Coronavirus ripping through the cycle of fashion

New Delhi, March 27 (IANSlife) While the tourism industry might be the hardest hit, as is the airlines and hospitality industries, the impact of COVID-19 will effect the world economy in entirety. IANSlife spoke with FDCI Chairman, Sunil Sethi, to find out how the lockdown and the closing of international borders will stress the fashion industry, and the staggering repercussions it will have on business.

“It's going to hit us harder than we can imagine. There are going to be no sales as all retail stores are shut, export orders can not be fulfilled due to the lockdown and airlines cannot accept goods, letters of credit may expire, factories being shut orders cannot be completed, so I'm dreading the impact and the fallout this is going to have,” states Sethi.

But 21 days isn't the end of the road is it? Everyone knows this is just the beginning, and does the fashion industry have the resilience to power through the uncertainty? “It is a time of of gloom and doom. The designers and the fashion industry are in a dilemma as to whether they should hold on to working force or to let them go. If they hold on to them, then their resources will be depleted within just a few months. So the bravado of retaining and paying is limited to people who have deep pockets. This becomes unsustainable and irrelevant when we speak of new and young designers and the not very affluent designers. Should they choose to let go of them it will be a tough choice as I believe the Indian fashion designers work with a conscience and with good ethics, almost all of them believe in them that the workers and labour force should no face further difficulties or harm. I can speak for my fraternity and say that no one wants the people associated be it weavers, karigars, o all the people associated in the process to be harmed. So the dilemma, you can't let them go and if you don't then your own funds will be depleted, making it difficult to revive the business or suffer the losses,” asserts the stalwart of the fashion fraternity.

However, we cannot but underline that at the moment the question of an end date to the lockdown or the impact cannot be ascertained. There is no guarantee that there is going to be a rainbow at the end of the road. Can we say for certain that the customer's mood will be inclined to buying or they will have the finances to indulge in retail therapy? The expert feels that, “It is a myth that people say that after a period of slowdown there is surge in retail and that one can indulge and pamper themselves with luxury spending. The industry is going to be at the buyer's mercy. But I know we are resilient lot; we have tided over rent hikes, tax hikes, GST, and in times of other calamities where sales are low we have powered through. The fashion industry has always bounced back. In this case we are not only hoping against hope, but counting on each one of us to power though, stronger together. This too shall pass.”

The FDCI would like to come up with a solution to help the industry get back on its feet in the aftermath of a prolonged crisis. But without assistance from the government this may be an uphill task. The chief of the industry expresses his concerns stating, “Unless the government enforces some thing or initiates some scheme of a relief. Rents are at an all time peak, if all designers created a lobby and approached organisations to give them at least this relief it would be a great help. But this only works in situations like malls or shopping destinations, it will not benefit designers who have flagship stores, and dealing with individual landlords will be tough.”

In the past year a lot of the focus on the fashion industry has been negative, in the sense that it has been established it is one of the biggest polluters in the world. With the industry on hold across the globe, business have stocked up for the upcoming summer season, which will go to waste if borders remain shut and a global lockdown continues. Looking at the bigger picture, what of the environmental impact when all this production gearing up for summer will end up for naught.

The veteran mulling over the question feels, “the export market it seems will be in a bad situation because of the cycle — buyers in international market, fashion weeks and their buying schedule orders are placed three to four months in advance to meet the season, so a delay of three months due to Coronavirus will certainly spill to end of the season. But incase, as some over positive people are saying that they will manage to get sorted in two weeks in other countries, then if it gets resolved in a month or so there is scope for goods to be exported. But any delay of three months will be end of the season, the goods are not saleable so obviously the buying houses will not accept the goods in the first place. Are the international stores in a position to open, advertise and get their customers to buy? Will the mood of the consumer be to spend; this is viscous circle of the international trade. However, stores abroad cannot function without stocks and goods.”

But what of the domestic market, is the outlook as pessimistic so can we hope against hope for a silver lining. “I'm hoping as soon as the lockdown is removes the Indian fashion designer is able to produce, pack and ship out their stock, albeit it will be a few weeks late, but still it will help. But when it comes to the domestic market in most cities unless it's the peak of winter or the peak of ceremonial season, like Diwali, before that time there is still ample scope to send goods for the season; it may be called an extended season. Whatever the Indian fashion designers have made they will see to it that the trends continue till ceremonial buying starts in October. We have a long time to absorb Indian merchandise, if the fraternity has to survive they should focus on that. Not everything is lost, there are still windows of opportunities and I wish that we are able to take advantage of these windows.”

Last and certainly not the least as the apex body of fashion in the country, what measures will the FDCI take to help through this time of trial. “We are bit hampered with the lockdown, but we certainly want to create a Fund by which we can come to the help of the actual fashion designer who may really need our support. I don't know how much we will be able to help out, I already have two veteran designers who without my bringing it up have volunteered to contribute and I hope others who can step up to the plate to help out. The FDCI board is with me on this and we are going to try and do our bit to whatever extent we can, and let's hope we can make this a reality,” replies Sethi.

While no one can predict the damage a prolonged lock down and sealing of international and domestic borders will cause, it is yet to be seen if the aftermath will be one that the fashion industry and the world will be able to absorb or not.

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