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Understanding India’s Ascent: Shiv Khemka

India’s young population, thriving tech sector and spiritual roots add up to a promising future, said the Sun Group vice chairman, speaking at BoF’s VOICES.
Shiv Khemka | Source: Getty Images for The Business of Fashion
By
  • Brian Baskin

OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — China's economy may be bigger, but India has the "secret sauce" to propel the country toward a prosperous future, Sun Group vice chairman Shiv Khemka said on stage Friday at VOICES, BoF's annual gathering for big thinkers in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate.

“We’re a thriving, noisy, joyful, confusing, confounding democracy and in the cradle of an ancient, vibrant, youthful and creative culture,” he said. “There’s some secret sauce that has allowed us to survive and rejuvenate for centuries.”

India's rise is one of the 10 trends for 2019 highlighted in the latest State of Fashion report from BoF and McKinsey & Co., which was released Thursday. Though poorer than China, which is soon to become the world's biggest luxury market, India is expected to grow faster over the next few years, and surpass its neighbour in population. By 2022, the country's apparel market is projected to reach $59.3 billion, approaching that of the UK or Germany.

Khemka said he’s hopeful that the country’s young population — 50 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people are under 25 — will provide a catalyst for rapid development. Consumers increasingly reside in urban areas, with 49 cities topping 1 million people, and are smartphone-equipped, making them prime e-commerce customers, he said.

The fashion industry has a huge voice on the planet ... We need to use our voice for change as fast as we can.

India’s main challenge is finding ways to support its rapid growth, including meeting soaring energy needs. Khemka said the Indian government has set ambitious renewable power targets, embracing solar, electric vehicles and other promising technologies. Finding enough jobs for millions of young people entering the workforce is another hurdle the tech sector may be able to help clear.

“We believe that using technology perhaps we can leapfrog some of the problems the world has created for itself in terms of sustainability” and other issues, he said.

Khemka said India’s deep spiritual roots are the country’s greatest source of strength. “What really gives me hope... is that we’re a country where the material was always less important than the spiritual,” he said. “The seeking of inner truth is more important than the external world. That ancient culture still exists.”

But leadership to solve environmental and social problems is still needed, something the fashion industry needs to help with, he added.

“The fashion industry has a huge voice on the planet. It’s very important to use this voice to actually force leadership,” Khemka said. “We’re on a burning platform, there isn’t any time. We need to use our voice for change as fast as we can.”

To learn more about VOICES, BoF's annual gathering for big thinkers, visit our VOICES website, where you can find all the details on our invitation-only global gathering, in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate.

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