A first-generation entrepreneur, Dr Jitin Chadha is the Founder Director of Indian Institute of Art and Design and Indian School of Business and Finance. Dr Chadha was awarded his Doctorate in Finance in 2011, in a grand ceremony chaired by the HRD Minister, Kapil Sibal and Prof. Dinesh Singh, Vice-Chancellor, Delhi University.
While the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is finally behind us, it is hard to contest the fact that its impact continues to be felt across the multifarious facets of our lives. As we look ahead to better gauge what the future will bring, both individuals and organizations have had to adjust to this new ‘normal’ and rethink traditional models of work and business. Companies and firms, across various sectors, are rapidly making changes in order to equip themselves to adequately keep up with the requirements of these times. The situation for the fashion industry has been no different.
In the midst of the pandemic that had gripped the world, states across the country witnessed a large exodus of people from larger cities to their hometowns. With the nation under lockdown and restrictions in place, labourers and daily wage earners could no longer afford to sustain themselves in metros and made their way back to their villages. The business of fashion – being heavily dependent on skills like garment construction, tailoring and dying – was affected by this migratory process. Factories and stores that required the physical presence of people could no longer operate. Much of the labour that had moved back home were reluctant to immediately return as a sense of fear had set in about what the future might look like. The effects of this on all aspects of the fashion industry are very apparent – be it the launch of new collections or the availability of relevant inventory. However, in light of the present situation where cases have abated, the government has issued new guidelines in order to keep the economy afloat. In accordance with these policies, the market is up and running again. Retail stores have started opening up and subsequently so has the job market and the opportunities it offers to the youth and blue collared workers across the country.
This large scale migration has significantly reshaped what we traditionally understood by the concept of retail as well. Online shopping increased in demand as physical stores shut down. As a result of this, a lot of the jobs that were offline were adversely affected. Retail stores have only started opening up gradually in recent times. With social distancing measures, staggered timings and other regulations in place, shops, organisations and companies have had to reduce the workforce. The requirement for such jobs that necessitate a physical presence have significantly decreased as sectors within the industry try to cut down on costs and make up for the losses suffered during the pandemic. While the impact on sectors that are dependent on the migratory and labour workforce have been tragic, the other facets of the fashion industry have found ways to come out even stronger than before.
The challenges that the pandemic has presented us with are hard to deny. However, it has also ushered in a the digital age for shopping and for the business of fashion at large. This has resulted in a massive growth for e-commerce. As hiring opportunities and work processes are changing and evolving, the e-commerce sector has registered a growth of 36% in the last quarter of 2020 as per the Indian E-Commerce Industry Report. The various sectors in the fashion business from designers, stylists and photographers to social media and marketing professions have all found online alternatives so as to not halt the growth and expansion of the industry in the country. In fact, with the digitisation of all work, the horizon has actually broadened for both employees and organisations. Even those facets of the fashion design that were traditionally not heavily reliant on technology have realised that only a small physical office space is now required on a need-based purpose. With fashion shows that can now be directed and filmed from any corner of the globe and released on virtual platforms to design seminars that have become completely virtual, design professionals and practitioners, academicians and students are all closely connected to one another.
In addition to this, a hybrid model of working has emerged which has enabled people to work from any corner in the world. With work being online, geographical boundaries have become faint and blurred. The fashion industry like others has found that it can now hire from a larger pool of talent by cutting across geographic borders. Remote work has given rise to a gig based economy where individuals are involved on a project basis. Individuals no longer need to rely on a specific organisation for work and opportunities. By spreading out their options they have an increased sense of stability and security in this time of flux. For companies, this often proves to be a more affordable alternative thereby offering a beneficial situation for both parties involved. This has invariably also meant that these organisations can now work in collaboration with design agencies and vendors from across the globe resulting in increased intercultural collaboration and the strengthening of ties between people from different countries as they all come together on virtual platforms.
With an increasing number of people getting vaccinated and life gradually starting to return to normal, there seems to be a glimmer of hope on the horizon. However, the possibilities and avenues that the pandemic has given rise to are endless. Individuals and organisations alike are coming to realise the hidden advantages that the situation has presented them with. Leveraging these new found opportunities and avenues as they rework and transform their understanding of the market structure will usher in a new digitised future for not only the business of fashion but other design industries and the entire economy itself.