We, Indians, were never consumerists by nature, at least not in the way we are today. We lived by certain modest values that dictated being mindful of consumption. Purchases were meant to be meaningful investments, something that had to be thought through and executed only when a high level of return and longevity were guaranteed.
My brother and I, for instance, still cherish and use accessories and articles of clothing that were lovingly bought and taken care of by our grandparents. To the Indian mindset in those days, form almost always followed function. Quality and timelessness were prioritized, followed by aesthetics and versatility.
With the influx of Western values and globalization, however, these Indian attributes seem to have fallen by the wayside. What began as innocent curiosity towards a foreign culture has turned into a pointless study in imitation. The influence of fast fashion, combined with artificially created demand from incentivized pricing, has irrationally put pressure on our entire community, driving us into a loop of "more and fast".
Over the past few years, this vicious cycle has damaged our retail ecosystem, economy and environment. By producing more and consuming fast, we have created unsustainable demand and supply chains that could easily be disrupted. The consumer, on the other hand, is now looking at buying the best deal, woefully unaware that this "deal" is a by-product of discounting, a disease that eventually leads to inferior quality, reduced value and futile investment. In the end, everyone loses.
The need of the hour is the art of conscious consumption.
While the notion of conscious consumption has many facets that will continue to unfold in years to comes, for now we can focus on what is in front of us. Design and fashion entrepreneurs need to take decisive steps forward to make consumption moderate. We need to start understanding that consumption is not alone the burden of the end consumer, but that we, as an industry, have a crucial role to play in determining consumer behaviour.
First, we need to be conscious of the value we provide. We need to stop selling ourselves short by discounting. With the advent of large e-commerce platforms and their unrealistic discounting behaviour, the Indian consumer has started expecting and demanding discounts across the entire retail landscape. And we gave in. This must stop.
We are an industry that creates products using techniques that are centuries old. Why do we want to produce rampantly when we know it can lead to discounting and eventually to compensating margins by lowering quality?
Second, we must start putting ethics on par with aesthetics. We must ensure that we have robust HR policies in place that actually impact the well-being of karigars and other employees. We should work with vendors who follow fair trade practices, and ensure our raw material is sourced and produced in a sustainable manner.
We must not let ourselves believe that sustainability is only to do with fabrics or raw materials. It is equally to do with quality and durability.
Third, as consumers, we must remain conscious. The ongoing pandemic has shown us how little we actually need. Buy what you need, and not because you simply can. Buy not out of greed for a great end-of-season deal or because you tend to lose interest in your possessions quickly.
Once bought, we must consciously try to extend the lifecycle of everything we own by practising reuse and repair.
As we adjust to a new normal, it is important to educate ourselves to consume mindfully and consciously.
Priyanka Modi is the creative director of designer label AMPM.