National Chronicle

Brands need to survive right now-so all frills have to go: Sujata Assomull

New Delhi,   Theres no doubt the Fashion Industry has felt the impact of the economic slowdown, as a result of the ongoing global crisis. Needless to say, the pain will trickle from the shopaholic down to the artisan at the grass root level.

As Fast Fashion by-pass’ Resort and Summer seasons, accelerating straight into Autumn 2020, will the industry be able to take the freewheeling?

In these COVID-19 times, exporters worry over warehouses full of inventory and delayed payments; retailers and brands frown at the sight of piled up stocks.

Some say sustainability, slow fashion and up-cycling will become the norm, but will brands and labels be able to re-invent themselves? Will fashion houses focus on pro-environment production systems? Will artisans finally have their time in the spotlight?

As designers try to keep their chin up and luxury labels do their bit in CSR, the pertinent question is will the industry have the wherewithal to rudder through the flattened curve?

To comprehend the intricacies of the dilemma and to sift rhetoric from fact, IANSlife interviews journalist Sujata Assomull, a self confessed ‘Mindful Fashion Advocate’ and an industry insider for over two decades.

Besides being the founding Editor-In-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar India, Assomull is a Contributor with Arab News & Vogue India. The author of ‘100 Iconic Bollywood Costumes’ gives us an expert view of the situation.

Read Excerpts:

Q. Given the global crisis and the mood of the consumer, do you believe Fast Fashion will be forced to focus on sustainable initiatives in the future?

Assomull: Mother Nature has forced us to take a pause and think. I would like to believe as we have introspected, it has made us think about the fast paced lives we have lead.

One of the industry’s leading trend forecasters Netherlands based, Li Edelkoort, recently said in an interview, “The impact of the outbreak will force us to slow down the pace, working from home, entertaining only amongst close friends and family, learning to become more mindful. Suddenly the fashion shows look bizarre and out of place.”

Fashion is the second most polluting industry. It’s cost on people and to nature is well, literally life threatening. It has to change, but does it mean the end of fast fashion, of course not. I think this pause had made us all think about our own personal fashion footprint.

We need to be aware that slow fashion tends to be more expensive, while Fast Fashion is a huge industry that creates jobs and value. I do think Fast Fashion will adopt some principles of Slow Fashion; a more responsible and not so Fast-Fashion.

Fast Fashion is driven by change and is an agile business; hopefully there will be some mid ground that comes about.

Q. This year retail will have skipped two seasons. Do you agree with the statement that ‘fashion continues to be one of the world’s largest polluters’?

Assomull: A recent report by ‘The Financial Times’ on the Fashion Industry stated that fashion’s impact on the environment will “sharply drop” this year.

The fashion industry has not come to a grinding halt like this since the Second World War, and is bound to produce less pollution-just the way the aviation industry is bound to produce less toxins, as travel has stopped.

Q. Do you think the Indian Fashion Industry has a buffer to soften the impact, considering it doesn’t follow international seasons and works from runway to rack, with a focus on the festive season?

Assomull: What I have loved about India, is that it has always followed its own calendar-while I was the Editor of Harper’s Bazaar, we never made it all about “The September Issue”, even though that is an international norm.

Our big edition was “The October Issue” which comes out post shradh – a time many consider inauspicious for shopping, October being India’s most festive month with the celebration- Diwali.

Indian fashion should not emulate the Western fashion calendar in a bid to be seen as “international”, but it does need to aware and work within some sort of global norms if it wishes to be seen part of the universal system.

Q. Do you believe home-grown labels will benefit?

Assomull: There is also a new pride in wearing home-grown fashion, we are all learning how to appreciate our own homes- and so we start looking at fashion that tells the stories of your own homeland; you only have to look at hashtag #handmadeinindia to see how much it’s trending.

Q. With everyone home-sheltering (mostly in sweatpants), will there be a shift from Athleisure and a resurgence of glamour and OTT dressing post the lockdown?

Assomull: There is a joy to dressing up, a sense of pleasure to the ritual of it, and who does not feel good when they look good.

I think we are going to want to dress-up a bit, as we get back to sort of normalcy, that said being extravagant will seem distasteful and vulgar-these are still uncertain times, so I think (and hope) we do not see any OTT dressing.

Q. With the economic slowdown businesses have placed paid partnerships and many celebrity endorsements via social media platforms on hold. How will this impact social media influencers?

Assomull: All brands are going to be careful with their spends right now-they have lost out on one whole season, and even the next few quarters are bound to be impacted. Everyone who is in the industry is in trouble.

There are no events right now and much of an influencer’s work revolves around events. Many industry experts believe that influencers will be the first to be cut, as many fashion companies have already frozen salaries and there are bound to be workforce cuts-as any external “suppliers” will be seen as non-essential.

Cost cutting is the mantra for every industry. Brands need to survive right now-so all frills have to go. Though there is also an argument that digital’s role has become more important, and so the influencers role.

Pre-Covid-19, brands looked to influencers to connect with consumers. Through this lockdown building a sense of community through engaging content has been very important.

I would hope brands now work more in-house on their own content, and perhaps work with content strategists over influencers. Storytelling has never been of more importance, and I think it will be about the survival of the fittest.

Q. Work from home fashion rules, if any?

Assomull: The great thing about fashion is that it brings joy-so yes dress comfortable, but do a few things that make you feel good. It could be adding a small neckpiece, wearing your earrings or wearing a bit of make-up.

Never dress for others, always dress for yourself. Elevate your spirits through your at-home style.

Q. Lastly, what have you enjoyed most about your time in self-isolation?

Assomull: Luckily I like my own company and this has given lots of me-time. I have enjoyed reading and even did an on-line course on fashion and sustainability.

Like most, I have tried new recipes and made the most of my home. It has forced to become more digital savvy-as webinars and digital content and podcasts are the way we now consume media, so as journalist I have to adapt.

This time alone has made me realise not only how grateful we should be for what we have, but also that you need to live in the moment. To not have any resentment towards your past, not be anxious towards the future —it really is about making the most of every moment.

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