Remember the time when fashion trends changed on a weekly basis and it was hard to keep up? We were spoilt for choices over teaming bike shorts with blazers, denims over leopard print maxis, boiler suit complete with a bumbag and puff shoulder dresses with ankle boots. The seasons were exciting, until all of it came to a grinding halt in 2020.
For a community hot on fashion, all that we got last year was masks with chains. With the virus showing no sign of relenting, experts say post pandemic, the fashion industry will be changed forever.

Many frequent shoppers told Provoke that they have shifted from impulsive buying to need-based-shopping. Mostly because they do not have many places and occasions to be, like they used to, while others realised their wardrobe has enough varieties to repurpose and experiment.

Several global surveys showed that consumption patterns of people have changed during the pandemic. A global survey of 18,000 consumers conducted by YouGov across 17 large markets globally showed that shopping patterns of Indians have shifted. They were more likely to support local businesses and sustainable products. Over 80 per cent respondents from India said their shopping patterns have changed while adapting to the pandemic.

According to Boston Consulting Group (BCG), India’s apparel market was down by 27 per cent. From a whopping Rs 4,129 billion in 2019 it plummeted to Rs 3,022 billion in 2020. As a result, designers from across the country are coping with the change in business strategies and clientele differently. From streamlining their design launches on social media, re-working old products, remodelling business modules and even building an ecosystem of sustainable fashion.

Not high on fashion
Shopaholics have slowed down. The BCG report observed that the demand currently is for casual wear with a greater focus on athleisure.

Sample this, Shah Harshini, an impulsive shopper and native of Chikamagaluru used to shop for Rs 30,000 at a time. Now being indoors for months, her enthusiasm has dwindled. “I have become more conscious of what I buy. I have shifted focus to gardening and doing interiors of my house. Earlier I loved experimenting on new trends and designs. Being at home I realised cottons, silks and linens are more comfortable. I now shop from homegrown brands and budding designers. That way I am supporting their businesses. I have quit rayon, synthetics, polyester-mix outfits and georgette.”

To sum it up, Harshini has stopped seeing clothes as ‘disposable’ and her consumption is no longer mindless. This brings to the question: Is it an end game for fast fashion business models? Are the trends swaying towards sustainability?

The fast fashion movement is largely harmful. A short black dress should neither cost the planet much, nor should a factory worker starve. Fast fashion subjected manufacturing unit workers to exploitation and ridiculously low wages as the clothes are manufactured in a record time and sold at cheap prices. Sustainable fashion is intricately tied with ethical fashion. These are outfits designed and made in an environmentally friendly way.

Since 2018, when global media began reporting on fateful impacts of fast fashion on the environment, workers rights and on legacy brands, the discourse on slow fashion had begun in India. Fashion shows started a separate segment for slow fashion products.
Survival of the fittest

Designer Sidhant Minocha who works with the concept of sustainable fashion in mind, shares, “Indian cottage industry is a great solution to address several social and environmental issues and hence become the basis of my approach, at my brand Sedhantik & Sidhant Minocha, towards the growing trend of sustainable fashion. It is important to understand, nothing can truly sustain until we are conscious of not abusing our resources and allow them, people and nature, to replenish before we consume again. Since the social and ecological impact is immeasurable in great depth and accuracy for intangible factors involved, hence I refrain from the use of the word ‘sustainable’ and replace it with ‘ethical’.”

Associate Professor- NIFT Chennai and Director-Insights, VisioNxt (Trend Insights & Fashion Forecasting Lab), Dr Kaustav Sengupta said, “Clothing industry is broadly divided into three parts: manufacturing, retail, and designers who have their flagship stores, couture houses and boutiques. All three have a different approach on how the pandemic affected them.”

While designers say that clients are slow to buy, several others are doing collaborations with other brands. Recently, Sabyasachi started a line of footwear in collaboration with Christian Louboutin.

Sengupta comments, “Designers have expanded their possibilities, becoming agile and free thinking. They are broadening their revenue models; their social media activity has increased.”

In the past year, designers have shifted to digital mode, presenting their collections on Phygital (physical and digital) mode.

Fashion labels have also found time to rework existing models and looking in the direction of sustainable clothing. Sengupta explains, “Designers are reworking existing garments so that customers need not buy a new one. Designers including Sabyasachi, Decathlon and The North Face asked customers to send back products to be reworked. People have begun valuing the products they already have. There are also Mending workshops where people are taught to rework their garments and give it a new look. But a holistic approach towards sustainable fashion will take time. Culturally, we have been doing a lot of recycling at home such as making bags out of used sarees. Only the jargon is new. But in the context of India, greenwashing is taking place.”
A designer who has grown exponentially as a sustainable fashion designer, Sengupta says, is Naushad Ali. A designer from Auroville has a whole collection on sustainable fashion.

RV Purusothaman, popularly known as Purushu Arie launched one of India’s first Ungendered Fashion Label in 2017, “In the past one year I received necessity-based-orders, mostly weddings and some for celebrities. Though my label does not take much wedding orders, we changed accordingly. There was a dip in demand for my trademark tops and lungis during the pandemic.”

So, does he think consumers are wary of how their clothes are made these days? The existing discourse on sustainable fashion, he argues is confined to an elitist way of thinking. The burden of carbon footprint caused by mass production of low-quality products unwittingly falls on the less privileged, which he feels is discriminatory.

“Sustainable fashion is not affordable to everyone. It should be made accessible and inclusive. If not, it is reduced into an elitist statement. I do not use sequins, plastic, glitter or toxins in my creations. Micro plastic is a threat to the environment, the brunt of which we may have to face 20 years down the line. The fashion community is yet to explore the design scope of lungis and veshtis. It is zero waste and size neutral.”

He suggests the use of bamboo fibre to make clothes as it was seeing a decent market. “Three factors a person must keep in mind while shopping are reduce, reuse and recycle. Ask yourself if you need so many outfits of the same type? Before buying a particular product, see if it fits into your lifestyle”, he shared.

On a positive note he said that change can be ushered in, “Celebrities going for upcycled fashion and repeating clothes can influence people’s perception. On social media, videos on ‘how to pull off a style in ten different ways’ are educating people on preserving clothes for a longer period.”