Guwahati: At a time when the coronavirus pandemic has set off social and economic distress at an unprecedented scale, the fashion industry is among many that are staring at an imminent collapse. In better times, fashion retailers would have had launches of their spring-summer collections every year in March-April. Designers would launch their new yearly collections and plan their yearly calendar. Stylists, makeup artists, models, etc, would be hoping to land gigs. The advent of the coronavirus pandemic, however, has brought economic activities and the fashion industry (considered a "luxury") has hit absolute rock-bottom in these uncertain times.
Although the Government called for a lockdown to contain the spread of the virus, the caseload in India is continuing to skyrocket at a frantic pace, bringing concerns that it could actually supersede America, the superpower that is staring at an economic collapse due to a record number of virus infections. So how does this bode for the fashion industry of Assam? Not very well, say industry insiders.
"Many models, stylists, makeup artists, etc who are from the smaller towns had moved to big fashion industry hotspots of Delhi and Mumbai to chase their dreams. In Assam, they tend to move to the urban centre of Guwahati. Now, they are suffering both financially and emotionally. Rents are due and there is no income as no event is happening for a long time. In many small manufacturing units, fashion designers are in a death trap because the buyers unethically cancel their orders without any reason. There is no law to protect from unethical cancellations and nonpayments for these people", says Prasantt Ghosh, an Assam-based fashion designer cum choreographer, talking to The Sentinel Digital.
Ghosh further points out that during the past decade, the fashion industry was an economic success; consistent growth, the strong performance of the Asian market, and the boom of online shopping set up a bright outlook. "Until the start of the pandemic, the sales forecast for 2020 looked promising. However, the Covid-19 crisis has dramatically affected the fashion industry worldwide and also closer home in Assam. The Indian garment industry is in bad shape as orders from the fashion retailers dried up. Malls are shut, stores are closed. Retail is reinventing itself — if it can — to a more invested move to eCommerce. This is the beginning of job losses, store closures, bankruptcy for many. The fashion industry is in tatters as lakhs of jobs are at risk", Ghosh laments.
Ghosh further opines that the fashion industry is "not so promising" this year. "It may pick up during the marriage season of 2021 if a vaccine of Covid-19 becomes available to all. The Coronavirus pandemic has forced everyone to rethink about industry habits. People are wearing masks along with maintaining social distances and calling it the "New Normal" but the actual new normal will be known only after the pandemic is over", he adds.
Avyarthana Dutta, a 28-year-old model who plies her trade in Assam, says she had to move back to her hometown, Sivasagar, as the number of gigs dried down post-lockdown. "I have been modeling in Assam for 3-4 years. However, I have been forced to relocate to my hometown as we cannot afford to pay our rent. We have been hit especially hard as our profession involves gatherings. This is especially unfortunate as the Assam fashion industry is only now beginning to take wings. The digital medium can be used for promotions, but the earnings have really dried up; it cannot help us economically", she told us.
With vaccine trials underway globally, the industry will surely be looking for a post-pandemic resuscitation. The e-commerce industries are also expected to do better by the end of this year. Meanwhile, travel restrictions and social distancing rules have moved the fashion industry to a digital space for the foreseeable future. Online streaming of designers shows and no guests' policy might become the new normal for the front 'row influencers'. Designers and companies will cut down their employers to be on the safer side and companies that were doing well before Covid-19 will shut down or will be taken over by others.
"One may lose jobs or clients or modeling assignments or fashion events. But nevertheless, we have to use the time productively. Learn new skills, stay creative, and work on new designs and new ways of doing things. Butat the end of the day, what we have to ensure is that we do not lose hope. We will spend time with our friends. We will enjoy the good times after an event we have worked hard for. We will get our bonuses and paycheques. Fashion is here to stay", Ghosh adds, expressing optimism.