Madhu Malhotra could not believe her luck when she chanced upon a pink and white pair of heels that had an uncanny resemblance to her pinkembroidered white kurta at DB Mall in Bhopal last Thursday. The missionary school teacher also scooped up a pair of maroon flats that day to go with her jeans on weekends, increasing her shoe count to 35 pairs.
"People have a tendency to buy only on Diwali, but I buy through the year," the 58-year-old giggles, having bought a pair of gladiator flats on a recent holiday to Mumbai.
She is not an exception. Many Indian consumers now spend as much on footwear as on apparel and change their shoes for different occasions, helping expand footwear range from formals, casuals and home wear to weddings, monsoons, clubwear, sportswear, adventure, beachwear and lounge wear. They have also helped the footwear industry almost double in the past five years to an estimated Rs 20,000 crore and prompted retailers to widen their footprint with some urgency.
Here is an industry where everybody is in a rush and nobody talks slowdown, which is being felt in most areas of the economy.
Harkirat Singh, managing director of the Rs 600-crore Woodland, says the industry is not feeling any impact of slowdown due to a number of external triggers that include more women joining the workforce, an increasing desire to look good and rise in consumers' aspiration levels. "All these are pushing shoe retailing to newer heights," says Singh.
Big retailers such as Bata, Liberty and Reliance Footprint are adding nearly two stores a week and opening large-format outlets in smaller cities.
The country's largest shoe retailer Bata India's group MD Rajeev Gopalakrishnan says increasing competition is forcing the companies to refresh their collection at a faster rate than before.
Industry insiders say the frequency of footwear shopping has increased dramatically. While men buy a pair of shoes every quarter, women do it faster, every two months. "With fast-changing fashion, customers prefer to update shoes and accessories whenever they update their wardrobe with new apparel," says Kabir Lumba, MD of department store chain Lifestyle International, which has reported 50% year-onyear growth in the footwear segment since 2008.
While women may labour over design, colour and heel sizes ranging from ballerina flats to kitten heels, wedges and stilettos, men sweat over anti-skid, biodegradable and waterproof materials. And a lot of customers are now more concerned about the looks than comfort and durability, says Jacob John, brand head of apparel brand Louis Philippe, which entered the footwear market last year.
Footwear accounts for 10% of Louis Philippe's revenues. The fashion brand owned by Madura Fashion & Lifestyle recently opened a pure play men's footwear store in Pune. Anupam Bansal, MD of Liberty Retail Revolutions, says Indians now spend 8-10% of their income on footwear and accessories.