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What is ‘Phygital’ fashion?

A portmanteau of ‘physical’ and ‘digital’, this new buzzword may forever alter our experience of fashion

The digital mode could turn fashion’s insular bubble on its head, introducing an inclusive, level playing field.
The digital mode could turn fashion’s insular bubble on its head, introducing an inclusive, level playing field. (Istockphoto)

If you were to go through the recent presentations at the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) and Lakmé Fashion Week, you would find a new word: “phygital". A portmanteau of the words “physical" and “digital", it’s a clue to what’s in store for Indian fashion amidst the pandemic, when ramp shows aren’t an option.

The FDCI is billing its India Couture Week, scheduled for this month, as a phygital event: “India’s First Ever Digital Fashion Week". In August, the Lakmé Fashion Week is organizing a “Virtual Showroom"—a platform for designers and artisans to showcase their collections for business—without charging a fee. Around the world, virtual shows have become the norm during fashion weeks, such as the one in Shanghai (in March) or the London Fashion Week (12-14 June).

The word “phygital" was perhaps first used in fashion recently at Ermenegildo Zegna’s24 April announcement about its Spring/Summer 2021 show, scheduled for 17 July. This will be presented in a new digital format, with technological cinematography and real models.

“For India Couture Week, the idea of a phygital fashion week translates to the designers’ collections showcased with or without the help of models—depending on the covid-19 circumstances—for a digital audience. Similarly, we want to showcase their booths on a digital platform. The intention behind both these mediums is to still be able to conduct business, but the experiential aspect for our audiences, consumers and buyers will be different," says Sunil Sethi, chairman, FDCI.

In retail, this could translate to new ways of experiencing merchandise. Jaspreet Chandok, head of lifestyle businesses at IMG Reliance, says: “On an average, a best-case estimate is that 25-30% of all brick-and-mortar retail stores will shut in the country. To make up for those lost sales, the easiest way will be to set up e-commerce presence and strengthen that."  

Chandok believes this will result in a change in physical as well as digital touchpoints between consumers and retailers. “The customer experience will also move to a digital space, even in physical stores, through technology, such as trying on clothes via a digital mirror. You can stand in front of the mirror and the mirror screen will place the clothes on your reflection because people might not want to try on clothes."

Chandok says some other options—such as e-commerce inventories shifting from centralized warehouses to stores, and orders being mapped to the city you are in and then delivered—have been around for a while though they have not been used actively.

Some Indian retailers, such as BESTSELLER, are also using the portmanteau term to describe a new consumer experience that combines the brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce platforms.

The big concern, however, is whether the digital mode will be able to match up to the physical, tactile experienceof fashion and clothes. While social media has democratized fashion, and even fashion weeks, to a large extent, phygital could turn fashion’s insular bubble on its head by introducing an inclusive, level playing field.

Even though the idea of a phygital show or store might sound simple, it is anything but. As Sethi says: “We are trying to develop technology that will capture the visuals of the clothes and designs in as detailed a way as possible. So this isn’t a frugal alternative to real fashion shows."

Of course, consumers and fashion buyers may still want to buy clothes after having touched, felt or tried them—the “preferred old-school way", as Sethi describes it. But the times call for a change, he says.

Chandok, in fact, believes phygital models will survive the return of fashion weeks to the original format. “Fashion weeks will also have digital programming in the future rather than purely physical experiences. These two aspects will be layered," he says.

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