. In the true sense they are the evangelists of sustainable fashion. Then there is another large section of buyers, almost 40 per cent, who are aware about climate and environment-centred causes/events. They want to adopt sustainable clothing but are clueless as to how they could go about it.

Rutu Mody-Kamdar, founder-director, Jigsaw Brand Consultants, says, “Sustainable fashion is a small market. It has niche players like Nicobar and Gummy Bear. However, going forward it’s a segment that holds huge potential. That’s the reason some of the fast fashion brands like H&M and Zara have started their sustainable clothing brand lines. Aditya Birla Group’s Liva and Livaeco has to compete with these players. And they have an advantage as there is no other home-grown player in this segment.”

The textile major is focused on converting its huge set of captive consumers of Liva to push Livaeco. To help consumers equate sustainability with fashion, the company has roped in designers like Anju Modi, Wendell Rodricks and Gaurav Jai Gupta to make garments from its Livaeco fabric. Making the fabric accessible to the masses, Livaeco will be available in 300-plus exclusive W stores, select large format stores and multi-brand outlets across India.

The company has a lot going for it. Ashita Aggarwal, professor of marketing at SPJIMR, says, “In the fibre2fashion business, the product complexity in the value chain becomes higher. The parent company, Aditya Birla Group, has competitive advantage in the natural fabric category and today it is the only firm which has an integrated value chain. This gives them cost advantage and more control over the chain.”

However, she adds, in a business as dynamic as forward fashion, inventory management is not easy. Achieving  economies of scale is a challenge as designs have to constantly change. This requires complex inventory management while keeping the costs low. Recognising this challenge, the company is working on innovations on the fabric as well as the end-product front. “With shorter fashion cycles and increasing consumer preference for lighter, fluid, skin-friendly fibres, we are now innovating more in the knit category. Moreover, unlike woven, with knit, we have greater opportunities to put up autumn and winter collections. Knit offers us the opportunity to improve market share,” says Samuel.

In the pulp and fabric segment, Grasim Industries is looking to leverage its status as the leading manufacturer of viscose, the natural fibre which goes into making the brand Liva. Globally, viscose as an ingredient for making eco-friendly fibre is used by brands like M&S, H&M, C&A, GAP, Abercrombie & Fitch.

At Grasim Industries' pulp and fibre business division, Birla Cellulose, the total viscose production has risen to 1,250 tonne per day, from 650 tonne per day five years ago. Birla Cellulose’s viscose is currently used in 35 million garments as compared to 1.8 million in 2015. According to experts, having the same brand name from fibre2fashion — the ingredient and the end product — helps in leveraging equity across the value chain but can also be restrictive. “The textile major may lose on the business-to-business market — where other manufacturers buy Liva fabric for production of their own brand of apparels. Would they be open to the co-branding option there? Or would Aditya Birla Group sell fluid fabric as commodity to these manufacturers,” asks Aggarwal.

Some observers say many Indian consumers still don’t understand the viscose-based natural fabric market. They think everything apart from cotton and silk is processed. Hence, there is a need to create awareness, change perceptions and urge consumers to spend on a new kind of fabric.

Weaving on: A look at some key numbers for Grasim 
  • Rs 52,000 cr Grasim's revenue for nine months ended Dec 2018 
  • 20 per cent SF (Viscose staple fibre)'s share in Grasim revenue
  • 3,800 outlets Liva has a retail network present in more than 250 cities in India
  • Global Brands using Viscose: 100-plus; includes M&S, H&M, C&A, GAP, Abercrombie, Fitch