Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla need no introduction. They have been an integral part of the fashion industry for over 33 years now, and are counted among the best couturiers in India. With the vision to “create the finest”, the duo has styled many celebrities — from Priyanka Chopra Jonas to Sara Ali Khan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. But the pandemic, much like it has hit the fashion industry, has also affected them and taught them “gratitude, patience, resolve and a never-say-die attitude”.
In an email interview with indianexpress.com, the designers who recently launched their e-commerce website tell us about the impact of the current health crisis on the industry, the future of fashion, and their biggest lockdown learning.
In what ways has the pandemic affected the fashion industry?
The effects have been enormous. Zero production, zero income for months have had a tremendous effect on not just a brand or industry but on all those who work in it. As designers we have a huge responsibility towards our team, our people. Our artisans and workers are family. If we sink, they do too. So this period has meant protecting them as best as we can without any support from the government.
But what has been its biggest impact, the effects of which you feel will show/linger on for years to come?
The realisation and reality of how fragile all of us are. How life is bigger than anything we can predict. That we must build a new paradigm. One where we are more resilient, one where as a country, society and community we safeguard ourselves and each other to be better prepared for a crisis. The truth is that no “labour” ought to have been so fragile that they live hand to mouth. The truth is that we as an industry need to stand together as one and be supported by the public and private sector.
What steps do you feel the industry should take to tide over the pandemic?
We will all have to restructure our practices and processes to once again achieve financial solvency. This means cutting back on all non-essential expenditure. It means keeping aside funds for future emergencies. It means ensuring we focus on creating the finest, at sticking to what we do best. Indians are extremely positive as consumers. They bounce back after even the hardest fall. So will fashion, as we rediscover our appetite for beauty and celebration.
We also feel it is a time for all players to support each other. The government via tax rebates and funding. Landlords by reducing rents to allow brick and mortar retail, factories, etc, to continue to stay open.
This is a crisis of epic proportions. It needs us to act as a community, across the board.
You recently launched an e-commerce website. Is this your way of reaching out to your customers who have been confined to their homes due to the pandemic? What hygiene protocols have you adopted?
Our luxe pret label, Gulabo by Abu Sandeep is now available on its e-commerce website, http://www.gulabobyabusandeep.com. It is a deliciously stylish label, comprising separates that can be bought alone or mixed with other pieces. From casual to occasion wear, in sumptuous cottons, it is the perfect collection for online purchases. The price points too cater to a wide global demographic. Whether it is e-commerce, our factories and ateliers or our stores, safety is our first priority. Be it our workers, our retail staff or our clients, there is no compromise on hygiene and safety protocols.
Do you think physical stores will become a thing of the past and many people will opt for online shopping in the future?
When it comes to couture and diffusion including off the rack, custom and bridal, it is an experience and not just a product one is buying. Whether it is in-depth consultations and swatches, fittings and touch and feel, physical meetings are non-negotiable. And so, while online might be the future for mass and ready to wear, luxury will always need a physical connect, a home, in the form of a store.
What, according to you, has been the industry’s biggest learning from the lockdown?
To build a better reality, a normal which focuses on original, exceptional design and ethical, inclusive practices.
Every garment is a result of many people’s hard work, also reflecting how the industry works as a closely-knit circle. Do you feel it will ever be the same again with social distancing becoming the new norm, and likely to stay so in the foreseeable future?
We need to look at the big picture. And not become disheartened by the present. Physical distancing is not permanent. Covid will become a thing of the past and we will return to creating as a community. Our factories will operate at full-steam. Our stores too. Until then we will adapt to the current scenario.
Fashion keeps evolving, and the pandemic too gave rise to fashion face masks, wedding outfits inspired by the current health crisis etc. What other trends do you anticipate coming out/as a result of the current scenario?
We are confident that people will continue to value and cherish beautiful, original, quality design and craftsmanship. One might buy less, but one will be ever more committed to buying the finest. We hope to see more and more Indians embrace Made in India.
The current scenario has also made people look towards sustainable living and fashion. Do you anticipate it to be big in the future?
Sustainable is a woolly word which frankly has little meaning. It’s a confused and misused term. What ought to be considered sustainable is quality produced ethically. No slave or sweat shop wages, no compromise on originality, on handcrafted, on creating that which acknowledges and empowers the craftspeople as much as it does the designer. And quality is forever. That is our kind of sustainability.
What has been your personal experience during the lockdown?
It has been a massive learning experience. It has taught us gratitude, patience, resolve and a never say die attitude. We have discovered our fragility, our dependence on each other more than ever, and we have made that fragility a strength. Hope and faith are the strongest weapons against despair.
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