In Hamlet, William Shakespeare wrote “the apparel oft proclaims the man”. Fashion is not only a state of mind but also an extension of one’s self. It is also a big business. The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the global economy into a tailspin and every aspect of supply chains has been severely impacted. Parinda Joshi, author of three books and currently working with a fashion start-up in Silicon Valley, says, “The number of people involved in the buying, selling and production of clothes is much higher than any other business in the world. The devastating impact of the virus has decimated the $2.5 trillion global fashion industry.” Does that mean buying patterns will change? Will consumers spend more consciously? Will sustainable fashion—reuse, reduce and recycle being the new ‘mantra’—be in vogue? For the uninitiated, sustainable fashion is the sum total of ideas, strategies and actions promoting environmentally, socially and ethically conscious production and consumption.
Shift in Outlook
Fashion, unlike fast moving consumer goods, follows a cycle. The summer-oriented collection is not the most suitable for winter, and vice-versa. The immediate question facing the industry is what to do with the Summer 2020 inventory sitting in warehouses. Fashion designer Anavila Misra explains, “It’s not just inventory, but a significant amount of cash that is tied up in it. When we look at the future, it doesn’t seem like things, especially from the perspective of spending on fashion, will go back to pre-Covid times anytime soon.” There would be a shift in consumer choices towards a more conscious approach to buying and sustainability. “It will happen over a period of time with efforts from consumers, producers, fashion houses and the government at an infrastructural level,” she adds.
Repeat and Reuse: Buy classic pieces that can be mixed and matched. For instance, a white linen trouser can be worn formally with a shirt, casually with a printed top, and with a knitted top for an evening out.
Branding a Change
The short-term focus of brands and fashion houses will be on disaster management but, in the long term, they will be forced to reinvent themselves. They will have to cater to the discount mindset of the cash-strapped consumers, digitise more and figure out how to channel the inventory surplus they are sitting on. “There are several reports establishing how millennials and Gen Z are driving the growth of the second-hand market and being sustainable in their fashion choices,” says Joshi. “Product attachment in them isn’t high and they are willing to resell the products they no longer need and are reinventing the returns into a new product.” As the reseller business grows in India, recycling will be a growth area within the industry. As far as the concept of “reusing” is concerned, it has been an integral part of the Indian cultural fabric and children often grow up wearing hand-me-downs from older siblings and cousins. Joshi says, “When recession is imminent, one of the ripple effects is curbing of discretionary spend. Fashion is at the top of that list. I don’t think we are anywhere close to ‘reuse, reduce, recycle’ becoming the new normal. We are still in the nascent stages of it. It will boil down to awareness, availability and affordability of sustainable fashion.”
Dress fashionably, but sustainably: Look up and explore brands that make sustainable clothing. Increase the lifespan of your clothes and accessories by repairing, remaking, upcycling and reusing. Raid your parents’ closets and swap clothes and accessories with your friends and family.
Transparency in Business
There is no doubt that the sector is heading for tough times. The brands will experience a decrease in footfall which will result in increased virtual sales. Considering this, brands will have to rethink what is written on the labels and tags of their clothes. Purvi Doshi, a sustainable fashion designer, says, “As people have become aware of what they are purchasing and why, the brands are encouraged to find reusable and recycling solutions for their textile waste. We have recently developed an application called ‘traceability’, which tells our consumers about the resources used and the people involved in the process of making their garment.”
Question yourself: It doesn’t mean that you stop buying clothes altogether. It just means you have to change the way of buying. Every time you buy, ask yourself why you are buying it.
Out of the Box
The CMAI (Clothing Manufacturers Association of India) recently released a report estimating one crore job cuts in the fashion industry if the government doesn’t step in to help. According to Kriti Tula, co-founder of Doodlage, an ethical and upcycled fashion brand, “The fashion industry will have to come up with innovative ideas to adjust to the changing consumer behaviour, to survive and encourage people to invest.” It is, therefore, urgent to incorporate sustainable practices in all industries to reduce the impact on our environment and its exhaustible resources. “While the scale of the problem at this point can be overwhelming for any brand and practicing sustainable fashion holistically will take a lot of work, I feel it’s important to start with the right intention and scale,” says Tula. Sustainable fashion has a chance to build a strong base as people will most likely invest intelligently and consciously, depending on when the lockdown is lifted.
Before Splurging: Invest in homegrown sustainable brands. There are many cool thrift stores popping around India, accessible through Instagram. Identify silhouettes and colours that you are most comfortable wearing and which work for your body type. Invest in statement accessories to add that extra something to your pieces.
Pricing is Key
A fairly positive outcome of this situation will be that the cycle of fashion will slow down and designers will get the mind space to design with their full potential and produce pieces of art. This, in turn, will give some breathing space for collections and consumers to understand and embrace trends for a season. Kaabia Grewal, director of Outhouse, a jewellery brand that uses materials like jute, pinatex and vegan leather, says, “It will kill the copycat market exhibitions; this does impact the business but is also great as upcoming brands that copy designers will be completely out. We need to slow down our pace and significantly reduce consumption. We can’t wake up one morning and implement the ideals of reduce, reuse, recycle in our lives. It will be a gradual process with a lot of trials and errors, and endless learning.”
Style well: It all comes down to how you style your look. A piece of garment or jewellery can be styled in a myriad of fun ways if you look closely enough. Pick versatile pieces that you know you will wear more than a few times and which can be styled in different ways.
Pre-owned and Pre-loved
Even before this crisis, a gradual shift towards environment-friendly products had begun. This shift will now be accelerated. The present situation will make people reflect, conserve and act with prudence. “Think repair before you replace and consider buying ‘as good as new’ pre-owned branded apparel over brand new,” says Nohar Nath, Founder and CEO, Kiabza, a re-commerce website dedicated to buying and selling branded pre-owned fashion. Remember that small rips, holes and missing buttons can be fixed.
Stop hoarding: Don’t pile up unused clothes in your wardrobe. Sell them for reuse or upcycling.