Ethnic Retailing Going Mainstream

Obama was the first US President to celebrate the Hindu festival of light at the Oval office, when he lit a traditional Indian oil lamp and bowed before a Hindu priest. Trump continued the tradition by celebrating Diwali in the White House with Nikki Haley, Seema Verma and other Indian-American community leaders.

Trend of US Presidents celebrating Diwali in the White House synchronizes with the fact that among over a million immigrants arriving in the US each year, India is steadily becoming the top country of origin since 2016 (Pew Research Center, 2018). No wonder mainstream retailers are taking note of this steadily growing South Asian diaspora, and stepping up their game with regard to ethnic Indian clothing.

Macy’s, the quintessential American department store, showcased Diwali last November, with special in-store dance performances, traditional sweets, and gifts. Walmart was selling Diwali t-shirts to mark the occasion as well, if not as elaborately as Macy’s. Though most upwardly mobile Indian Americans make a conscious decision of how or when to wear their ethnic identity in public, an acknowledgement of their culture and traditions sure gave them a dose of validation. Diwali had 2nally come to America!

While this seems like a step in the direction of embracing diversity, it’s to be seen whether this shift gets assimilated into mainstream retail culture. SAI is curiously watching how mainstream retailers compete with the fashion trends and price point parity vis-a-vis Indian ethnic stores, and shopping sprees back home. Or if they can actually become the go-to for ethnic shopping amongst South Asian consumers.