This month, amid a nationwide lockdown, Cosmopolitan India released what it called “the first-ever Work From Home” issue. In it were “the first self-shot covershoot”, make-up ideas for FaceTime dates, and tips to look sexy in sweatpants. Celebrities and designers shared notes in it from their days at home. Fashion influencers dispensed styling advice that was posted with the hashtag #workfromhome.
At any other time, a fashion magazine posting videos of influencers telling us how to look and what to wear would be par for the course. But these are extraordinary times. A pandemic is ravaging lives and livelihoods. People around the world are grappling with grief. Frontline workers are putting themselves at risk every day. The poor are struggling to keep themselves fed, let alone stay safe and protected. Amid this catastrophe, “nailing WFH attire” doesn’t seem to be worth anyone’s time or interest.
This isn’t to say that fashion in its entirety is pointless and frivolous. I personally adore fashion and have found it to be uplifting in times of difficulty. Fashion can empower, it can comfort. It can give the marginalised a voice. But in these grim times, one can’t help but wish for the fashion community to reshape their narrative, and be more empathetic and compassionate.
Last week, I received a text from a journalist who had seen an Instagram post of mine and wanted me to contribute five “lockdown looks” for a story. The Instagram post was an ode to fashion for helping me get through adversity, including a serious health condition. I turned down the journalist’s request, but the exchange got me thinking about the tone-deafness of the fashion community.
Instead of harping on the stale “trends-you-need” narrative, the fashion community – including brands, designers, publications and influencers – could be adopting a more inclusive strategy. It could organise online workshops and tutorials, and create participatory communication to reach out to its customers. It could help make them feel more involved, not alienated.
A few brands are admittedly trying this. Nomad, a Delhi-based indie label, is doing a wonderful job of engaging with its community with its “21 days of Creativity” initiative. Fashion Revolution, a global non-profit that promotes fairness and transparency in fashion, is hosting online events and talks as part of the Fashion Revolution Week.
Inclusiveness of this kind is what we’ll need in the future. In the post-coronavirus world, the changes we are witnessing now are bound to get starker and more pervasive. In the fashion business, both consumption as well as production will be affected.
Fashion brands are already gearing up for this inevitable shift. A Vogue Business article quotes Emily Gordon-Smith, a director at London-headquartered trend analysis firm Stylus, as predicting a move to a “trendless and seasonless approach by fashion brands”. A report by Business of Fashion and McKinsey projects that the pandemic will bring into focus values around sustainability and promote discussions around “materialism, over-consumption, and irresponsible business practices”.
The economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic will invariably have us reassess and reshape our consumption habits. The culture of overconsumption that fast fashion made commonplace may be replaced by the ideology of make-do-and-mend. Upcycling, wardrobe swaps, second-hand clothing and thrift shopping will garner greater momentum.
Perhaps this is what fashion’s future holds.
For a long time and for a lot of people, fashion has got a bad rap for being superficial, stand-offish and led by trends. But we forget that our clothes aren’t just clothes – they are carriers of history, memory and stories. They are an expression of our individuality. On difficult days, they offer comfort, and on good days, they cheer on our victories. Maybe this is the time when we look at fashion as a source of warmth, solace and happiness, not as a competition to covet, own and discard.
Karishma Sehgal is a fashion designer and artist based in Pune.
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