Is Indian fashion equipped to embrace augmented reality?

Hindustan Times, Delhi | By
May 03, 2020 11:14 AM IST

While discussions are on about embracing digital fashion shows, the technology which currently exists hasn’t been used to the highest level in India

Are Indian designers ready for a digital future? With London Fashion Week going digital, the fashion fraternity in India is contemplating embracing augmented reality to reach out to the consumer in the post-Covid-19 world. However, the technology which exists hasn’t been used to the highest level with maybe one or two exceptions. Live experiential shows radiating a touch and feel vibe need a lot of investment. If it’s not fully experiential then it defeats the very purpose of digital medium. Do we see the possibility of a digital fashion week? Sunil Sethi, Chairman, FDCI observes that gone are the days of small fashion weeks in different cities for commercial gains. Given the current scenario, he sees only the veritable design houses choosing to showcase on a credible platform. “I’m personally open to experiment with this model of a digital fashion week, but I’m most hopeful about a possibility of an actual fashion week. Having said that, virtual reality is a new territory for us and we don’t know about the actual success rate of the medium. It has not been proven that all buyers place orders without the touch and feel of the product. No doubt the digital reach will be more, but for the Fashion Design Council of India, it’s not the reach, but about the business of fashion. For it to gain acceptability across the board, it has to translate into actual business. In my case, I want to showcase one season and I’m more interested in retail stores rather than individual customers. I’m keen on the ready-to-wear business as digital in pret may become more popular. However, in couture one has to see the detailing up close like the fabric and embroidery,” says Sethi.

A sketch by designer Salita Nanda reflecting a virtual runway.
A sketch by designer Salita Nanda reflecting a virtual runway.

International labels like Gucci have been at the forefront of the digital evolution - from interacting with audience in an innovative way on the label’s Instagram account to adding an augmented reality feature to its app, where the audience can take snapshots of virtual shoes and share on the social media or make direct purchase of the real sneakers on the brand’s e-commerce site.

Back home, designers like Falguni and Shane Peacock have launched online properties like the Peacock Magazine through which they drive the traffic to their e-commerce site.

Falguni says, “Shane and I were contemplating doing a digital fashion show in January this year and also connecting it with our YouTube channel besides getting a celebrity on board, as our customers don’t always have the time to travel to attend a show. However, we’ve realised that people’s attention span is too small and they are likely to skip and fast forward an online fashion show. At the end of the day, fashion is a visual presentation hence with our online mag, we’ve been doing shop-able videos. August onwards, we see a lot of brands getting into digital space, but that may not completely translate into sales, but only portions of it. We see apps and online magazines as a brand building exercise which may not generate business.”

Shane adds, “When we actually do a fashion show, our buyers and press look forward to attending it. If I send you my show video to review then you’ll perhaps get bored as there won’t be any excitement attached to it. When we showed at New York Fashion Week, our models walking at the end of the show and the audiences clapping - that excitement can’t be matched online.”

Falguni and Shane have been working on augmented reality and introducing features where people can try on their products for fun. “This is our way of telling the brand story. We are working with our team to come up with ideas where we can do a lot more than merely having a model on the ramp. We want to create an immersive experience for our audience. The only way to reach out to the client online now is to be innovative and try to stand out,” says Falguni.

While going completely digital has been the hot topic of discussion for many years in India, the truth is that anything related to the online business involves a great deal of research and investment. There’s much more to digital than merely creating a brand website.

Designer Monisha Jaising says, “Digital requires huge spending otherwise one gets lost in the web world. The marketing expenses are way higher. Perhaps it’s the the same amount of money which equals one’s rentals. Plus, there are other key expenses like the SEO or the Search Engine Optimisation. Besides, you need to have to a return policy for online to work and if you get so many return backs then how do you handle that. Then there are custom duties involved and you need a large team to handle your operations. And if you choose to retail with a portal like an Amazon or Farfetch, they’ll eat into your profits.”

A segment of Indian designers are ready for the digital challenges especially the young design names who grew up in the digital age. Designer Payal Singhal has been in the e-commerce business for the last 10 years. “I see fashion weeks as the colossal accumulation of carbon footprints. If one wants to look at a product and forecast trends, one can do it with a photograph. Even in store shopping, I see two contrasts - on one hand, I see a huge surge of digital content and marketing, with videos and fashion shows and on another hand, I see old school of bespoke, private appointments. In my view, the fashion week this year should not happen as we are still facing massive losses incurred from the last fashion week. However, digital fashion week should happen when people are able to move around and shop with limited travel and contact. However, we will have to draft a certain format, which creates a sanitised atmosphere for models and other professionals involved. I think augmented reality will be a great tool to explore and this is the time to get creative and anyone who pushes the envelope will survive. Each brand should brainstorm with their creative directors about this. I see masks, fun print scrubs suited for professionals in essential services and live chats with digital audiences becoming a reality,” quips Payal.

Designer Payal Pratap aims to reinvent her design house in creative and dynamic ways going forward. “These are unusual times and we need to learn to adapt to new ways whether it is a digital fashion week or maybe connecting digitally with even our wholesale buyers overseas as trade fairs will be in hibernation. Technology and hope are the two things that are helping us to think ahead and transform,” says Payal.

While most designers don’t rule out a digital future, they still want to get back to physical shows. Designer Dhruv Kapoor says, “I feel showing on a digital platform should probably be a solution for now. Other than that, I wish and hope we come back to physical shows. It’s through the 10 minutes and months of hard work that all of it comes to life. At work, we have set milestones for ourselves - to step by step aim for bigger and better shows. One may enjoy watching a live show, but for example, viewing a Prada runway showcase live versus on the web is a world of a difference. Even though you are updated at the same time - along with the A-list media personnels, you miss the 3-D feeling or may be the 4-D vibe. That little element of surprise for the audience or the way Sabyasachi can transport you to a space with his set up. The human touch is essential. For me, sitting at home and watching a show is nothing compared to experiencing it live. That excitement when we find out someone important has finally arrived, the noise the press makes at the photo-ops - it’s all a big fat adrenaline rush and I would love to work hard to make it to that point. The virtual reality is another realm, but I prefer a show with live models than virtual ones.”

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