Silk and silk sarees have always played a central role in the lives of Indian women. No wedding, festival, or auspicious occasion is complete without silk sarees. Over time large retail chains started to own the narrative on silk, especially in the South. A few of these retail chains succeeded in cornering a large share of the market. They became destination stores. In fact, they came to be so successful that they failed to notice the not-so-subtle shifts that had taken place with their consumers. They failed to notice that Indian women have changed.
Retail chains have always operated on the assumption that silk sarees are occasion-based purchases. Purchases made by the family for a young woman or purchases made by a husband for his wife. This central assumption is far from the truth today. It is far from the truth on two counts. The kind of person a young Indian woman aspires to be today is someone who is financially independent, someone free to choose the kind of life that she wants to lead. More importantly, there are already enough such women in India today. They are not dependent on their husbands and fathers anymore. Silk retail brands have not yet woken up to this fact.
But there is something fascinating happening beyond this fact. We are seeing the emergence of a niche silk saree consumer. This segment could be small in size, but it is huge in terms of the influence it wields. These are women who we call the silk prosumer. They are married working women who are between their early thirties and late forties. They relate to silk sarees the same way a single malt connoisseur relates to single malts. They are passionate about silk sarees, they have a deep knowledge about silk sarees, and they advertise their passion in no uncertain terms. What we found most interesting is that they seem to be brand agnostic. They don’t care about brands because brands don’t care about them. They are adventurous. They buy from small online stores. They make it a point to visit looms when they travel and buy directly from the weaver.
By ignoring this segment silk retail brands are not just losing out on a current business opportunity. They are virtually surrendering their ability to influence the narrative around silk sarees in India.