Sustainability in the heart of fashion business helps the world to be a better place in more ways than one. Investing in sustainable practices can deliver never-before opportunities in business expansion and differentiation for products, brands, companies and all partners in the value chain. Keeping the current pandemic situation in mind, a number of fashion and textiles brands are adopting this approach in their business models. Sustainability, along with traceability and transparency has been a key challenge for the textile industry for some time now. The area of sustainability in the fashion and textile industries is being called into question more than ever due to the resources that they use and the contribution they make to economies.
Istituto Marangoni, Mumbai in association with India Fashion Forum conducted a ‘Virtual Panel Discussion’ titled, ‘Roadmap Towards Fashion’s New Strategic Approach‘ on May 27, 2021 to understand the strategies and approach brands are initiating to make themselves sustainable and also how to take their success journey forward in this crisis situation.
The panel discussion was moderated by Rachana Singh, Unit Leader Fashion Business, Istituto Marangoni Mumbai. Speakers included: Anvita Mehra, Founder & CEO, Confidential Couture, Aavitri Jain, Curator & Owner, Teatro Dhora and Roma Narsinghani, Jewellery Designer
Rachana Singh welcomed the panelists and introduced them to the topics of the discussion. The panelists shared the success journey of their brands as part of their introduction.
Talking about the challenges her business had to face during the initial days of the brand journey, Mehra said, “To shape any business, the struggle is very important; the challenges are the steps that lead to your success. The platform which I am running has two main concerns — ‘authenticity’ and ‘trust’. The re-selling business — and that too of luxury items — generates many doubts in the minds of buyers. To sell the product on an online portal, the struggle is real and more as we have to convince the buyer on various aspects of authenticity, quality and price. We also had to educate the audiences to the notions of pre-owned luxury. To create a breakthrough for these mindsets was quite a challenge for me. Going ahead, we had to figure out the challenges related to taxation and legality as well.”
Aavriti Jain agreed with Mehra and also rated taxation and legal hurdles as the biggest challenges for her brand.
“Taxation and legislation are areas that have been challenging for me. Apart from this, entering this business with a younger mindset was another test for me. We were new and young and making people believe in credibility was definitely a task. While opening the retail stores, I had to face many setbacks due to the gender stereotype as many craftsmen, workers were not ready to look me in the eye and listen to the instructions,” she added further.
“For me things turned out to be very quick and in a span of a week I was a jewellery designer,” Narsinghani recalled.
“For the first six months, things were moving very fast for us. I had to backtrack everyday and sort of do everything for the brand, packaging and the business plan. We had celebrities wearing our products and we had to increase the production capacities and even to find the right resources. Hiring a team and building strength according to the demand, was another challenge,” she added.
Going forward, the brand innovation and doing the design developments on the online space will be another challenge for her.
Innovating in a Crisis
When asked to elaborate on the business model and innovations undertaken in light of pandemic pressures on the business, Narsinghani explained, “In our case, adding a digital team as a permanent element in the company was a strategic move. Even after the lockdown and pandemic is over, the team will remain an integral part. Adding more services and prospects on the digital and technological aspects made us more reachable to our consumers. With the help of digital technology, now I can do the developments online; by selecting the designs and producing the one which I understand will work. I can fit the product on the digital avatar today instead of looking or waiting for a model.”
Turning design to filters and including them to the digital collection was also one of the key highlights the brand did during the pandemic.
“Technology is something that we all have to embrace and we need to learn how to sustain it digitally,” she said.
“The whole COVID-19 situation was an absolutely game changing situation for most businesses; everyone had to re-think, re-evaluate their approach. Being an e-commerce platform, most of our merchandise was online, but we still had a backhand office to run. We do not manufacture products, but facilitate a transaction between a buyer and seller. We tweaked our model and gave more power to the sellers. Adapting is critical and we stuck to it,” Mehra stated.
“In terms of innovation, Teatro Dhora has three steps with the first being ecological. We took out an initiative called ‘Green Dhora’ , which allows consumers to give us their old jewellery pieces for us to melt the metal and recycle the material to produce new design products,” Jain informed.
Emphasizing on sustainability, Jain added, “Being a jewellery brand, we understand it is not possible for us to be sustainable like other fashion segments but we have been on the right track on being manageable. The second and third element for us has been economical sustainability and structural, as we agreed to make sure to provide for the needs of individuals who are working with the company.”
Adding Experience to Sustainability
Ever since the onset of pandemic, much has been spoken about the changes in consumer shopping behavior. While initially, the fashion industry may not have been prepared for the sudden developments, most brands adapted quickly and are constantly reinventing to stay relevant. However, the question now is whether this change/trend for sustainability will continue after the pandemic or if it will be a flash in the pan.
“Well, 10 years from now, I don’t think that brands will be even relevant if they don’t take the sustainable approach,” Narsinghani stated. “Of course, a certain section of the market will be going for revenge-buys after the pandemic, but the sustainability trend will not be affected by this.”
For most lifestyle brands, their primary target consumers are Millennials, and Narsinghani understands that this section of buyers believes not only in traditional shopping but experiences as well.
“Millennials are really attuned to how a brand is interacting with its audience. What impressions and innovations is the brand creating to build a connection? Earlier the model was trend driven, but today the concept has changed. Sustainability is here to stay and all of us need to do our part to become a complete sustainable brand in the future. Consumers are going to be more mindful now and one can see more and more brands supporting this concept,” she said.
“During the lockdowns, we started ‘Phone Shopping’. Our team connected with with consumers over Facetime, taking them through the store and enabling purchase decisions. We have also tried to take the entire store onto a digital platform. To be honest, it is very difficult to maintain inventory on a digital platform. We did, however, generate a good response from the Phone Shopping strategy and we hope to continue that,” said Jain.
Expressing her views on luxury brands as a tool of smarter investments, Anvita Mehra felt that the Indian market still has a long way to go in comparison to Western counterparts.
“Honestly, the West works very differently in comparison to India in this sector. India is far behind in thinking about whether luxury items can have a future resale value. That being said, this approach has visibly changed over the past year. Today, if we have a buyer for something, we call it ‘CC Infinity’ (Confidential Couture Infinity), which helps in determining the future resale value of today’s purchase. Consumers today want to know about the value of the brand in the future and they also want to know how fruitful their buy is going to be in future,” she explained.
Future of Luxury
Aavriti Jain felt that there has been a huge shift towards luxury items and the future holds very important aspects around it.
“I am very optimistic about the future and we are taking small small steps in the direction — which are definitely not too far from the future. Thankfully, all our work has always been entered on trends and the current trend is all about sustainability,” she said.
“We are very much a sustainable model. We buy more, we sell more and it is like a circle and being sustainable, it has been a great start for us. Seeing the trend now, businesses will have to be more sustainable. There would be practices that will have lower impact on the global carbon footprint. We have been working with the artists, who are into painting, handworks, panels, small stickers. Adding such things into products would make them a bit more stylish, differentiated and trendy — all at the same time,” Mehra concluded.