‘Indian consumers shift focus from price to performance’: Amisha Jain, Senior VP & MD, South Asia, Middle East & Africa, Levi Strauss & Co.

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'Indian consumers shift focus from price to performance': Amisha Jain, Senior VP & MD, South Asia, Middle East & Africa, Levi Strauss & Co.

India stands as the largest market in Asia and the sixth largest globally for Levi Strauss & Co., the San Francisco-based jeans maker.  The company posted a 58 per cent year-on-year increase in net sales in India at Rs. 1,154 crore in FY ’22, as per the latest available filing. A key contributing factor to its success is its robust supply chain network.  Levi’s sources apparel, accessories and footwear from over 500 supplier facilities across approximately 40 countries worldwide. In India alone, it collaborates with more than 50 manufacturing units spread across the country.

In a bid to enhance transparency and optimise its supply chain performance, Levi Strauss & Co., has publicly disclosed its Tier-1 suppliers since 2005. Furthermore, it has extended this transparency initiative by publishing information on Tier-1 and Tier-2 suppliers, partnering with the Open Apparel Registry (OAR) to open-source their list and unique factory identifiers for better stakeholder engagement. Additionally, the brand is conducting traceability pilots to get greater visibility into Tier-3 and Tier-4 — those suppliers providing raw materials to Tier-3 facilities.

To build a resilient supply chain, the brand continually evaluates where and with whom to partner to produce its products based on a variety of factors, including supplier performance, country-level risk, quality, capacity and time to market. Through regular factory assessments, supplier training and worker well-being initiatives, the brand claims to collaborate with suppliers to drive improvement on the key social and environmental issues common to the apparel supply chain.

In addition to being a sourcing hub, India hosts a global capability centre in Bengaluru, focusing on accelerating the direct-to-consumer (DTC) business. Furthermore, India is increasingly becoming a vital talent hub for Levi’s worldwide. For instance, Amisha Jain is Senior Vice President and Managing Director of South Asia, Middle East and Africa, Levi Strauss & Co. Her predecessor Sanjeev Mohanty is now the Managing Director for the US and Canada, while Harmit Singh, Global Chief Financial and Growth Officer has also been elevated and given additional roles in corporate strategy and global retail real estate. In an exclusive interview with Apparel Resources, Amisha Jain discusses the brand’s growth trajectory, emphasis on sustainability, understanding the psychology of Indian customers and more. Here are the edited excerpts from the interview.

AR: What are your major accomplishments since opening the first store in India three decades ago?

AJ: India is a key market for Levi Strauss & Co., and there is continued opportunity considering the country’s large population and growing median income earners. Leveraging the market potential over the years, the company has been expanding its Levi’s® brand retail footprint in India. We have established our presence in over 420 locations across over 150 cities. The Levi’s® brand has now increased nearly 50 per cent in revenue in India compared to pre-pandemic levels, making India our sixth-largest market and currently the largest in Asia. We have a strong presence across DTC, Wholesale and e-commerce channels and this strong growth is largely a reflection of the strong partnerships in place and the conviction of our partners in the power of our brand.

In fact, we doubled our square footage in key malls across India to take advantage of the long-term potential we see in this market. A great example is the Levi’s® store on Brigade Road, Bengaluru, which is our largest in Asia. We have also opened a global capability centre in Bengaluru with the expertise of engineers amongst others, enabling growth through technology—with things like AI, ensuring that we grow our direct-to-consumer (DTC) business.

AR: Are you upbeat about the future of denim market in India?

AJ: As per industry reports, the Indian denim apparel market has shown sustained growth driven by technological advancements, evolving trends and expanding market penetration. Denim’s popularity is surging even in non-metro areas, replacing traditional attire with fashion-forward choices. Valued at US $ 6.15 billion in FY 2023, the market is projected to maintain a robust Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 14 per cent over three years, reaching US $ 9.15 billion by FY 2026. This growth trajectory underscores the sector’s promising potential and signifies a shifting consumer preference towards denim.

