The pandemic has hit everyone and every business grotesquely. For the world of fashion, the problems are no different. “Like most other sectors except essential services, fashion business too were forced to shut down operations for weeks impacting production and all channels of distribution which has brought the full chain including all sales channels to a halt which we are setting up in a new way as everything unfolds, including changing consumer demands,” claims creative director Hemant Sagar.
Fashion industry is one of fastest growing industries, they follow forecasts and have collections planned and ready to execute two seasons in advance. But a sudden pause to everything has had a major impact on the ongoing fashion cycle. “Liquidity visibility has faded to a greater level. All in all sustenance is a threat to some level. In fact some brands or designers are having a hard time staying afloat,” tells celebrity stylist Mayuri Nivekar.
Most of all, karigars working in the fashion industry are perhaps struggling to have their basics in place. “However, I think online businesses have really got a boost. There are customers who would never imagine buying online and are now surfing online all day,” shares designer Disha Shah.
We all know times have been devastatingly rough for everyone. So let’s dive deep and try to understand the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the fashion industry. “The shift will be witnessed after the lockdown, as we had already completed our wedding orders in March. Being in retail we get an advantage of working one-two months prior. July-September is not much of business time, so we are not really considering the loss of orders during these months. Hence, now with new public safety rules, it is expected to see some drop in sales but it’s too soon to estimate a figure,” says designer Uzair Parvez Khan.
Adding to this, Mayuri says, “Needless to say that the most crucial time for making money for designers is the wedding period that starts around November and lasts till June, but, this year they are suffering to maintain staff and revenue because of the total shutdown in event industry.”
But designer Victor Robinson says since impact is not just on the Indian fashion industry, but all over the world “helping each other this time our first priority instead of thinking profit and market conditions.”
While grappling with the ramifications of COVID-19, the industry is heading for a green movement as conversations around sustainable practices and conscious consumption gain momentum. Designer Sahiil Kapoor says they have been receiving a lot of queries regarding the material they use for their products. As we know, this time is the perfect time to reassess, realign and reboot passion, goals and purpose, the next biggest trend will be of recycle, revamp and reuse in fashion.
“As far as celebrity styling is concerned, we generally do not repeat clothes, but now we believe that upcycling outfits worn at events and re-wearing them will be the next biggest trend,” say Mayuri and Abhilasha.
While it isn’t clear when the coronavirus pandemic will end, fashion industry heavy-weights have already started taking steps to keep the industry afloat. Fashion shows are going to take a while to resume and keeping this in mind, recently, The Fashion and Design Council of India (FDCI) through a social media post announced that it would be going digital with ‘India’s first ever digital fashion week’. But when the show is happening isn’t revealed yet.
In May, Lakme too announced the launch of a ‘Virtual Showroom’ with an aim to support designers, artisans and the business of fashion. The Virtual Showroom is said to be a free marketplace platform for designers and artisans to showcase their past and current collections to consumers, enabling B2C sales for inventories that have been stuck due to the pandemic. Luxury fashion brand Prada has invested in a start-up that will create the first 3D virtual fashion show. Such ideas would be the new common given the circumstances.
The digital world has so much to offer us from conversations, connecting minds and ideas to new learnings; a platform to innovate and share or just to motivate. “So while we sit back and re-approach the new normal, I feel showcasing everything digitally can help us reach out worldwide audience and offer the best which will take on even greater significance in a time of economic hardship,” explains Mayuri.
Designers have been showing their collections digitally, but it might just not work for everyone and every location. “A lot of labels are struggling to get labour these days. Sometimes, it’s us who avoid opening workshops due to fear and vice versa. Hence, even if the orders start coming, we designers have run out of hands for executing them,” says Uzair.
A spike in online sales
Clearly, the fashion industry has suffered one of the worst hits. But digitisation and impulse purchases have been the silver lining in this dark sky for the world of fashion industry. Disha says, “Honestly, online sales have spiked up for us. I know it’s astonishing, but people surfing the net at home has been quite beneficial to us. Of course due to the lack of customer appointments and events, we have lost out on physical retail sales, but this has been an eye-opener for where we believe our brand is headed.”
The online sales channels were the only survivors of the lockdown. So the digital experience is going to win hands on. “Online shopping is definitely going to grow, however, I think human touch is absolutely necessary and that won’t go anywhere,” says designer Disha Shah. “WFH (work from home) is a new trend that is smart pret which is comfortable for multitasking. This will become a major segment of fashion purchase,” points out Shruti.
However, for the premium product market, physical experience of the product is irreplaceable. Saahiil strongly feels, “There is a need to merge offline and online channels for a PHYGITAL experience. Digital platforms are a much safer, promising bet and need to be leveraged for a better tactile experience.”
With the unlock happening, the stores are slowly opening up, but customers are yet to feel comfortable with the shopping experience. “On a positive note, we have seen the market sentiment growing in favour of Indian brands and we are hopeful that this will gain momentum in the coming future,” he further adds.