International brands wanting to break into India’s potentially lucrative fashion market need to fully understand the complexities of the market, from the prevalence of “ethnic wear” and the nuances of local style to trends in how west and east are combining.

“Consumers develop an emotional connection only when you respect and work towards making products that are best suited for the country that you are selling them in,” Anjali Gaekwar, country head for luxury shoe brand Christian Louboutin, told Vogue Business.

One of the best ways of doing that is by teaming up with local designers. Christian Louboutin, for example, has worked with Indian fashion designer Sabyasachi since 2016, producing four collections to date which mix Louboutin styles with local twists such as hand embroidery and festive colours.

And this option isn’t limited to top-end luxury brands. Japan’s Uniqlo, which has only just opened its first store in India, partnered with Delhi-based designer Rina Singh to created a range based on the kurta.

Tapping into “ethnic wear” such as the kurta is important if a brand is to gain a foothold in the market; in womenswear, ethnic wear makes up 71% of spending, with the sari the single most popular item.

Brands should also consider that women tend to have separate wardrobes for socialising and work. “[Visiting] a woman’s wardrobe here is like going to a mini department store,” said Priya Tanna, editor-in-chief at Vogue India.

“The good news for international brands is that there is a vibrant market and a space for all,” she added.

The nature of that space, however, differs around this huge country, where regional preferences are evident and where, in any case, the “rules” can change quickly.

Observers have noted, for example, that more women are now wearing boots and cross-body bags with their saris as they mix elements of west and east in a more contemporary style.

“They’re celebrating their heritage but staking a claim for themselves as global citizens,” explained Cecilia Morelli Parikh, co-founder of Mumbai-based multi-brand retailer Le Mill.

Sourced from Vogue Business; additional content by WARC staff