“This pandemic has overhauled many absolutes of everyday living,” says designer Anita Dongre, writing to me from her Mumbai home. Many parts of the country are still under lockdown, and, like Dongre and others in the industry, I’m working not from my desk at the Vogue India office, but in the confines of my bedroom. It’s safe to say that over the past several months, the workings of the Indian fashion industry have been turned on its head.
Last year, a McKinsey report estimated that by 2022 the Indian apparel industry would be worth nearly US$60 billion—a figure that now seems impossible as factories have shut, supply chains are disrupted and orders cancelled due to the pandemic. The crafts community, one of the largest sources of employment in the country, found itself stranded without a source of income. And for our leading designers, many of whom rely on the booming bridal market to support their labels, the postponement of weddings and a freeze on more significant events had an immediate impact on their bottom lines. For some labels, both here and abroad, this pandemic has sounded a knell.
This is just a microscopic view. Taking from what Dongre said, the past few months have seen a change in the status quo. There’s been a rise in conversations on sustainability and craftsmanship: fashion shows have gone ‘phygital’, brands are curating and communicating in new ways, e-commerce sites have been launched, and designers are countering previously set mandates on delivery drops, seasons and discounting.
What does this mean for us in India, a country where craft is revered in tone, but the craftsperson is often forgotten? Where fashion shows and weeks were cropping up by the dozen and the ‘sustainability bandwagon’, as one designer termed it, was growing without any real accountability? Will this moment of pause cause the paradigm shift the Indian fashion industry needs? I posed this question to 15 people in the industry, from designers to those involved in embroidery and crafts, and asked them for a blueprint on the way forward. As Aneeth Arora of Péro sums it up: “There’s no ‘new normal’. There’s a new pace and we need to get used to it.”
TAKE YOUR TIME, SIMPLIFY AND THINK RESPONSIBLY
For many, this moment has fostered several realisations. Our designers are not the exception. Anamika Khanna’s has been existential: “What I do gives meaning to my life. I’m able to tell my story, but also connect to so many.” Manish Malhotra admits that after spending the last 30 years balancing his work in film and his own label at a manic pace, the learnings have been more practical: “I’ve realised the importance of taking breaks. I also found time to look into my archives, which is going to set the tone for my next collection.” For Malhotra, circumstances also led him to shoot his first campaign and the overwhelming response “made me realise my mistake of not shooting all my pieces before”. For Dongre, changes in the workday have been the most significant breakthrough. The seamlessness of home and work life has led to optimum functioning. And working responsibly has been on Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s mind: “We can’t treat businesses as a house of cards. We need to be careful of scale and keep a check on rapid and irresponsible growth.” Ultimately, what all these designers echo is the need for a more thoughtful, conscious pace. “The need for simplicity,” echoes Tarun Tahiliani. “We were running too fast, travelling too fast, overly hectic and in a state of sensory overload. Being in touch with ourselves leads to better choices,” he adds.
“Consumers need to know more about how precious our craft heritage is, how far it has come and why we refer to it as one of our national treasures. Indian craftsmanship is adaptable and versatile.” - Palak Shah
Brocade blazer, raw silk blazer, raw silk trousers; all Ekaya. Shoes, The Attico. Earring, Dior. Necklace, Creyons. Ring, Silver Palace
“This quality of craftsmanship and ‘handmade’ has disappeared from almost all countries. These crafts and skills are now evident in their museums. We are fortunate that we are actually in the position to buy crafts and wear them every day. Most countries have gone into total mechanisation of their clothes.” - Ritu Kumar
Printed cut-out dress, kaftan dress; both Ritu Kumar. Earring, Tohum. On left hand: Bangles, Inaayat Jewels, Silver Palace, Misho Designs. Charm bracelet, Motifs by Surabhi Didwania. On right hand: Bangles, Misho Designs, Silver Palace. Bracelet, gold ring; both Tohum. Silver ring, silver belt; both Silver Palace
BE CONSISTENT, VALUE-DRIVEN, AND FOCUS ON YOUR DNA
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