“We’ve had a whole year to think about the effects of fast fashion and how we spend. We have had the time ask ourselves, do I need so many things? The answer, most probably, is no,” Ritu Kumar says.
“We’ve had a whole year to think about the effects of fast fashion and how we spend. We have had the time ask ourselves, do I need so many things? The answer, most probably, is no,” Ritu Kumar says.

Clothes are becoming a little more needs-based, says designer Ritu Kumar

To thrive again, in the pandemic, the fashion industry must return to its roots — the unique and sustainable handloom and handicrafts, the veteran designer says
PUBLISHED ON JAN 22, 2021 09:25 PM IST

Fashion designer Ritu Kumar, 77, says she’s glad the pandemic forced her to slow down, and wouldn’t want to go back to the rush and bustle of the life she had before it. She’s returned to sketching her own designs by hand, and has begun writing, mainly about her travels. When it comes to fashion, “clothes are becoming a little more need-based, so we are designing accordingly,” she says. Excerpts from an interview:

What are the biggest changes you foresee in the world of fashion, as a result of the pandemic?

The textile business has taken a huge hit. The recession is going to hit this sector hard too. Till people regain the power to spend on big fat weddings, it’s going to continue to be hard. India’s fashion industry is not very large but it does work as a catalyst for the textile world. It is actually a very good way of promoting crafts because it popularises the styles and then Bollywood promotes it, and it spreads out all over the country.

I think things will take a long time to return to that, and they might go in an entirely different direction. The larger-than-life occasions will be toned down. We’ve had a whole year to think about the effects of fast fashion and how we spend. I think people will opt for classics now — something you can pass down to the next generation.

How has your label adapted to the change?

We have designed a collection with a traditional aesthetic that is not so heavy on the pocket. I think that is going to be a key factor now. We are getting a lot of enquiries from younger generations. The demand now is, if we are making a lehenga, churidar and chunri set, the wearer should be able to wear them separately later. Blouses that can be worn with jeans, lehengas as skirts. We have always tended to be classic in our collections. Now I want to give the younger generation, who don’t want to look theatrical all the time, a collection they will love.

The pandemic has also given people the option of keeping to smaller wardrobes — or even no wardrobe. I know people who have lived in just tracksuits for the last eight months.

Comfort has become very important. We have had the time ask ourselves, do I need so many things? The answer, most probably, is no. Clothes are becoming a little more need-based, so we are designing accordingly.

Do you think these changes indicate a paradigm shift, or just the start of a new cycle?

I believe everyone will want to go back to the way we were. We, as a country, love pageantry. That’s how I see it. When we’re dressing up, we like to look like royal families. That urge will remain, but I hope the essence changes — towards tradition, wearability, wonderfully woven saris.

How realistic is all the talk out there right now, of a trend towards sustainability in the fashion industry?

It can be achieved if we go back to our handloom, handicraft traditions. Back to what made us what we are as a textile country. Most of our craftspeople work out of their homes, in villages. They don’t come to factories. Much of their work has a tiny carbon footprint. Much of it is done without even electricity, done by hand. The more we use this sector, the more sustainable the fashion world will be.

What are the changes you have made as a fashion consumer?

I opened my cupboard and rediscovered what I own. The gorgeous saris I had worn just once. The lovely jackets from Europe. Looking at what I already have, I wondered what more can I buy that would be comparable to this?

How has your life changed over the past year?

I have started writing. In my life, I did a lot of travelling — in India, in my textile areas, and around the world. In the last eight months I have written down some of those experiences — where I went, what we saw, what we ate… from Odisha to Bhutan to south India. My story started with my work in Bengal when I was in my 20s, when I first discovered the embroidery workers. Zardozi was so unknown then. Most designers were working with fabrics imported from Europe. On the banks of the Ganga, in Serampore, I discovered hand-block printing. I’m so happy that I got this breathing time to look back. I’m planning a book — I have 50 years of experience to write about. I hope younger people, reading it, feel the urge to travel and discover what I discovered and experience the same richness.

What would you say life in lockdown has taught you?

I was running from pillar to post. Ten days before we went into lockdown, I was in Paris, then I was in Mumbai for a shoot, then I went to Kolkata for work, then Delhi. That was insane, and I don’t ever want to do that again.

I want to continue with my writing. I have also started drawing from scratch again, in the last eight months, as opposed to leaving the drawing to others on the team. It’s been a very creative time for me. And the thing I didn’t miss is socialising. If I go back to it, I will do it very selectively.

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