Walking the runway to success till just a few months ago, the Indian fashion
industry is now reevaluating its future with insiders saying the COVID-19
pandemic and lockdown have set the clock back at least a decade. As the
lockdown continues and incomes shrivel, elaborate trousseaus, designer
gowns and bespoke suits running into several lakhs of rupees have plunged
in the list of priorities of the industry’s trend-conscious clients. It is difficult
to predict consumer behaviour even after the restrictions are lifted but many
designers believe the focus will be on simpler aesthetics and on maintaining
the artisans and craftspersons who are the backbone of their business.

“The fashion industry has never been affected in such a definitive way around the world. We’ve had times when there has been a recession in different countries at different times but the whole world shutting down together is unprecedented,” veteran couturier Ritu Kumar told PTI.

Fashiondesigners said they are utilising lockdown days to plan the way forward for secure business continuity in the second half of 2020 while taking care of the well-being of their employees and artisans, who have been without work with production and export shutdowns. While there are no separate figures for the fashion industry, the Confederation of Indian Textile Industry (CITI) estimates that the textile and clothing industry in India employs over 105 million people and also earn around $40 billion forex, apart from substantial revenue under GST and other taxes.

It really takes a village and hours of labour to create an eye-catching
ensemble. Designer Payal Khandwala said nothing is more important than
the safety and security of the artisans, weavers, tailors and team members,the backbone of their brands. “Our current preoccupation is how to retain all our employees, artisans and labour. To make sure they are supported economically in spite of retail grinding to a halt. This is stressful now but it will be unsustainable if it continues much longer, whether you are a big business or small.” Going forward, it will be important for the fashion industry to reevaluate its pace, its purpose, the fashion calendar and trends.

“During these unprecedented times of crisis, we are focusing our energies to re-think as a start-up company with a fresh take on design,” said Nikhil Mehra, the creative half of the team. The couturier added that customisation will be more bespoke and private, with limited access, and all safety plus sanitisation measures will be followed during the interactions. “Austerity and minimalism would be the key driving design tools… And foremost, post lockdown, we will be strictly implementing and observing all precautionary measures during our operations and consumer interactions at our stores,” he said.

Fashion weeks are also set to change, at least for the immediate future. Sethi predicts that future fashion weeks will become less fancy affairs. That is the only way to implement social distancing and designers will have to function in accordance with a B2B model, which involves trading between two business entities and not directly with the buyer.