Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022

Adapt or Die: The Present, Future and the Business of Indian Fashion

While many industries have tried to gear up for changes in the post-pandemic world, the fashion world has remained in a state of paralysis since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lakme India Fashion Week 2021: What is the future of fashion in India?

The two waves of Coronavirus pandemic not only confined us to our homes, they also forced us to reconsider our priorities. The one thing in particular that dropped down in our priority lists was the way we dress up. Or the lack of it. During the pandemic fashion became something that could just die and exit our lives for good. While many industries tried to gear up for the post-pandemic world change, the fashion world remained in a state of paralysis before it could even try to move its feet or even lift a finger for attention.

An industry that is based primarily on indulgence struggled to voice what's on the inside. The physical aspect of it was immediately shut out and the moguls of all-things-beauty began to think of ways to claw back into relevance. Social responsibility, consciousness and sustainability were no longer just valuable terms to be associated for validation. They became necessary. As the pandemic got worse, this trillion-dollar industry faced questions from consumers, workers, advertisers and financial backers as to why must they even think about what to wear or to buy when all were fearfully locked in their homes. Comfortable and affordable clothing came to the forefront and shoved couture and high-end brands aside.

The recently held Lakme Fashion Week 2021 in Mumbai was presented in a digital edition and it saw technology and sustainability coming to the fore in multiple ways. The designers and brands seemed to pay attention to the consumer who was updated, curious and diligent. Some labels stuck to digital showcases while some dared to go physical on the runway. Indian fashion also set its foot in the metaverse with celebrity designer Manish Malhotra's first fashion NFT(Non-Fungible Token) that included sketches and GIFs of five couture pieces worn by Bollywood's leading ladies on India's largest crypto exchange platform, WazirX and it was purchased like hotcakes.

According to Vishakha Singh, co-founder, VP, WazirX NFT Marketplace, "Even though live fashion shows have resumed, NFTs hold tremendous potential for every artist. They are the future of technology. NFTs can be a great medium of expression for designers and artisans as well. These NFTs are not just digitized artworks, they can be representative of the entire journey of a particular brand.”

The physical runway shows began with designer Tarun Tahiliani's multi-capsule collection, The Reunion seeking inspiration from a range of art forms, crafts, textures, textiles, architecture and motifs from the Rabari Craft, Pichwai art traditions, Chikarkari techniques among others celebrating the richness of Indian heritage traditions. A typical Tahiliani collection with grandeur and drama but it felt restricted in terms of newness and breathability. Menswear designer Troy Costa who presented his athleisure and streetwear-inspired collection, 'Avido Tourista' looked at travel as a theme and inclusivity where he showcased looks that are easy, casual and wearable with less fuss and more comfort in solid tones, metallic textures, interesting prints and sheer textures. Costa’s new streetwear collection is all about athleisure, comfortable unisex clothing and non-constructive patterns.

("There were no bows, no ties with the suits. Easy clothing was emphasised upon as wedding wear. The business going forward is going to want it. We are coming out of a pandemic and we are not going to go back into old patterns," says Troy Costa. In this photo, models can be seen presenting his collection at the Lakme Fashion Week 2021)

The idea of luxury was assessed at length in terms of wearability and seasonality in collections by designers like Anamika Khanna, Satya Paul and Gaurav Gupta among others keeping the essence of the newfound freedom, sustainability, acceptance and versatility that is the demand of the present.

The classic saree had its own special place in the collections of designers like Gaurang Shah, Sanjukta Dutta among others. Textile designer Gaurang Shah presented his new collection, ‘Chand’ as a physical show. A beautiful collection of 40 sarees were showcased displaying a magnificent fusion of Indian weaving techniques across Kota, Benares, Kashmir, Paithan, Srikakulam, Kutch among others.

Shah began working on this collection three years ago and each saree was woven over long durations. The motifs were inspired by the flora and fauna of the Indian subcontinent and the woven birds and flowers on a rich colour palette like gold, silver, ivory, mauve, pastels and solid tones on khadi silk, creates an ambience that transports one to a dreamlike world. The embroidery techniques on the rich textural weaves made each saree stand out in its own unique style.

Shah shares, “Right now, I am facing a shortage of my stock, saree collection due to the five-month gap. We will be back in action by December or so. Before the pandemic, I had fewer designs but during the pandemic, the designs were ready and stacked as the number of weavers was reduced which affected the production cycle. But I am sure in a year, we will be back on track.”

As the collections were unveiled with a personal message towards creating a better environment and fashion's social responsibility towards communities and audiences, the aspect of inclusivity and what really matters for the industry to sustain in more than obvious ways was the buzz at the venue which saw fashion professionals from varying levels.

Designer Siddhant Beriwal who has previously worked with the label Gaurang believes that after the pandemic, people have rapidly moved towards fashion consciousness. He says, “People have become conscious about what they are buying. The definition of luxury has changed and people have started looking at things that they used to have in their wardrobes and become more conscious about buying a piece of luxury as per need.”

He added that during covid, all designers and brands were working on customised clothing, be it for a customer coming from an A-lister family or a customer who comes from a middle-class family doing a corporate job.

“They all have shifted to getting the basic customisation done not only from high-end couture brands but across levels of brands. They are very sure about what they want. They will not settle for anything less. People have also become more conscious about ethical fashion and sustainable clothing and that has impacted their buying patterns. They want to buy clothes that they can wear for a longer period of time. They would probably pick up an 11.11 / eleven eleven denim over a Versace denim because it seems more environmentally conscious to them,” Beniwal said.

(Abraham and Thakore: "We all have been affected by the pandemic in the last two years. The businesses across have developed new priorities. People changed their consumption patterns drastically. We found that we had to be digitally strong and we put a lot of attention into the e-commerce site as people were struggling with the same". In this photo, Bollywood actress Dia Mirza as the showstopper for fashion designer duo Abraham and Thakore during Lakme Fashion Week 2021)

The PR teams that operate as the immediate messengers of brands have moved to more open and divergent dialogue with the buyers and understand the need of the hour. Says Mandar, a fashion PR executive and stylist who works with the agency, The Yellow Dot, that manages nine emerging designers, “During the pandemic, the digitisation that happened 4-5 years ago was taken to the next level and fashion which is a very tactile industry where you want to go to a store and have a physical experience of touching the fabric and see how it looks on you has now changed into a digital space where a designer is required to have a website, is required to be on online portals to sell because the market has become more digital and the accordingly, a similar digital presence is required.”

Mandar further added, “The consumer now can directly speak to the designer, message on social media and just ask them everything about a piece of clothing and how it can be customised. That sort of barter has led to more sales, more branding building. It definitely brought the entire experience of customers and the backend of the fashion industry, which is the manufacturers, closer because they can interact. It’s a boom and it is a new age of fashion."