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Covid-19 Effect: Designer sales and auctions come to fashion’s rescue

Designers are organizing auctions with the best in the business to raise funds for artisans and labourers

A terracotta bull sculpture adapted from an Iranian Rhyton circa 1000 BCE by Sanjay Garg of Raw Mango.
A terracotta bull sculpture adapted from an Iranian Rhyton circa 1000 BCE by Sanjay Garg of Raw Mango.

Even as state-wise lockdowns are being relaxed and fashion stores and labels are beginning to open, covid-19’s financial effect on India's retail communities will be long-lasting. In a bid to help labels, artisans and karigars, designers in India, and around the world, are holding auctions and sales to raise awareness and support the community.

When architect Ashiesh Shah first curated his design exhibition Otlo (Gujarati for ‘porch’) in 2013 at the India Design Week, it was about Indian arts and crafts. Now he’s curated it as a week-long sale on (14-20 May), as part of The India Design Fund (TIDF)—which includes panellists and designers like Shimul Javeri Kadri, Vinita Chaitanya, Tarini Jindal Handa, Pavitra Rajaram, Iram Sultan — to support those whose livelihoods have been affected by covid-19.

“Understanding the situation’s trickle effect on the communities, I wanted to organize a design sale," Shah says. The sale features a host of brands known for their celebration of Indian culture and traditions—works of Dasrath Patel, Gunjan Gupta's Ikkis, Sabyasachi X Thomas Goode dinner plates and objects from Shah's Atelier.

On the curation, Shah says, “They’re results of relationships I’ve built in the past. The dinner plates from Sabyasachi X Thomas Goode are a singular edition and won’t go into production for a long time. The plates are prototypes from Sabyasachi’s personal collection. The textiles on sale were a collaboration between Atmosphere Fabric’s Jayshree Poddar and Dasrath Patel because she studied under Patel."

The proceeds from the sale will be directed towards charities such as the NGO, United Way Mumbai — Fight Against Covid-19, to help migrant labourers and construction workers, apart from artisan communities. The funds will also go to charities that help craft villages the panellists and designers work with.

The Backgammon Trunk by Trunks Company.
The Backgammon Trunk by Trunks Company.

Previously, the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) had established a 'Covid-19 Support Fund' to support young designers and small businesses. As a part of it, designer duo Shantanu and Nikhil Mehra of their eponymous label organized ‘The Fraternity Talks’ with Indian fashion stalwarts such as Manish Malhotra, Rahul Mishra, Sabyasachi and Tarun Tahiliani on Instagram last month.

After an insightful discussion about the business of fashion in these times, each of the four designers volunteered to auction a piece of clothing from their recent collections for the fund. They raised about Rs6.18 lakhs.

Designer Shantanu Mehra says, “The Indian fashion community has distanced itself from each other for a more competitive, capitalistic approach towards occupying a bigger chunk of the market, but we realised that it won’t be possible to weather the storm individually. That’s why we organized the auction, which helped us raise funds for younger businesses and designers. It helped us come together as a community."

Chennai-based digital retail store The ReLove Closet also organised an auction for second-hand premium and luxury clothing last month. The proceeds were routed through The Kindness Project towards helping out the Chennai Task Force in providing provisions to people in need.

The phenomenon hasn’t just been popular in India. Business of Fashion reported that in France, as many as 80 international brands such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Celine, Balenciaga and Comme des Garçon have come together for “one-off auction", La Mode S’Engage, to support French healthcare workers via the #ProtegeTonSoignant, an NGO.

The report said that each designer will be tasked with either customising an item from their archive or designing a new garment from scratch for the auction.

Shah believes that the model, for the foreseeable future can be profitable for charity. “In the first six hours, we sold off half of the objects, and that’s made me a little more confident about the model and that there might be many more of them in the future because of the momentum right now," he says.

Mehra adds that the model could also help preserve craft communities. “India is the biggest employer of artisans, and we’ll have to continuously oil that supply chain. While many artisans have gone back to their villages, we have to bring their confidence back by bringing the supply chain together again. That’s why this could be a start to other ways of raising money through consumer engagement and product assortments."

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