Wednesday 28, Oct 2020, Delhi (India)
"We cannot shut down completely and tell the workers to leave and not come from tomorrow forever, so we need to keep generating orders to give out salaries, we run families here. Hence, we have asked our staff to work from home and built a separate team to coordinate with them keeping in mind their safety and health first." - Samant Chauhan, Fashion Designer, Shahpurjat
Shahpurjat situated in South Delhi is an urban village with remnants of the Siri Fort ruins. It is a heritage site for expats with ruins of traditional havellis and fashion boutiques exhibiting the indigenous fashion of India. It is also a go to destination for the brides to be and a perfect place to find any kind of an outfit for all sorts of events. The hustling and bustling market has narrow lanes and architecture boasting of the Mughal Empire.
In the 21st century many fashion designers took rental spaces in the market due to its architectural value, existing footfall and the comparatively lower rental demands. Along with fashion designers settled migrant artisans, dying workshops and other craft guilds. Currently there are more than 500 fashion designers and other fashion accessory stores in Shahpurjat providing a daily livelihood to thousands of craftsmen and skilled workers in and around that area.
After a global slowdown and the economic reforms that urged India to change its business practices and while they were just coping up with it, hoping for 2020 to bring some relief, corona virus turned out to be another fall leaving the fashion designers clueless about what to do and how to take the next step?
COVID 19- Corona Virus 2019, first diagnosed in China Wuhan, had been declared a pandemic in the month of March by the World Health Organization. Spread across the globe with more than 200,000 cases, it has already affected about 173 countries.
India, the second most populated country of the world, took preventive measures to contain the corona virus. Even though health is the primary concern with the outbreak of this deadly virus, yet there are other unsettled situations creating panic amongst the business owners, store owners, traders, wholesalers and exporters.
Further the government regulation of closing down markets and urging citizens to stay indoors have worsened the situation. Earlier this week the Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal ordered for the closing down of cinema halls, markets, schools and night clubs further prohibiting a gathering of more than 50 people till the 31st of March 2020. This has led to deserted markets and empty streets, with fashion store owners peeping out of their windows in hope of the situation to calm down soon.
"You can feel the pinch, COVID has really started affecting us, as no one is coming out on the streets, the multi designer stores I sell through are also not placing any further orders, I am waiting for the month end report to know the actual status, my sales has dipped down 80%-90%"- Jenjum Gadi, Fashion Designer, Shahpurjat
Jenjum Gadi, Creative Director and Founder of the label JENJUM holds a production and exhibiting space in Shahpurjat, The Lakme men's wear designer explained that the Indian fashion market is majorly wedding oriented. The Indian culture leverages saving budgets during the wedding season. Shahpurjat is one of the most visited markets during this season. Having the April- May celebrations being pushed further to other undecided dates, the designer stays perplexed on how to tackle the current scenario. "I got a call from one of my clients, Don't start the garment, we are not sure about the situation right now."
"Everything is on a hold right now, so I also have to slow down the work, give offs to karigars and just wait to see what will happen further. I have just launched the S/S 20 collection and had already put it on Instagram to promote it, but nothing is getting converted, yes curiosity is there but buying sentiments are not." He hopes that once things settle down, people will come out to buy and order making the situation better.
A renowned fashion designer selling across globally Samant Chauhan has a two floor store at Shahpurjat. He is relying majorly on online sales right now. "There has been no footfall in Colaba, Mumbai and we have in the past one week just made a sale of a single piece in Kolkata."
"We are spending so much more than the expected to keep our factory in Noida full of sanitizers and masks. It is a necessity thus, cannot be neglected too. Honestly a day or more we have been discussing about what we can do if the stores will remain closed for a month . After all we have a heavy salary structure to pay."
Samant also expresses that it is not just about keeping the retail stores open, the luxury market depends upon sentiments and the people's sentiments are not focusing on celebrations right now."Why would they buy clothes when there is no birthday or event that they are going to attend right now!"
