The unity of the fraternity, financial cooperation and a paradigm shift in putting out your brand is going to define how couture handles the future, write fashion designer duo Shantanu & Nikhil.

While we were already reeling under the clutches of a slowing economy, this pandemic has in fact created a crater of sorts, where lesser wealth will have an adverse effect on wedding spends and in turn, lesser conversions and footfalls will definitely put couture in the danger zone. Ready-to-wear and bridge-to-luxury brands that are generally more brick-and-mortar in their business models would in all likelihood fall prey to lesser footfalls and slowing consumerism for at least the first two quarters of the business cycle but once the coronavirus curve starts to flatten out, these brands will also have the last laugh because of their price positioning and accessibility attributes.

It would be safe to say that in India, because of its strong domestic demand and consumption finding flavour with the young millennials, the wave is still the best bet for Indian brands and fashion designers alike and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to advocate the fact that nothing is better than just expanding your footprint nationally, now even more than ever. As the world is pushing through these times, there will be a paradigm shift in the way brand advertisements will be positioned in order to remain in an emotionally positive light. In fact, brands will become deeply connected to their most critical resources – employees, customers and other key stakeholders.

We as a brand, in the last four years or so, have already embarked on this emotional journey of being more patriotic-chic, sartorial & gender-fluid in our design ethos that strongly marries heritage and spunk with doses of compassion. Since we are in the business of brands, our immediate response would be one that strongly reflects upon certain aspects of our business, that we feel, are in some sort of danger. We feel that Indian couture catering to the once recession-proof big fat wedding market could be the biggest victim to this pandemic this financial year, as this has been a hugely aspirational segment for us couturiers for some time now. Calling a spade a spade, we feel it is this segment post the coronavirus recovery, which will decide the fate of couture in India.

There will be a definite call to action. With the economic downturn, the market trends and the consumer behaviours are going to change drastically. There are two worlds now: pre and post COVID-19. As the impact of COVID-19 continues to unfold, brands will need to keep a close eye on the changing consumer behaviours to find new opportunities and create new strategies. We, for one, are using this crisis as an opportunity to revisit our business as a potential start-up built on new vigour and energy. As a brand, we have always advocated the anti-trend philosophy that breaks any pre-defined barriers of art and instead, play with sartorial shapes and storytelling that puts the focus right back on the consumer, and not just the clothes. There will be more focus on digital marketing, e-commerce, gamification and live streaming. Brands can virtually engage with consumers in new ways. Instead of targeting a consumer group, marketers can now target consumers as individuals and social media platforms are the best tools for doing so. All in all, digital experiences will replace in-person experiences.

With international travel curtailed for long, target groups will be more local now. Also, the post-crisis era is going to witness even higher national sentiment, which will result in strategies encapsulating these sentiments. One cannot negate the fact that the old charm of doing runways is still the best way to communicate the brand, but this will take a backseat temporarily. It is the right time to look inwards and be more inclusive with your own country. Western fashion markets in the wake of this crisis will be deeply affected and hence, it’s a great opportunity to build a brand that has national scale written all over it.

Fashion was already going high on the sustainability attribute, and this would only get bigger from here on. Slow fashion will become the new sustainable in time to come. The sustainability factor is a great opportunity for many young designers in India to strongly advocate sustainability on a big canvas, now more than ever. The current situation demands introspection, slow sustainable growth, employee’s safety and above all, preserving cash and reducing unnecessary costs. Once these issues are addressed, the next step would be to validate brand innovation, brand strength and brand strategy to cater to the new ways of consumerism in the future.

While influencer marketing is unlikely to disappear, influencers too will need to change their strategies and explore newer ways in their quest to stand out as brands. A campaign must include elements of surprise, humour and uniqueness in order for it to be impactful. Influencers who can pull in audiences across multiple content categories for brands will continue to thrive. These are times which require resolve and determination to stay afloat and perhaps the best time for the entire fashion fraternity to come together as one community and fight the aftermath. But as much as we can all come together, it is the Indian government that would perhaps be the single most important stakeholder that needs to provide an immediate economic stimulus to fashion & retail businesses like ourselves to stay afloat in the course of our survival. Relief in GST payable for the next six months, waiver of interest payments for the next six months, easy access to working capital loans, EMI’s to banks and NBFCs to put on hold for six months…these are some of the top-of-the-head short-term measures we can think of, if put into place, could help the fashion industry stand on its feet again.