What the next few seasons will look like for the fashion industry
It’s felt like a fashion famine, says Sunil Sethi, head of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), a non-profit organisation that represents the interests of the industry.
FDCI hosted its first-ever digital India Couture Week in September, to try and help designers boost business at least a little in the midst of the coronavirus disease pandemic. The event featured 12 major designers, including Manish Malhotra, Falguni & Shane Peacock, Shantanu & Nikhil, Anju Modi, and helped sell pieces already created before the pandemic. But overall, the response even there was much less than it should have been, Sethi says.
That’s been the story across the board. With stores shut, malls closed, weddings cancelled and people spending all day in their pyjamas, it’s been a time of reckoning for the industry. The fast-fashion carousel stopped turning. Wedding wear stayed on the shelves. A harsh fallout of the latter has been a plunge in sales of handlooms and handicrafts, an industry always on the precipice of sustenance.
Watch| Nachiket Barve on the future of fashion
The Indian clothing market was expected to be worth $53.7 billion in 2020, making it the sixth largest globally, according to the fourth annual State of Fashion report by The Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company. But in May, a couple of months into the pandemic, the Clothing Manufacturers Association of India reported an 84% dip in year-on-year sales.
There was time, though, to ponder how to survive, how to reshape for when the world opened up again, how to adapt and stay relevant. “We went from a peak of consumption in 2019 to nothing, in one day,” says Payal Singhal of the eponymous Mumbai-based design house. “That led the whole industry to revaluate the way we were going — the wastage, the damage to the environment. Everyone has had the chance to ask, what’s really important? To be able to breathe fresh air or have new clothes in your cupboard?”
Sections of the industry had been pondering this question for a while. There had been talk of sustainability, “conscious creation”. In the pandemic, conscious consumption became the default. “We were forced to cherish what we had, the way our grandparents did,” says designer Nachiket Barve. “Sustainability is not about wearing a hemp or a linen dress. It’s also realising the fact that your wardrobe doesn’t need an overhaul every season.”
There was simultaneously a scramble to control the damage to the industry. FDCI started a Covid-19 Support Fund on March 28, days into the lockdown. “We selected 30 designers, both FDCI members and outsiders, who had turnovers of less than ₹50 lakh each and had been around less than three years, and helped them pay their workers through donations from other members and less-affected brands,” Sethi says.
The Council also hosted online and offline events where smaller designers could sell their collections at large discounts. Some labels turned to e-commerce sites, which were the one place where there was still movement.
“We took this time as a challenge and turned it into an opportunity,” says Ayyappan R, head of business and senior vice-president with the e-commerce platform Myntra. “Brands like Raymond, Fossil, Bata, Hi-Design, who mainly depended on in-store sales, came on-board with us.”
Buying patterns changed. “Starting in June, we saw a huge demand for comfort, lounge wear and fashion basics,” says Ayappan. “Where denims and chinos are typically our fastest-moving items, those got overtaken by track pants and shorts. We believe this trend will continue, as people remain wary of going out much.”
Myntra responded by focusing on “upper wear” or “Zoom wear”. “Above-the-waist dressing has definitely become a focus for consumers,” Ayappan says.
Designers started rethinking their collections, with changes that are expected to reflect in 2021 and beyond. Some of these changes are simple but telling — wedding lehengas with little pockets, for sanitiser. Others are wide-ranging and likely to stay — festive wear made up of multiple statement pieces that can each be worn separately, each meant to last multiple seasons. Outfits that acknowledge the need for comfort as well as style, like the ranges of kaftans and patterned, flowing onesies.
“It was a time of great introspection for us as a fraternity,” says designer Anavila Misra. “We had been discussing sustainability, mindful creation and consumption for some years. The pandemic was a wake-up call, a sign that we needed to get to work on it.”
Misra says she’s doing her bit by creating styles that are not fads, but classics with longevity built in. There is so much room for innovation when one pivots to this line of thinking, she adds. Back at her parents’ home in Gurugram, she began thinking about new forms of winterwear and created a small line of woollen saris.
“I realised that we generally don’t think about winter classics or working with wool when it comes to traditional wear,” she says. “I had to work hard to make the perfect fall for the woollen saris, and chose classic colours like indigo, red or brown to make them timeless.”
