July 2, 2009 is earmarked in history. After an almost decade-long struggle, the Delhi High Court read down article 377, decriminalising homosexuality between consensual adults, thus vindicating the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. The ripple effect was an added confidence among them to be out, loud and proud.
MSLGROUP India, a public relations and social media network, on Friday, released a report titled ‘Out of the Closet and into the Marketplace: The Birth of India’s Pink Economy’ stating that the pink economy is becoming dominant. The pink economy or the pink rupee is a term coined to denote the buying power that the LGBT community has.
Ashraf Engineer, content head, MSL India, says, “There may not be a boom but there are first signs of a pink economy. This is based on the premise that a community, which is no longer considered criminal and hence no longer prosecuted, will begin to rise in an economic context too.” Supporting his observation are statistics that claim the global LGBT market is $500-600 billion strong. Although there is no concrete figure on the spendings of the LGBT community in India, his conservative estimate is Rs 35 crore by an approximate two to 13 per cent of the Indian population which is gay.
Blogger, gay rights activist and trustee of The Humsafar Trust, Nitin Karani, who contributed to the report, says, “A lot of young, single gay men are spending as they do not have the same constraints as a heterosexual person. A single gay man has no family or children to save for.”
The sectors that have been catering to the LGBT market in the past have stepped up their game. Apparel, accessories, travel and even books are zeroing in on the pink rupee. Now in Goa, Azaad Bazaar was first set up in Bandra in 2009. It was India’s first LGBT pride store and sold pride t-shirts, mugs and key chains. This year, Shobhna Kumar set up Queer Ink (.com), which sells and publishes gay literature.
The aptly named Pink VIBGYOR is a travel company launched specifically for the LGBT community interested in travelling to India, Nepal or Bhutan. An offshoot of Club Holidays and Adventures, Pink VIBGYOR was established two and a half years ago by the now 27 year-old Rajat Singla. They offer honeymoon and wedding packages and even help you make your ‘surrogacy holiday’ trouble free (though they are still trying to clear the many legal hurdles), and ensure their clients are treated with respect wherever they go. While most of their clientele are foreigners, Singla says that a considerable amount of Indian couples make enquiries about destination weddings.
It’s no secret that the gay community are early adopters of trends in fashion and even gadgets. Keeping this in mind Inder Vhatwar set up D’kloset — India’s only LGBT clothing store, he claims. “Whenever I visited malls the staff would snigger. So I decided to start a place where the gay community could shop in comfort,” he says about the two year-old store, which sells in-house designs like nine-inch deep v-neck t-shirts, thongs and colourful undergarments. Since the first year, the sales have risen by 60 per cent. D’kloset sees visitors from outside Mumbai who come specifically to shop at the store as well as Bollywood stylists who come to choose unique pieces for their movies. Fun fact: Not all of Vhatwar’s clients are gay; straight men love shopping here too.
While there is no doubt that the power of the pink rupee is gaining momentum, the LGBT community itself is divided over the fact that it is a direct result of the reading down of Article 377. A 37 year-old head of an equity firm, who belongs to the gay community, says, “My spending habits have stayed the same.
Some months I spend Rs 40,000-50,000 on clothes, accessories and gadgets.”
However, a 19 year-old violinist believes that by decriminalising section 377, much has changed. He says, “Many more shops for the gay community have opened up, the parties too, which were already taking place, have now become more hip and happening. The gay community is now more open about going out and buying.” He, on an average, spends Rs 9,000 a month.
Vhatwar says that he and his friends meet up for coffee every evening and shop for parties often, estimating that they spend double the amount straight
Marketing the pink way
While there is a sizeable market for LGBT services, reaching out to them through conventional modes of advertising has yet to come full circle. Hence brands are using alternate mediums. A great place to target the LGBT community at the same time and in large numbers is at the many pride parades that happen in different parts of the country. This year, big names like Google, Goldman Sachs and IBM made their support and, by default, presence felt at the Bangalore pride march.
Vhatwar, too, looks at these pride parades to advertise D’kloset. He says, “We visit cities like Pune and Ahmedabad during their pride marches and set up an exhibition.” But his biggest marketing move, if it works out, will be roping in a Bollywood actor to be the face of D’kloset.
What the community wants
Apart from brands that are obviously for the LGBT community, there are many names that appeal to the gay community, primarily because they are attractive and user-friendly. The violinist and equity analyst say that brands like Mufti, Zara, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci and Apple appeal to the gay community just like they do to the rest. The violinist elaborates, “A hot guy in these advertisements will appeal to me as well as to others.”
There are guidelines for reaching out to the LGBT community, just like in the case of any other section of society. Nitin Karani, who outlines some of them in the MSL report, says, “I try to present a more realistic picture to those who are thinking of making an entry into the market. They should not see it as a fad and jump on the bandwagon. There has to be conviction and they should be in it for the long run. But mostly they should respect the LGBT people, respect the pink rupee and be realistic about the kind of potential it has.”