Written by Shweta Sharma
| New Delhi

Update : 13. June 2020 17:38:32

payal khandwala, fashion designer, covid19, coronavirus and the fashion industry

fashion designer Payal Khandwala believes that the fashion industry needs to make a number of changes to get back on its feet. (Photo: PR brochures)

The current health crisis has paralysed many things you take for granted, says fashion designer Payal Handwala, and adds that in the future you will have to think and reconsider. It has developed this idea and has recently set up a virtual trading platform for those who want to shop from home. In collaboration with indianexpress.com she talks about her new initiative, the impact of the pandemic on the industry and suggests ways to withdraw.


Coronavirus has had a huge impact on the fashion industry. But what do you think is the biggest influence?

The biggest impact is psychological in all respects – for employers, employees, the way we will buy things in the future; uncertainty has forced everyone to give up risk. But in order to do business, you have to take risks. However, if the uncertainty associated with a pandemic causes a degree of anxiety, such as how customers feel, whether people want to go out, how much clothing you make, how you keep your employees working, all of this affects everyone in the supply chain. And since the flow of money is completely stagnating, how do we get the money back into the trade? There’s no time limit. It scares you of the future, and that is exactly what we all have to fight against – the psychological effects of your financial and mental well-being, not knowing what the future has in store.

What changes does industry need to make to combat this phenomenon?

The fashion industry will have to make some fairly important changes, some of which will be accompanied by a kind of self-confidence. The surplus needs to be reduced; there have been so many attempts to sell 10 things to consumers, even if they only need two, to get products on sale, to launch 16 collections a year, or even to think, let’s have so many fashion weeks in one country. All these cycles and trends, clothing has to be much more expensive and extravagant, we will have to rethink the role our greed plays in this ecosystem.

Do we really need so many things and how can we unite them? We have to rethink and correct a lot of noise, which is the key to an industry that is going through the toughest times. How we filter this industry to make room for good, honest, sincere labels aimed at producing more of the same material.

Your initiative is a step towards changing the face of the industry after the pandemic. Do you think the physical stores will have far fewer visitors for a long time or maybe even become useless?

Well, the short answer is yes, at least for the foreseeable future, until things change. Maybe there will be a vaccine, maybe people get so tired of life with their hands tied behind their backs that they somehow jump back, become more resistant; it depends on many factors. But in the end, I don’t think that the experience of a physical store can really be replaced by online shopping. We try to do our best to provide a sense of security and make our customers feel that they can still shop, even if they feel uncomfortable entering the physical store. The human mind tends to be lonelier and more resilient than we think.

SEE ALSO | After the pandemic, people will wear wedding clothes, but they will make sure they are reused: Tarun-Tagiliani

Can you tell us about your online initiative? Furthermore, what health measures have been taken?

Our initiative was born because I wanted to put myself in the place of the consumer. If I wanted to buy something normal again, how would I do it if I didn’t have access to the store? I thought some human experiences would be better, like when I called a number and someone answered the phone and I said to them: Hi, I’m looking for a suit or jacket and I prefer these colors with these fabrics. And then I got photos, videos etc. of what this outfit looked like and I had a chance to try it on and if I didn’t like it, I got it back. So that’s exactly what we do. You can call customer service, we will send you the clothes and you can keep them for 24 hours. If you do not like this, you can get a refund or an exchange.

As far as sanitary facilities are concerned, we make sure that everything is sprayed before shipping. We only distribute these clothes 24 hours before they go out (so they become 48 hours for the next person). But for now, to be honest, we don’t have to worry, because there’s no such traffic. And in our physical store in Bengaluru (which is the only one open) there are of course masks, gloves, and we make sure that the door handles etc. are disinfected, we also make sure that if you try something, it doesn’t stay on the floor for the next two days. If you feel uncomfortable shopping with others, we can close the store and make an appointment for a personal conversation. We try to do it online, but we don’t feel clinical or robotic.

