The science behind selling a dress to an Indian woman, according to the CEO of Latin Quarters

The science behind selling a dress to an Indian woman, according to the CEO of Latin Quarters
The science behind selling a dress to an Indian woman, according to the CEO of Latin Quarters
Co-founder and CEO Latin Quarters, Rahul Bhalla

  • Lifestyle brand Latin Quarters’ CEO Rahul Bhalla breaks down the “science behind dress shopping” in India.
  • Dresses contribute to about 57-58% of total business for Latin Quarters.
  • Bhalla believes Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities will drive future growth for not just Latin Quarters, but also for most players in this category.

Latin Quarters, an Indian-origin lifestyle brand known for its dresses in addition to other apparel, bags and jewellery — competes with Western brands. With over 16 years of insights into Indian body types, it claims to have cracked the code for providing Western styles tailored to ‘fit’ the women of the sub-continent.

According to Latin Quarters co-founder and CEO Rahul Bhalla, unlike many international brands where the “Indian customer has to fit in,” Latin Quarters curates and designs clothes keeping the Indian woman in mind.

“Styles like bling, sequin, shimmer A-line party dresses sell more than counterparts. Colours like black, maroon, dark shades of blues, you know, any earthy tone colours do very well in India, and what reflects well on the Indian skin tone, does well,” shared Bhalla in a conversation with Business Insider India, breaking down what he calls the “science behind dress shopping” in India.

Size does matter

It’s not just the colour, but also the cut and cloth of Indianised Western styles that matter for shoppers. Moreso, the preferences and other elements differ across regions and states in the wide Indian subcontinent.

Latin Quarters, which is present in nearly 80 cities in India, streamlines its production and distribution based on scientific elements that cater to varying demands of the varied Indian consumers across India. It has collections that suit every specified need.

“In the northeast, the average height of a lady would generally be shorter - so, we have a separate petite collection for them, which is exclusively sold to these areas where the length is an issue. In the South, smaller sizes sell more and in the North and West, larger sizes sell a lot more,” said Bhalla.

However, choices that marry the Indian sensibility with sartorial aspirations are common across locations - and that’s what allows dresses, specifically longer dresses, to become Latin Quarters’ most popular offering.

“Dresses contribute to about 57-58% of our total business. And in those dresses, I would say out of the 57%, close to about 35 (%) would be the longer dresses,” added Bhalla.

The rising demand in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities

According to Bhalla, the Covid-19 pandemic brought a major shift in the clothing choices, with comfort wear replacing occasion wear – Latin Quarters’ predominant category, by Bhalla’s own admission – and even workwear.

However, with the world going back to normal, Latin Quarters is seeing a lot of action, with sales above pre-Covid levels. As Bhalla puts it, “This year, we should be up by about 20% on pre-Covid numbers, in terms of total revenue as well as profitability and the point of sales across everything.”

However, Latin Quarters continues to ‘struggle’ in Mumbai and Delhi, witnessing ‘disappointing’ sales due to greater competition and steep real estate prices, according to Bhalla. At the same time, he added that Kolkata remained one of their biggest markets, along with Hyderabad, Pune, and Bangalore.

In terms of growth, Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities have shown the most favourable results, which Bhalla believes will drive future growth for most players in this category, including Latin Quarters - because of better real estate prices and aspirational customers who are more willing to experiment.

“We're getting a lot of traction from smaller cities. We have six more of our EBOs (exclusive brand outlets) opening up. There's (only) one opening in Bangalore - rest of them are in Indore, Amritsar… just where the real estate is better,” said Bhalla.

Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities have been ripe for urbanisation and growth, being pegged as growth drivers, especially for retail and real estate, by both NBFC Sundaram Home Finance and management consulting firm, Kearney Research, among others.

Bhalla also shared that after comparing their own sales with other brands in the category, and observing overall trends, he has seen ethnic wear being restricted to special occasions like Diwali and Karwa Chauth - especially for the working woman.

Similarly, according to him, more and more millennials and Gen-Zs are adopting Western wear because they see it as a “differentiating factor from their mothers and grandmothers.”

Online: no longer for outdated merchandise alone

Bhalla believes that prior to the pandemic, they were ‘lazy’ in their approach to online channels, using it only as a way to liquidate outdated merchandise and styles.

But with the pandemic, Bhalla states there has been a ‘change in mindset’, with Latin Quarters investing money, time and energy in building online sales channels, because the “future is going to be about convenience” i.e. how quickly a product is shipped and/or can be exchanged.

This perfectly aligns with the recent report by The Economic Times, that stated how “online purchase of shirts, jackets, dresses, tops, jeans, sneakers and boots accounted for 26-50% for some of the largest fashion brands in the country, busting the myth that touch and feel are critical factors in the fashion purchase decision.”

Bhalla also believes one of the greatest advantages of online sales channels over offline stores is the wide variety of sizes. As he puts it, “it's very difficult for every (offline) store to have every size of every single listing with us. With online, we can solve that 99% of the time.”

Currently, Latin Quarters exists on all major online portals and has 19 EBOs, with plans to add 6 more stores by March 2023, Bhalla said. It is also present across 290 large format department stores - primarily Pantaloons, Shoppers Stop and Lifestyle Stores, along with presence in Lulu Hypermarket and Reliance’s Centro (formerly, Future Group’s Central).

While Latin Quarters has surpassed pre-pandemic numbers in terms of revenue, the Indian festive season had limited impact on Latin Quarters’ sales, because of its complete lack of ethnic wear. Bhalla is looking to the upcoming winter and Christmas sales season to offset this dip.

“So Durga puja was very good - we did about 26% higher than our 2019-20 (sales). Diwali, to be very honest, has never been a very strong Western wear category. Winter wear and Christmas is basically our Diwali,” shared Bhalla.

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