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What will be your strategy to deal with the lockdown and thereafter?

Value of 'Made in India' should get more importance
The Covid crisis has led to shortage of raw materials and forced many weavers to choose alternative means of profession. Experts from the fashion industry discuss their steps on how to help the handloom sector tide over the crisis going forward.


After the lockdown, we will ensure standard operating procedures to maintain health and hygiene at the workplace, communicate with clients through voice or video calls, as this will be the new norm of business.

About 70 per cent goes to the weavers and the Ethnic Fashion House takes 30 per cent. We follow a dignity of-labour principle, fair trade practices; that's why we deal only with a niche market that understands our work culture and appreciates handloom and the artisans' work. We have been improving the standard of living (of the workers) since we were established. The trend will continue after covid-19.

2020 would be all about just surviving and staying alive. Any business which is able to do this and just lie low to tide over this current condition would have automatically made profits. The strategy now is to be diligent enough to understand that this is the new "normal" and one should take it as a pause to reset and re-invent and re-imagine where the foundations of our business lie.

The roadmap is to show and tell the power of "Walking Hand in Hand" to get out of the crisis even stronger than before. My "Artisan First" ideology is my strategy. I see this taking a new direction, new alliances, new innovations, new creative and artisanal collaborations across borders. People today desire human connections more than ever. I wish handloom and hand-crafted products are always on top of the list in our consumption basket.

In many weaving villages, 60-70 per cent of the population relies on weaving as a livelihood and although many orders are coming in, the availability of raw materials is low as most need to be transported locally, which is difficult during the lockdown.
The workers also live in remote parts away from cities, and this makes directly providing essentials very difficult. However, we are helping them financially, transferring double amounts directly to their accounts. We are also personally in touch with them on call, reassuring them emotionally in this time of crisis. The markets are impacted due to low demand and this is impacting the business, but we are ensuring a steady income for our weavers working from home despite all this since their livelihood is connected directly to the craft.

The learning has been to really take control effectively of the way savings are made. The strategy is simple-ensure we can all stay together to come out of this without diluting our work or our team. We do believe people will be more inclined towards locally made and sourced products across industries. The value of 'Made in India' should get some more importance and relevance after times like this, when the only thing that helped us through the confinement was what was available in our neighbourhoods. The merit of local lies in how self-sustainable and self-sufficient it makes a community, to not have to wander too far to get what they need.

It is time for everyone to reinvent the way they operate by working collaboratively, being more approachable and by planning their production to ensure things are delivered as per promised timelines. We need to be more efficient, need a better design system and innovate our design thinking that can back our industry to create more purposeful products that last.

The present lull should be viewed as an incubation period where self-sustaining communities of handloom and handicraft and designers should be encouraged to think local, make local and market locally. Buy Indian and promote Indian.

The traditional craft practices and weaves have been our strength and should be assiduously nurtured. It is time to build synergies between craftspeople and weavers and designers to innovate within the constraints.

Bearing in mind the post-pandemic scenario, a shift in lifestyle and with the slowing down of the economy, designs would be required to be more need-based. Transparency in sourcing, production and pricing will be crucial for the design community.

During the lockdown, shops remained closed. Even if restrictions are slowly relaxed and there is some progress on the supply side, the possibility of a resilient demand is bleak. It is in human nature to become more tight-fisted, spending only on essentials and therefore reducing spend on products.

A good online presence in a business is necessary, and this is even truer in the environment of social distancing / lockdown. This digitisation means a greater presence on online portals, which promote handloom products, or e-commerce selling through your own website so that one is accessible to both Indian clientele and those abroad.

Digitisation doesn't help translate the multisensory experience of touch and feel. However, it would have helped in these times of crisis.

So, one should focus on the qualitative aspects of business rather than the quantitative ones. For instance, a deep-down strategy analysis, building employee interpersonal skills, cross-functional training in the handloom process, building customer relations, and so on. Responsible fashion is to better the lives of artisan families by keeping their looms busy throughout the year.

Our first and foremost objective is to provide a safe environment for our workforce. For that we are putting global standard measures in place. In terms of business strategy, we will be creating tightly edited collections. We've never really followed global trends and seasons, and our products are made in a way that they remain evergreen through the seasons.

Retail stores have played an important role in giving buyers a sense of the details of the textile, the actual quality and silhouette. Now a lot of the connections and storytelling will have to be done digitally, with great images and well-written product descriptions. I would like to approach differently. Handcrafted clothing involves a lot more work than handlooms. There are many more textile crafts involved, each requiring patience and the labour of love and specific skills. Not only Indians, globally too there will be a shift in buying towards local businesses and homegrown brands, where there is a lot more transparency. Our focus remains on connecting with our customers, to emphasise and educate on handcrafted and handloom and strengthen our online presence.

I've always believed in having local artisans to work with us at the workshop; so that's a big relief after the lockdown. As we always do: go slow, grow organically.

Especially when you don't have much control over the revenues, cutting down your costs through reducing overheads can save you. Zero waste, investing in better technologies, and improving our digital presence will be a few of the changes going forward.
I work only with handlooms and there won't be any change to that strategy. We rely heavily on Indian customers and sell only handlooms. The good thing is that the weavers are still scattered in the rural India and not in the factory setup. So, maintaining social distancing norms would be easier.

The fashion narrative is about how the coronavirus situation has taught us to be responsible, about how something you buy needs to help the poor. So, if people choose to buy ethically, then we can see handloom being able to support the fashion industry.

We work with 800+ weavers, and we have faith in one another. Every piece of garment or sari we make takes months and some years to make. So, weavers will begin from where they left. Those who are working will aim to deliver their work.

The weaver tribe has grown over the years but how the market will be after the lockdown, how much people are willing to spend for high quality, hand woven clothing are still questions that need to be asked. We are confident and have reassured our weavers that they will continue to get work. There will be realignment of strategies which we discuss with master weavers and they
are eager to apply them.

This article was first published in the July 2020 edition of the print magazine.

Published on: 17/07/2020

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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