Fashion has traditionally been an opaque industry, especially when it comes to luxury. In the past, creators have been secretive about their processes, just like chefs who often don’t prefer to share the secret behind their recipes. That has, of course, changed in the past two years. Consumers are increasingly realising the extent to which fashion was exploiting the planet and the people who worked within the industry. They have become louder in asking the question, Who made my clothes?
When it comes to issues of sustainability and ethics, transparency is the only way forward. It, however, also reveals a wider issue: fashion, as much as it is a large industry, it is a fragile one. And the pandemic has exposed all the cracks in the system, especially the growing issues in the global supply chain.
As Priyanka Modi, co-founder and creative director of the label AMPM, says, most people view fashion houses “as only places of design and creativity, but in reality, our businesses have many more facets, all of which have to seamlessly come together to make for a great consumer experience”.
“A key facet is the making of these beautiful designs. Several different raw materials are used across a collection, all of which come from diverse vendors,” she adds. “When even only one of these is delayed or unable to supply, the entire process gets affected, and procurement is just the first step.”
Supply chain, something that once was a hidden, or rather a hardly talked about, process is now the focal point of the industry. The pandemic, among other reasons, has resulted in clogged ports, shortages of products and overburdened container ships, resulting in rise in prices and delays in manufacturing. It’s a reality that is gradually educating the luxury consumer on how fragile this seemingly glamourous industry is.
Fashion does not bring joy
Fashion has always had an unfailing system that went from spring/summer to autumn/winter on autopilot. If anything, overproduction was an issue. Now you will hear consumers of luxury items complain about the lack of good products in the market, and that the joy has been taken out of fashion.
And they are not wrong. According to the annual report, “The State of Fashion”, published by Business of Fashion and McKinsey, “Around half of global businesses suffered supply chain disruptions in 2021, with one in eight severely affected. This was the fallout from a combination of global and local factors, including material and component shortages, transportation bottlenecks, staff unavailability and rising shipping costs.” Over 85% of fashion executives surveyed expect that supply chain disruptions will have a negative impact on business, the report adds.
This means the consumer will have to become used to erratic merchandise and more disruptions at the retail level. Hopefully, this will force the industry to focus on products that the consumer actually want instead of what the industry wants the consumer to buy. “It is now important for a brand to know which are the products that work with their ethos and focus on them,” says couturier Amit Aggarwal.
For independent labels, the issue is more acute. AMPM’s Modi, “I think I speak for all my peers when I say that the minimum order quantity (MOQ) is still an issue for small and medium sized businesses, especially when they want to partner with good suppliers. The mills or large vendors that have some of the best quality materials usually work at really high MOQs or demand high prices for small quantities, which leads to a conundrum for smaller businesses.”
Things are even worse for couture-based labels. Mumbai-based designer Payal Singhal says, “Skilled labour is scarce and that means our production is going to be scarce. This means we are likely to see less embroidered products in the market, because there’s going to be less access to embroidery. This will inevitably make the prices go up for the end consumer.”
As a result, 2022 is set to be a year of high prices for fashion. industry. On the plus side, the high prices could force the often overindulgent luxury consumer to learn the art of buying less and better, and also make the regular consumer look at renting for their wardrobe.
The pandemic has ensured that all these issues are out in the open. As Aggarwal notes, “We have seen over the past one and a half years that while the whole world went to such an unexpected wave of emotions, in terms of fashion, people are still wanting to buy niche and unique products.”
We have seen hashtags such as #vocalforlocal and #handmadeinindia become a de rigueur part of the digital landscape. However, customers need to be careful not to be fooled. “Some designers are moving towards digital. We, as a label, don’t do that because we believe in working with an original craft..., but a lot of other companies have starting doing digital embroideries,” says Singhal.
Time for a comeback
On a positive note though, Modi explains, the industry seems to have become “more organized because of these issues and more mindful of how much to produce as well as more analytical towards distributing inventory. This goes for everyone in the supply chain.”
Her label, which is now gearing up for its 20th anniversary, for instance, has emerged from the pandemic as a complete solution for a woman’s ready-to-wear wardrobe. Aggarwal recently opened a flagship store in Mumbai’s Colaba, and his couture line is trying to redefine the language of bridal couture. Singhal has opened a second store in Mumbai and occupies a space in Delhi’s multi-brand store Aza. Brands are trying to reinvent themselves to match the demands of the consumer and the times we are living in.
Price rises aside (and no one likes those), this could be fashions best, and hopefully more responsible, year in a long time.
Dress Sense is a monthly fashion column that takes a look at the clothes that we wear every day and what they mean to us.
Sujata Assomull is a journalist, author and a mindful fashion advocate.
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