"In the U.S.A everyone is working from home, we have an order in hand, the raw material is with us, the Purchase Order has been sent but as the samples are not reaching them physically everything is on a hold. We are panicking but there is nothing that we can do!"
Yet keeping his spirits high, Samant Chauhan plans to utilize the quarantine to fulfill all that he has been wanting to do but couldn't due to lack of time. "Now I'm settling everything, but if the city shuts down then I'll be completing a lot of things that have been kept pending for long."
Label Shreeya Mongia, a couture brand based out of Shahpurjat is also facing a backlash in the COVID 19 situation "The market has completely shut down. There is nobody in the market, the entire March was very empty, everybody is facing rental issues and we are going to try to talk to the landlords, although we have not spoken to them yet, we hope something concrete turns out." Shreeya Mongia is a well known fashion label and boutique known for its bridal wear outfits.
Fashion Designer Aparna from Label Aparna stresses concern over COVID-19 and the rage, sickness and health problems it is spreading but, at the same time mentions that "Empty markets and streets are giving us a dry March, many weddings have been postponed as a result of which the expected orders do not seem to be coming our way, Even my appointments have been cancelled and the scare of the virus has made me close down the store too"
Sharing the same concern is Shilpi Dutta of Heritage Couture, "We have received no order in the month of March, not a single piece, so it's just better to keep the store closed"
"We have been closed for a while, there is nothing happening" Christina from Christina WT organized herself just as she heard about the spread of the virus "We contacted our clients when we heard about it, those who wanted an urgent delivery, we did so on priority before shutting down our operations. Our clients have been very helpful and cooperative they agreed to late deliveries and we have ourselves offered to pay for shipments, It is an unfortunate situation and nothing can be done about it."
"In case everything shuts down for a month or more we intend to have very few and selected people work for only sampling, we have already taken precautionary measures like food, sanitization, disinfecting etc."
Witnessing a walk in of just 5%- 10% of the crowd that is generally seen dwindling, shopping and eating at Shahpurjat, The fashion designers and store owners are struggling to retain orders already placed or promised by the buyers. As people stay indoors, and refrain from malls and markets a major setback that the fashion designers are facing is the cancelling or postponement of weddings and other events.
Another concern is that of rentals."Most of the places have lock in periods in rentals, I cannot vacant the place before 1-2 years, and brands like ours that donot have any back up, it's very difficult during such times"- Shahpurjat Fashion Designer. "We are trying to renegotiate our rentals with the landlords, if they can give us some concession but we do not know if they will agree with it." quotes another concerned designer.
With no footfall, literal shut downs and adverse sentiments of the public, the fashion designers are facing losses with increased or equal expenditure. Fashion designers of Shahpurjat are definitely looking to re negotiate on the rentals with their land lords in order to sail through this crisis situation.
Not a very common and well adjusted medium to sell for the fashion designers, some might see it differently after COVID 19 and its widespread scare in the India and international market. Most designers of the market do not feel online sales can be a savior for them at this moment.
"The price point we have people prefer to visit the designer's store itself before buying"- Jenjum Gadi, Fashion Designer, Shahpurjat
While others are prepared to explore and focus on the digital platform for tackling the current scenario.
"We are trying to get orders online, I think we are totally dependent on that to get some business right now"- Samant Chauhan, Fashion Designer, Shahpurjat
"We are booking orders online, but are mentioning the deliveries to be after a month"- Chritina, Fashion Designer, Shahpurjat
As fashion accessories and garments are not a product of necessity there might be a limited scope for its sales both online and offline currently, Yet most of the designers, if not using the digital world as a medium of sales, are focusing on branding and spreading information through it about their label and collections.
An unforeseen situation like this has left the Indian fashion designers in a confused and chaotic state, they are looking up to the government for assistance and support. Having no answers about when this will settle, what the market will be like when it reopens and about re negotiations on rentals. Hoping for a silver lining the fashion designers are all prepared to game up once there is indication about the fall out of COVID 19 from the Indian subcontinent.