The House of Anita Dongre is pivoting, says business head Yash Dongre, to light lehengas with pockets for bridal wear, and for pret, a focus on comfort in fabrics, silhouettes and styles. “We’ve been online for years. That also helped us endure the storm,” Dongre adds. “We saw a 20% increase in online sales.”
Consumers are pondering every purchase says designer Shane Peacock. “Our machines were running 24x7. We have cut that down. We have stopped creating excess, we are reusing fabrics we bought for sample clothes as well,” he says.
The big question is, will it last? Once normalcy has been restored, how long before the carousel of fast fashion is turning again and the labels are churning out “not-to-be-missed” collections for every season?
“Once the red carpet rolls out again and the weddings restart, we need to see how many people will succumb into returning to the previous way of working and how many people will continue with their sustainability pledge,” Sethi says. The buck will stop, in many ways, with the buyer. “If the consumer goes back to earlier patterns of buying, it’s definitely good for the survival of the industry,” Sethi says. “There will also be a section who will feel they have enough in their wardrobe and pledge to upcycle and recycle. But I hope the rest of the industry, both designers and consumers, don’t forget about being sustainable.”
2021: THE LOOK BOOK
Trends and new directions you can expect to see in the fashion industry this year.
* A return to the classics: The cycle has spun away from fast fashion. Classics are timeless outfits one invests in — typically more expensive than fast fashion too — on the understanding that they will be worn (perhaps differently) over several years. These pieces tend to have a USP — saris with a craftsman’s touch, shawls covered in traditional embroidery, wedding ensembles that can be taken apart and worn one stunning, gold-finished piece at a time. As socialising remains subdued, every occasion will be a special occasion. The fashion consumer will be looking to impress at each event, but on a budget.
* The statement item: This is an investment in a single versatile garment designed to stand out. For instance, a gold choli that can be worn with jeans, a lehenga or a sari. There is a focus, particularly, on “statement uppers”, since the top half is all that’s visible at most virtual events.
* Comfort chic: In an indication of just how much the demand for dressy athleisure wear has grown, Nike, Puma and Zara all released lounge / comfort wear collections in the July-August season. Zara has tailored sweatsuits — cropped and fitted sweat tops with balloon sleeves, paired with fitted sweatpants — designed for work-from-home meetings. Oversized boyfriend jackets have made a comeback. Baggy jeans, wide-legged pants and large button-down shirts saw high demand too, according to Ayyappan R, head of business and senior vice-president at Myntra.
* Kaftans: The relaxed, one-size-fits-all silhouette, in breezy prints, pastels, chiffons or cotton, were the perfect thing for lockdown dressing-down and, through the summer months, brands such as Masaba, Bhaane, Anamika Khanna and Zwaan all released their own versions. Wearers included actors Sonam K Ahuja, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Malaika Arora
* Pockets: Even bridal lehengas have developed stowaway sachets. Sadly, it’s not an extension of the feminist campaign for pockets — which railed against the fact that women were denied them, all these years, just so that the silhouette of the female outfit would be sleeker. Perhaps the pandemic will normalise pockets in women’s wear, though. Especially in outfits meant for special occasions, which almost never have them. The reason they’re making an appearance, of course, is that everyone needs somewhere to stow their sanitiser.
* Necks, sleeves and shoulders: Sleeves had been getting bigger and poufier. They’d become the place to put the USP. Now that idea has expanded to necklines and shoulder pads, for better effect on video calls. Off-the-shoulder and sweetheart necklines have been pandemic-era favourites too.
* The colours: Two palettes look set to define 2021 — the earthy and uplifting tones of the outdoors (greens, ochres, yellows) and sorbet tones, cool pastel shades of blues, greens, yellows. Beige and black will take a backseat.
* Modern ease: “Sneakers are replacing heels and I don’t think that will change for a while. People don’t want to leave the comfortable clothing style they acquired at home behind, even when they step out,” says designer Payal Singhal. “But the socks and sneakers are funky, sometimes rainbow-coloured, with embellishments or fun soles, so that even if you are in sweats, you stand out.”