If one goes by a report by BoF(Business of fashion) and the McKinsey Global Fashion Index (MGFI), there is a high possibility of a large number of global fashion companies going bankrupt in the coming 12-18 months.
Fashion stores across the country and the world, employing hundreds of thousands of workers, are temporarily shuttered in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown. The old inventory and the summer-spring season stocks are piled up with things unlikely to look up even in the post-pandemic world — when the fashion industry would be mopping up its losses while dealing with a plummeted demand.
Designer Payal Khandwala echoes the fears of many when she says “with retail (physical stores) being shut, labels without deep pockets will not be able to sustain rents and payment of employees beyond a month or two.”
With luxury sales coming to a standstill, fashion designers are trying to fathom the shift in consumer behaviour in the months to come as they stay home, and how to reinvent themselves to stay relevant post this humanitarian and financial crisis.
Designer Tarun Tahilani says he feels people are going to consume differently, or may very well not consume at all, as a result of being deeply shaken by this collective crisis. “I dedicate a large part of my days in strategising and thinking of the ways in which we can reinvent the way in which we do things.”
Weathering the storm won’t be easy given the uncertainty but he said he believes digital is the way forward and “we are collectively working on how to offer a different experience through various platforms”.
Designer Amit Aggarwal, who recently got done with the Lakme Fashion Week, says how he had to let go off major bookings for the upcoming wedding season. Nonetheless, he says, it has allowed him time to focus on the restructuring of the organisation, and understand his workers, their likes and likes.
“A thorough feedback process has taken place where we asked the employees as to what suits them best and what doesn’t. I believe giving them responsibilities they are keen on will certainly help navigate the crisis,” Aggarwal says.
He says his brand is now restructuring its ‘product mix, which means it is looking at products loved by consumers and also products that aren’t the USP of its brand. This is being done to keep a tab on the inventory so that we do not produce what is not needed.”
Khandwala says she is looking at sustainability by getting rid of excess, consolidating expenses and minimising costs. “This will be the key in trying to keep the business afloat in these financially trying times. Many designers might have t o rethink if their product will still be relevant.”
As they say, growth only happens when you are uncomfortable,Tahiliani says: “The only way to be at the moment is to reinvent, analyse and take this time to create ways to stay relevant. It is really hard to say when and how terribly this will end but I think the most important thing to do is to keep your passion alive even during the bleak times.”
For an industry that functions on close interactions, the shift to social distancing norms has surely shaken things. The usual way of working – physical stores, events and shows – isn’t happening, forcing people to think it’s just the right time to open up to change and adopt technology as they work from home.
Neeta Lulla says “Designers will have to switch strategies by selling online through social media platforms such as Instagram, online stores and e-commerce websites. Secondly, designers have to create affordable clothing, which can be sold easily post the lockdown.”
Khandwala, however, believes the industry was already on the brink of change. “In my opinion, the old method was already setting fatigue in the way fashion was reaching out to consumers and the audience at large.”
She also stresses on making season-less designs in an ‘affordable luxury space.’ “For us, the focus will be on how to make our current product more accessible to our existing consumers as well as our new ones.”
Aggarwal, for his part, has already devised ways to deal with the situation by “adding a personal element”. “Our sales staff is available over the video call helping the clients by running through the designs and colour schemes. Not only that, but they also give out an in-depth idea as to how to measure oneself.”
On asking, why he intends to add a personal element and execute it as a proper strategy for the coming times, he says “the whole feeling of couture in the time of e-commerce can only be made special with personal interaction.”
With manufacturing units on halt and factories shut for more than a month now, industry leaders are as of now dealing with the crisis with humanitarian gestures.
Tahiliani says “everybody in our two factories is being taken care of and we are giving advances to the other factories we work with. We are also providing food to as many people as we can outside the factories. “
Aggarwal says he is trying his best to educate his workers. “My team has thankfully convinced the workers of the factory to not leave as it could aggravate their health situation. We are trying to inform them thoroughly of the dos and don’ts so that everyone stays safe.”
In the long run, however, designers have to bring their costs down as Lulla mentions “there has to be a sustainable price point which will make it easy for consumers to buy”. Tahiliani adds: “We have to lower interest rates.”
Khandwala, however, strongly believes discounts need to be done away with, as “eventually, this will ruin the fashion industry because it is unsustainable and will discourage talent and destroy new design voices”.
She signs off: “Going forward, the plan is to be flexible and adapt to a new normal. We have to incorporate changes quickly to keep up with the demands of a post-pandemic economy, both healthwise and financially.”