Although you give the buyer a 360-degree view of the product, many still believe that you should touch and smell/snuff the fabric before paying a certain amount. Do you think this model will be successful in the long term?

It is true that nothing can replace touching fabrics/textiles or clothing and fitting them in the shop, smelling perfume, listening to music, lighting. But online shopping works for a lot of people; it’s convenient because people all over the world don’t have access to physical stores because you have a lot of them. So even if you can’t experience it in our stores, you can still try on clothes. The ideal situation, of course, is when people go out, do their shopping, get ready for lunch, but given the limitations, that’s really the best we can do.

The India Fashion Design Council of FDCI recently announced Digital Fashion Week in India. Do you think physical fashion shows and events are a thing of the past?

Fashion weeks and fashion shows had their best days. Anyway, it’s time to update them. I really think they are spoiling some elected officials who have been invited to observe this, and in a way it’s not very democratic. For some reason, I thought he’d lost some of his charm. Moreover, if this continues for the next two years and people are not sure that they are in busy places, it will clearly not work. We will have to find a format that allows most people, perhaps outside the privacy of their home, to watch a live program. For example, if you spend Fashion Week trying to get brokers to take more orders, there may be another way to get them, and Fashion Week is no longer the right thing to do. So these things need to be reconsidered 100%.

SEE ALSO | Designer Amit Aggarwal : The industry must match the modern idea of fashion.

What was your biggest lesson in Lockup – personal and professional?

For me personally, one of the most important skills in all this is to sit there and think about all the things we took for granted. Not only big things, but also small things like sitting with all the girls on my team and having a tea break or talking to my men and suits. All these little things seem so difficult now – everything is sanctified, meeting people and cuddling them, sitting in restaurants and going to concerts and movies – it all seems impossible now. There’s the fear of looking for an enemy you can’t even see. Little things like going out on the street and smiling at a complete stranger, and in return they smile – now that everyone wears masks – it seems so hostile. It doesn’t seem to be an open, warm and hospitable world at the moment. All this makes me think.

Professionally, it gave me time to stop and think about how we could be left out of the centre as a label, and even though I took the heels out of the sand and did things my own way, there is this pressure to work within the system. It makes me think about how I want to work. Anyway, we never took part in the fashion weeks, and of course we don’t do 16 collections and we don’t do dresses without a season, so in that sense we are ahead of our time, but I would like to do more things on time, with the speed and volume that I find appropriate. How I imagined it when I created a label for beautiful clothes, when something inspired me. Now I feel like I’m on a calendar and I want to change that by moving forward.

The fashion industry works closely together, including buying fabrics, cigars, designers – do you think this will continue in the future?

Things will change in the near future. People don’t jump on a plane and sit down with the weaver because they don’t understand what you want to explain or want to build a relationship with them. Supply chains will be disrupted, things will take longer. We used to be so hyper-connected. But I don’t think it’s an endless story. I think we can continue where we left off. We just need to figure out how to pick up the pieces and move on.

The pandemic has also created a fashion trend – masks that are now being used to claim fashion. What do you think?

Personally, I’m very special. If I had to wear a mask, I would make sure that it is technically effective; it should be made of a certain fabric, woven in a certain way and have a certain thickness. Making a mask with the rest of the fabric is not my way. If I wanted to send a mask to everyone who bought me, I would give them a technical course that I knew would do the trick. Safety is more important than fashion.

Fashion is constantly evolving. What trends do you see in relation to the pandemic?

The fact is that the trends are cyclical, frivolous and volatile, so I don’t really know. I hear a lot of talk about minimalist, more practical, more homemade clothing, that people will focus more on finding the local source, and I think that would be good. I’ve always believed in old-fashioned, timeless clothes that don’t follow fashion cycles, trends and color predictions, and I don’t think anyone should care. This only adds to the chaos. We have to control our greed and remember what we produce, how and why. These are the biggest changes that will occur.

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