Since the Covid-19 crisis began, the shift has been on how the industry operates and revamps. We need to facilitate evolution and allow emerging designers to grow and finance their progression. We speak to Indian fashion stalwarts and upcoming creatives on why it is necessary to protect the new design generation.
Genes Lecoanet Hemant – The Purist, SS’20 Collection
It’s no secret that times haven’t been easy for the global fashion industry. From supply-chain massacre to shocking bankrupt cases, these months have taken a toll on the industry. The pandemic has bought endless speculations on how the entire industry needs to be re-navigated and restructured. But, should our conversations be limited to only the luxury key players?
Many a time, emerging designers form the creative heart of the industry. Protecting the next generation of creatives means mapping out the essentials to make them ready for the upcoming unpredictable hustles. Ace designer Hemant Sagar of Lecoanet Hemant says, “There is definitely a conversation that has been sparked by the pandemic, focussing on needs rather than wants. That pushes an industry, which doesn’t necessarily produce essential items, to reconfigure itself and determine a more sensitive course of action.”
Rethink And Refocus:
Eurumme Jewellery by Eshita Puri
The crisis has made the world change drastically. Designer Eshita Puri of emerging jewelry label Eurumme opens up, “I’d be lying if I said that we haven’t seen a decline in sales. We’re relatively a small team and it was important for me to try my best to retain everyone, even if that meant cutting back on other expenses. Human resource is our biggest asset and we value it above all else. We’re focusing on reworking our digital strategy and learning to adjust to the new normal. The plan is to go slow, weather this storm, and simply sustain.”
The crisis threw a curveball that most designers weren’t ready for – cancelled incoming shipments, delayed payments, digitisation woes, investments on retails and e-commerce platforms and put a hold on future orders until the economy reopened. Saloni Panwar, founder of the label Gulabo Jaipur, whose collections are adored by Bollywood celebs like Karisma Kapoor, Janhvi Kapoor shares, “The industry has changed in a scary way. Unfortunately, some businesses closed, stocks got stuck, people got fired, the change has been extremely tough on everyone. The pandemic has affected our work too more than we expected. We did not let go of any of our staff. But we believe, everything and everyone will rise again.”
Gulabo Jaipur by Saloni Panwar
The antiquated system in which the industry has operated is often termed as a very traditional model. Small businesses were left to invest in all up-front costs from production to deliveries, with assurances for high sell-throughs, and additional agreements for marketing in-store and online. Designers of fashion label ‘Sukriti & Aakriti’ tells, “It’s very rare for the fashion world to rethink on how they do things financially and environmentally, it took a pandemic for this to happen. The pandemic has got sales ground to a halt. Most of the designers in India are small business owners who rely majorly on sales.”
Emerging designers are continuously on the lookout for new consumers, they were unprepared for the shock of financial strain on their small businesses. This unprecedented time offers opportunities for emerging designers who are able to stay dynamic within the changing landscape. Walking on the tight rope in the current scenario makes it essential for new designers to be very alert and conservative with expenses and cost control. Upcoming men’s designer Kunal Anil Tanna shares, “There is a huge fall in demand which obviously affects the entire business set-up. The obstructed money flow due to stalled payments makes it difficult for the money cycle to roll swiftly. Another huge issue is the acute shortage of karigars and skilled labour. The chaos renders very little option but to find effective methods to tackle and sustain the situation.”
Sukriti & Aakriti
Many of our designers have also stepped away from seasonality for wholesale development and are focused on building more timeless collections. Noted and celebrated designer Ridhi Mehra says, “Many big names in the industry are going seasonless, scaling back their fashion shows. etc. In the Indian context, however, we’re doing fine as far as the seasonless trend is in question because Indian fashion is thematic – vacations, weddings, festivities etc. Local, home-grown brands are also picking up pace. Alongside, breaking away from the traditional and innovating fashion to fit the need of the hour has been quite idiosyncratic to this industry.”
With COVID, came a greater emphasis on ‘glocal’ business too. Majority of the businesses of emerging designers are small and simple – they source, design and manufacture locally, and then ship globally. To preserve businesses, small designers need to make a shift away from traditional selling practices to building up e-commerce capabilities. More and more local communities are striving to being involved in sourcing and a good safety-oriented shipping strategy. In this way, designers can gain global exposure while operating at a local level but must simultaneously have a strong head for business and marketing to truly stand out. For designers, embracing agility will be key to navigating the uncertainty of the pandemic, by ramping up online capabilities and adapting collections into more manageable capsules.
