Back in March when the novel coronavirus was first making its presence felt in India, the extent to which it would affect industries and lifestyles wasn’t known. With the cases and risk of transmission increasing with each day, many manufacturing units and offices shut down before the government-ordered lockdown came into place. Soon after, production came to a halt, clusters and artisans involved in providing craftsmanship were hit, orders dwindled and sales reached an all-time low. With no end in sight, many artisans returned home, leaving to reach their towns and villages in search of a new livelihood away from the metro cities.
The travel restrictions also meant a delay in shipments and no import and export of fabrics. As the complete lockdown of the country ensued, online deliveries too went off the charts, bringing the retail and fashion industry to a complete standstill. Almost five months into the pandemic, life has changed beyond the imaginable as staying in took precedence above all else. And even with the easing of the lockdown, life is yet to resume as it did before the pandemic entered our lives.
What does the future of the fashion industry entail, in such a scenario? Read on to know what leading experts have to say.
In the plethora of industries affected by the raging health crisis is the Indian textile and fashion industry which together employs 45 million people directly to 60 million people indirectly, contributing 5% to the country’s GDP. Following the lockdown and the shutting down of factories and design houses, manufacturing came to a standstill, as did the sales with the closure of malls and flagship stores. In the absence of a physical system that the fashion industry heavily relies on, designers pivoted towards digital mediums—the only possible way of interaction with customers. While Instagram has been a key player for designers over the last few years, the pandemic put it in centre stage, with leading design houses using it to channel the pulse of the moment. Those with active e-shops commenced operations once delivery services gathered momentum.
For Mumbai-based designer Aprajita Toor who specialises in footwear, the digital model came into function once the lockdown restrictions eased slightly. “We resumed work in our E-commerce and production section in a very limited manner as we didn’t want to put our staff at any risk of exposure. Our offline sales section remains closed and will do so till the pandemic is not further controlled. At this point in time, it seems unlikely that we will fall back into our old routine until at least September 2020,” she elaborated.
A similar thought process resonates with Shilpa Agarwalla, the name behind Shilpsutra. “We were fortunate to have an online heavy model which seems to be working better and we believe it's going to speak volumes for shopping in the near future. We have to find ways to work around the digital world and still give customers that confidence to make a purchase.”
Nearly every category has been affected by the pandemic, ranging from the prêt labels to the bridal wear category that draws in heavy sales. But with the majority of weddings cancelled or postponed (a wedding can only accommodate up to 50 guests as per norms), the bridal wear market too, is bearing the brunt of the raging pandemic. The customised trousseau and multiple fittings are now replaced by virtual meetings with the designers, a situation likely to continue as social distancing remains of utmost importance and small, intimate ceremonies replace the big fat Indian wedding.
Once unthought of, customised masks have become a crucial go-to accessory in the fashion industry, with multiple labels now making them available to the customers. Designer Shilpa Agarwalla has been among the ones to witness the demand firsthand. “The pandemic has eroded consumer confidence and spendings quite significantly and like most of the fashion retailers, we too have been impacted quite adversely. The only silver lining is that we are now starting to see some movement in business, recently given the demands of people who have changed as per the situation. We have seen a sudden demand for matching masks to their Jutti's and outfits for lockdown weddings, which led us to start manufacturing & supplying the same.”
The hope for reopening of the bridal market continues to stay. As Aprajita Toor elaborates—“We understand that the new normal would be very different but we are positive that a wedding—whether celebrated in a garden or over a video call—will rekindle the need to dress up and that the need to capture those memories will continue to remain important. We are already seeing increased orders for our prêt collections and hope to reach pre-COVID levels by October 2020. The bridal & festive season shopping usually begins around August and we are hopeful that our regular customers will be soon picking up their favourite pairs from us.”
The migration which succeeded the lockdown in India led to one of the biggest crises seen in current times, with the majority of the workforce leaving to their native places, a challenge most businesses are facing. “Many of our workers and vendors have gone back to their home states resulting in loss of manpower at this moment. We, like most businesses, will need to rebuild the workplace given the recent migration that happened,” says Shilpa Agarwalla.
However, the designer is positive about the outcome when it comes to a sustainable future. "Re-use and re-style are key aspects to focus on. Moving ahead, sustainable and smart shopping is going to lead.” Industry veteran Neeta Lulla, who recently joined The Academy Awards’ voting body is optimistic about reuse catching up. “While reminiscing about the past, there will be a unique representation of our future for some time. Every challenge now is a shift into the potential of a new creative paradigm. Certain classics that are comfortable will always stay. The focus on craft weaves and art, our heritage, will be on the forefront of design and need. Reusability will be a keyword along with price sensitivity and responsible buying, as fashion leans towards the classics and the multi-purpose.”
Only the coming months will shed light on a long-term process to be followed by the fashion industry. As Neeta Lulla concludes, “With fashion buckling up to changing demand, it is a new avenue for fresh dimensions of design."
Featured Image: Instagram
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