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Fashion industry ponders bleak future post lockdown, experts say COVID-19 will set back the industry by 10 years

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Walking the runway to success till just a few months ago, the Indian fashion industry is now reevaluating its future with insiders saying the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown have set the clock back at least a decade. As the lockdown continues and incomes shrivel, elaborate trousseaus, designer gowns and bespoke suits running into several lakhs of rupees have plunged in the list of priorities of the industry’s trend-conscious clients.
According to a PTI report: It is difficult to predict consumer behaviour even after the restrictions are lifted but many designers believe the focus will be on simpler aesthetics and on maintaining the artisans and craftspersons who are the backbone of their business.
“The fashion industry has never been affected in such a definitive way around the world. We’ve had times when there has been a recession in different countries at different times but the whole world shutting down together is unprecedented,” veteran couturier Ritu Kumar told PTI.
While it’s too early to visualise what the future holds, she believes the pandemic will “set back the clock by one or two decades in the way we think about clothing and fashion”. “It’ll put a crunch on turnovers and cash across the fashion industry. It’s difficult to predict what will happen after the lockdown is lifted… will customers immediately buy because they’ve been deprived of shopping for so long, or will customer behaviour change since the scare of the virus will prevail for some time,” she further told PTI.
She said luxury goods are likely to be the last to really get back into the flow of things. “As for the heavy craftsmanship, two things may happen – one is that maybe people will start appreciating the craftsman’s work and try and buy more of handloom and handcrafted designs, which are more classical and not fast fashion…
“On the other hand, the bridal market in itself will always be there, but I think it is going to scale down to a large extent… the craftsmanship will still be there but at a smaller level,” she further told PTI.
Fashion designers said they are utilising lockdown days to plan the way forward for secure business continuity in the second half of 2020 while taking care of the well-being of their employees and artisans, who have been without work with production and export shutdowns. While there are no separate figures for the fashion industry, the Confederation of Indian Textile Industry (CITI) estimates that the textile and clothing industry in India employs over 105 million people and also earn around US$ 40 billion forex, apart from substantial revenue under GST and other taxes.
Rahul Mehta, President of the Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI), added that India’s apparel market is estimated to be around Rs 6.5 lakh crore. This includes all sectors starting from high-end fashion labels to moderately priced ready-to-wear brands.
Designers are facing a double whammy and looking at huge monetary losses, said Sunil Sethi, chairperson of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI).
“They have to bear losses like most other industries and also need to take care of the mental, physical and financial well-being of the people involved in the process of converting their designs into a garment.
“The business has gone down to a great extent. For those in the export business, even if they have an order, there is no shipping as factories are shut. If the goods are ready, then the airlines are shut. They can’t send it out. Their stores aren’t in operation. So what has happened is it (lockdown) has led to cancellation of a lot of orders and huge monetary losses,” he told PTI.
It really takes a village and hours of labour to create an eye-catching ensemble.
Designer Payal Khandwala said nothing is more important than the safety and security of the artisans, weavers, tailors and team members, the backbone of their brands.
“Our current preoccupation is how to retain all our employees, artisans and labour. To make sure they are supported economically in spite of retail grinding to a halt. This is stressful now but it will be unsustainable if it continues much longer, whether you are a big business or small.”
Going forward, it will be important for the fashion industry to reevaluate its pace, its purpose, the fashion calendar and trends.
“For us, the focus is, how do we best reach out to our audience in a time where people might still be nervous about travel? The key will be to reassure our clients that it is done in a safe and timely fashion, without compromising on the personalised experience of shopping,” she further told PTI.
Anavila Misra, best known for her handwoven linen saris, agreed.
It is also important to assure the work force that they are very much needed even after the lockdown, and follow a protocol for customer safety, she said.
“Tailors are calling us and asking if they can return to work. Though we have credited their salaries, they still have this uncertainty in their mind. We are assuring them that their jobs are not at risk,” Misra told PTI.
Designer duo Falguni Shane Peacock believes the only way to revive the industry is by keeping the customers as top priorities.
“Right from understanding their choices in the post-COVID times to taking absolute measures in ensuring their safety, the industry has to keep their best in mind. That said, it is also hoping for a better future and working tirelessly to achieve is something we should all strive for collectively,” the duo said in a mail to PTI.
For Shantanu & Nikhil, the call of action in a post-lockdown world would be a digital step-up, including both social media and transactional value based methodology.
“During these unprecedented times of crisis, we are focusing our energies to re-think as a start-up company with a fresh take on design,” Nikhil Mehra, the creative half of the team told PTI.
The couturier added that customisation will be more bespoke and private, with limited access, and all safety plus sanitisation measures will be followed during the interactions.
“Austerity and minimalism would be the key driving design tools… And foremost, post lockdown, we will be strictly implementing and observing all precautionary measures during our operations and consumer interactions at our stores,” he was quoted by PTI as saying.
Fashion weeks are also set to change, at least for the immediate future. Sethi predicts that future fashion weeks will become less fancy affairs. That is the only way to implement social distancing and designers will have to function in accordance with a B2B model, which involves trading between two business entities and not directly with the buyer. “We need to restrain fashion weeks but they still need to have quality and aesthetic sense. We will still spend money to see that the right design sense goes out. We go with maybe lesser budgets, and skip the unnecessary hoopla that goes along with fashion weeks. But the B2B business and business of having meaningful fashion weeks for a buyer will definitely continue,” he said.

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