Abhinav Mishra – Seerat, Bridal Couture’19
Paving the way of braving the storm, celebrated Indian designer and couturier Abhinav Mishra shares, “E-Commerce is playing a huge role in driving sales amidst the pandemic. Our clients are getting in touch with us through social media and our website. This has been a strong focus point since our inception. I only see it becoming more prominent for my business as we move ahead. We only allow virtual trials. We are providing all the required assistance at the store as well as digitally to ensure a smooth process. Virtual shopping of the couture has always been a facility we offer. We have now started promoting that even more after the pandemic. Consumers are happy to have the personalised experience of viewing our collections in the comfort and safety of their houses. I’m also on Zoom/Google video calls, on appointment, to personalise the experience of buying from Abhinav Mishra.”
The internet finally is being used to its core. Mr Hemant Sagar tells, “The pandemic has brought us to a landscape that never existed. The emerging creatives have the advantage of a strong digital wave to help shape their communication strategies and let the audience in on an authentic brand story.” The earlier systems did not provide room for emerging designers to make mistakes and this is when we as a society fail and miss out on innovation and creativity. The next generation always offers innovative, new ways and by supporting them at their infancy and buying their collections, it’s a way to salute the new generation. Mr Abhinav Mishra shares, “I am truly overwhelmed by seeing that the designer fraternity is coming together on all fronts to support each other. I believe authenticity and articulating one’s thoughts through designs is the key. It makes one stand out. This can be done in conjunction with clients’ tastes. Also, understanding and establishing your marketing can prove extremely helpful.”
Neety Singh Jewellery
There is a growing demand and awareness from the consumer side too. Jewelry designer Neety Singh enlightens, “Clients now want to be doubly sure before undertaking a huge monetary investment. They have switched on their saving mode. I have noticed a conscious shift in almost all the industries where people are aiming to invest in areas where they could seek financial security and stability in the longer run. Everyone is becoming more conscious about the areas of their spendings after the economic slowdown and are smartly investing in areas where they can reap its benefits in future.”
Consumers want to connect to the real face of the brand, they want more than just fairy tale representations. They are starting to question the fervent pace of fast fashion and its devastating effect on resources, the environment, as well as human life and ethical implications of their purchases. Designer Ayushi Kanoi Gupta of luxury handcrafted accessories label ‘Lovetobag’ shares, “There is definitely going to be a consumer-led shift towards sustainability and it is our responsibility, as brand owners to see this through. New designers will have to tune into their consumers, who would like to be associated with brands with a mission towards giving back and taking care of society. We can do this by promoting mindful buying (buying less but buying better), producing on a mass customization or made to order basis. It also means to take care of your master craftsmen at this time so that their next generation has some faith in their craft.” Aspects like ethical business practices, labour law justice, and environmental sustainability are becoming important factors in buying decisions of the customers.
‘Lovetobag’ By Ayushi Kanoi Gupta
One also has to understand that one has to be realistic with production timelines and strategically plan it. Designers would have to be cautious and smart with investments. Neety Singh also adds, “The shortage of craftspeople and artisans also needs to be kept in mind while setting up production new timelines. The entire designing process would be revamped to establish and maintain a brands’ identity in this new normal. With limited funds, it is important to identify the right target market and mould the designs. This could be done in alignment with Indian handicrafts too. Inspiration can also be sought from India’s rich culture and history.”
In This Together:
These boosts might seem temporary at the moment but it would be foolish to think that everything will go back to how it was before the crisis. We need to accept that today’s emerging designers can set the standards for an entirely new way of making and selling fashion. They need to forge a pathway to customers on their own – express itself online successfully and then, only consider investments in physical retail. Designer Kunal Anil Tanna also suggests, “Vendors could extend credit periods while the retailers could offer efficient markdowns to encourage sales and boost the product with promotional activities. Maximum utilization with minimum wastage is the mantra too.”
Emerging designers are the future of fashion. However, sometimes new designers do not have access to information – they also need to understand that along with the creative process, running a healthy fashion business also matters. Ayushi Kanoi Gupta also shares, “If anything, this pandemic has got us more unified and prepared for the new normal. We decided to support each other to the best of our abilities, took online courses and acquired new skill sets. In this same way, we as a community, need to be collaborative, open to share learnings and help each other overcome the challenges of this time.” Connecting with shipping providers, with law firms, with developers for online shops and provide access to a variety of consumers too should be placed at the forefront. Designer Eshita Puri adds, “I think the best thing that we can do is support each other in whatever way we can, even if that means giving a shoutout on Instagram or buying local. It’s the little things that can go a long way.”
Model in Kunal Anil Tanna
First priority shall always be health and keeping businesses running as much as possible through creativity, forward-thinking, marketing communication and of course, optimism. The Indian fashion industry is ripe with opportunity. Labels need not take for granted participating in conversations, panel discussions and supporting fellow communities with thought leadership. Designer Saloni Panwar opens up, “Our idea is to keep moving forward. All we can tell the new generation is not to lose it, stay positive, keep working on yourself, stay updated on what’s new and develop all their skills so that when it’s time they can start with a bang. The fittest will survive it refining all the sectors.”
Banner Image: Ridhi Mehra Bridal 2020 Collection