New Delhi, April 30 2020 - Veteran fashion designer Ritu Kumar feels that the unprecedented situation prevailing in the world might set the clock back by one or two decades.
When it comes to the impact on domestic fashion, she feels local craftsmen and artisans are affected the most. She feels to revive the Indian handloom sector and bring it back on track, the government will have to step in.
Kumar, launched her Spring/Summer 2020 collection inspired by Rabaari philosophy, inspite of the lockdown and economic slowdown, due to the pandemic. She says that the fashion industry has been hit to a great extent with the almost all of the inventory produced for Spring and Summer stalled. Thus resulting in designers unable to create for the coming seasons.
In a conversation with IANSlife, the veteran shares her views on the impact of the lockdown on craftsmen, artisans, and the shift that the Indian handloom sector might see post lockdown. She also speaks about the losses that the fashion houses might register because of market closure, while giving some advice for designers and artisans.
Q. What India and the world are experiencing is unimaginable. What do you think will be the future of the textile industry and craftsmanship?
Kumar: Well, it is a little early to say because we haven't overcome the virus yet or found a long term solution to control its spread. But from what it looks like, I have a feeling it is going to change in a way, which will set back the clock by one or two decades, in the way we think about clothing and fashion. The ones who will struggle the most in their way out will be the local craftsman and artisans.
Q. A majority of Indian artisans who are highly skilled labour are daily wagers. How do you think they will be impacted?
Kumar: Luxury goods perhaps will be the last to get back into the flow of things. As for the heavy craftsmanship, two things may happen- one is that maybe people will start appreciating the work of craftsmen and try and buy more handlooms. Handcrafted things are more classical so people should focus on these avoid fashion fads; on the other hand since the bridal market will always exist (albeit it might scale down to a large extent), craftsmanship will also always exist, but on a smaller level as compared to the past.
Q. Do you see a major shift in the Indian handloom sector?
Kumar: The handloom sector in any case is having a lot of problems with its existence. So I feel that for the handloom sector, the government will have to step in, as well as for the craftsman sector. Both of these are sectors that can't afford to have the middlemen taking a large chunk.
For instance, they cannot afford high rent in malls. And if they sell through another agency, the percentage that the agency charges makes the garment inaccessible. So if the government is giving help to other small sectors they can also help the handloom as well as the handicraft sectors with financing and perhaps some retailing facilities.
Only then will it have a chance to survive, otherwise it is going to be very difficult for them to keep their bread and butter together.
Q. Designers all over the world and in India often source from local communities. Given the situation, it's unlikely for the chain to be active in the coming 6-8 months. Comment
Kumar: The multinational companies with very deep pockets have taken over internationally in most design houses and they run them as big operations. So the chance somebody gets in Paris to be able to locally buy anything is very low, because they will have to go to the high street malls or high street shops and they will get the same thing in Paris, London, Tokyo and New York.
Ours is the only country and of course the East, where you have the facility of being able to source locally. We have a very rich textile culture which at the moment is in the hands of the handicrafts. We can still go and pick up a bandhani dupatta, can go to Dilli-haat and buy a kurta. We are still in the fortunate position of being able to do that. While the rest of the world has to wear what their fashion dictates.
But I think that also is going to change because fast fashion is perhaps going to re-think its priorities and see how much the market is willing to bear.
Q. You have launched SS20 collection, but with the current crisis there is expected to be an inevitable loss this season. What are you thoughts on this?
Kumar: I think most businesses and most fashion houses are going to lose a complete season with the 5-6 week block out and production timing for the next season. In India, I think all our collections might be less dated as our collections are not very season oriented; they remain oriented towards the requirement in India.
Our designs don't go into a winter-summer cycle. They are more festive season oriented and our colour palette follows the hues of Holi, Basant, Diwali. We don't follow the colour palette of the year, rather work on what Indian women prefer.
But having said that, it has hit the fashion industry to a great extend with the whole amount of SS20 inventory stalled, leaving us unable to create something special now for the coming seasons.
Q. In light of Covid-19, please tell us more about your contribution to the local communities?
Kumar: We have taken up an initiativeto help flatten the curve by producing and disturbing precautionary masks made of cotton, which are reusable and washable. The masks are being currently manufactured in our factory at Gurugram, Haryana with a manpower of 20 workers and successfully delivered via civil defence DC Gurgaon.
These personal protective face masks are to aid the most affected local communities. They are being distributed to residents of the slums in Haryana to keep them safe and protected daily. So far, we have delivered 20,000 masks and aim to produce 2000 a day to achieve 50,000 pieces.
Q. A message for your fellow designers and the local artisan communities?
Kumar: Well, I do want to share that in all my years in business it has never been one smooth ride and this one seems to have hit the world harder. It's time to reflect upon the garment and fashion industry and assess the situation leading to the recessionary trend in the market. So, I think the time is to evaluate, create classic styles, and do things that are more reasonable to one's lifestyle rather than things only for the runway.
Also, it has been a long time since one has had this itinerary with so much time on your hands, it gives you some thing to think about and reassess one's life, the reality of it and how we are always rushing. I'm certain as a community, we will come out of this stronger with a clear perspective. Creativity is ever-evolving and we should never stop challenging ourselves.