AR: Levi’s sees India as an exciting market, with over half of its population under 30. Who is your core audience: Millennials, Gen Z or another demographic?

AJ: Our target group in India encompasses a diverse range of consumers from fashion-forward urbanites to individuals seeking timeless classics. From my market visits, what has been extremely energising to hear from consumers is their optimism for the future and how excited they are about the Levi’s® brand and how they see Levi’s® not just as a denim brand but as a full lifestyle brand in India.

Thus, our marketing efforts are aimed to delight our customers through multiple touchpoints. We are connected to our consumers digitally and as a DTC-first brand that’s committed to being everywhere, our consumers love to interact and shop. We are conversing and listening to our consumers constantly.

In addition to that, our collaboration game has always been strong. We have strategically curated our partnership to capture a new generation of fashion forward millennials and Gen Z consumers. Some of these collaborations such as the ones with Deepika Padukone, Super Mario, Royal Enfield and Lollapalooza India, have helped us remain connected with our younger consumers. Our partnership with on-ground events is another step towards connecting with our consumers. Levi’s® recently collaborated with the second edition of Lollapalooza India (one of the world’s biggest music festivals), making a strong impact by integrating personalised designs and immersive experiences at the Levi’s® Tailor Shop®.  With such collaborations, our aim is to be present in the lives of our consumers at moments when they are their true selves, on the lookout for a community to have memorable experiences.

AR: Do you think Indian consumers are more price-conscious compared to customers in other markets?

AJ: Everyone has a perception that India is a price-sensitive market, however we have seen that consumer mindset is now shifting from being price-conscious to performance-conscious. Consumers want to invest in products that are fashionable and at the same time also functional and enduring in their relevance. In the past few years, Indian consumers have also become mindful of the choices they are making and have shown an inclination towards sustainable fashion. If you look at our collections, while designed to be on trend, Levi’s® products are thoughtfully created and made to last. We have used water-reducing technology, cottonised hemp, wood pulp in the form of Tencel. We are trying to stay true to Levi’s® value of durability. It is not at all fast-fashion, but rather it is fashion-forward.

AR: As sustainability becomes increasingly important to Indian consumers, how is Levi’s responding to this concern and integrating sustainable practices into its operations?

AJ: Our commitment to sustainability extends to our sourcing practices in India. We actively seek to source materials and resources locally, aligning with our approach to support sustainability and reduce our carbon footprint. In India, most of our products are locally sourced, according to our company-wide commitments and standards. We’ve undertaken several sustainable initiatives, including a 40 per cent absolute reduction in supply chain greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2025, aiming for a 90 per cent absolute reduction in GHG emissions and achieving 100 per cent renewable electricity in all company-operated facilities by the same year. Additionally, we’re committed to reducing freshwater use in manufacturing by 50 per cent in water-stressed areas by 2025. By 2026, we plan to develop a comprehensive strategy to make our company circular-ready. We’re also focusing on key markets to introduce or enhance resale and upcycling initiatives, extending the lifespan of our products by 2025. Furthermore, we’re working towards eliminating single-use plastics in consumer-facing packaging by transitioning to 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or home compostable plastics by 2030. For more detailed information, one can refer to our 2022 Levi Strauss & Co. Sustainability Goals and Progress Update, available online.

AR: India being a huge market for both online and offline shopping, what is your omnichannel strategy for the country?

AJ: To create an integrated omnichannel shopping experience, our goal has been to accelerate investment, both in bricks-and-mortar as well as online. We are also expanding our physical retail presence, including opening new stores in key markets and investing in store refurbishments and enhancements. The opening of the Brigade Road store, our largest in Asia, reflects the significance of India as a priority market for the company.

AR: What are Levi’s plans for the future, looking ahead to 2024 and beyond?

AJ: At Levi’s®, we remain committed to delivering innovative products and experiences to our customers. We aim to continue investing in Asia, towards growing markets like India, as we see significant opportunities for growth. This includes expanding our product portfolio, focusing on our e-commerce platform and investing in technology and innovation to enhance the customer experience.