— CHARU PARASHAR
Charu Parashar's calling card is handwork and her collections are craft-focused exercises in transforming khadi silk into bridal wear and couture with a globally relevant, culturally eclectic vibe. Focussed on taking Indian craftsmanship and ancient printing techniques to the highest levels of luxury worldwide, she has a strong presence in New York, LA, San Francisco, Dallas, Philadelphia, Dubai, Kuwait, Toronto, Jakarta, Barcelona, Paris, Vancouver and Milan. She speaks to us on Fashion in the time of Covid.
''This pandemic has pushed the reset button for the whole world. In this atmosphere of fear, anxiety and financial turmoil, everyone is clueless about the way forward. But one good thing about Covid is that human beings were re-introduced to themselves; with lockdown came a lot of introspection and the impact has resulted in unity and caring for one another with gratitude and appreciation. We have become closer to our customers. just calling them to know how they are doing and praying for their well-being, sharing their concerns and putting to rest the anxiety of delayed or postponed weddings… it has transformed my relationships with them. My craftsmen and fashion team — I call them fashion warriors — have shown resilience which is exemplary. We all stood together like a family and fought this demon, Covid. As far as business is concerned, a conscious effort to take retail online has been a step forward in these changing times. The FDCI supported us with the first ever online stockroom sale to encourage designers. Even the government did their bit through the MSME initiative. Rest, we believe in the philosophy of "People First, Then Business, Then Things"
That said, I see the crucial issues cropping up in Indian fashion. Manufacturing is the biggest challenge today. Most of the labour and craftsmen are displaced from their jobs or have fled to their hometowns during the massive labour migration between feb'20- june'20. Industrial units and designers' factories are either shut or working with 20 twenty per cent capacity. The fashion industry in India has gone at least five years behind. The second challenge is the Retail Vs Rent war. Most of the business, be it fashion retail stores or designers' flagship stores, is either shutting down or relocating to affordable places in order to survive. No or little respite is coming from landlords as they are not willing to share the loss caused by this pandemic. It's not only in India but a global reality. The bigger the player, the tougher the survival. Cash flow has come to a halt. Survival is at stake. Countries like Canada have shown support for industries and retail by sharing the rent of up to 50 per cent by the government, twenty five per cent by the tenant and the remaining by the landlord which has shown the stand and concern for business and survival of economy. Unfortunately, in India it is yet to be seen. Another big issue in post pandemic times will be the "New Reality" …social distancing is here to stay for another few years. Fast fashion will gain a larger market share due to the falling purchasing power and fashion losing its position in the essential items list. Fashion is luxury and survival has become essential; to break this mindset it's going to take a long time. The fear psychosis has forced HNIs and fashion aficionados to pause on spending and hold on to money till a cure or vaccine leads the world towards a safe future.
So, this is a moment of truth for Indian Fashion, a golden era for Indian textile and fashion. The world has taken notice of ethical practices and the rich cultural heritage of India. I have been working with khadi silk and other sustainable fabrics for years but today more and more designers are working in that area. This not only will make Indian textile and embroideries global but will go a long way to establish 'Made In India' truly international. Today when China is compromised because of their conduct it's only a matter of time when the world realises the potential of India being a global leader in Fashion. My Paris showcase was an eye-opener for the audience as they thought khadi can't look glam. But the art of sustainable fabrics and techniques attract the attention of fashion trendsetters worldwide. In fact, I'm in the process of setting up a digital art studio for weavers' art and craft display. Moreover, the textile ministry through its integration of weavers' clusters, along with us designers working with these clusters directly, will narrow the gap and widen their visibility. The end- consumer too can do a lot to help sustain the livelihood and craft of weavers… Buy! It's the best form of encouragement to keep their passion and craft alive. Another way is collaboration between designers and craftsmen so creativity and craft can rise to newer heights and get the right market exposure.
Considering social distancing is the new normal and it’s hard to know when customers will feel safe to shop again, online shopping is the future of retail. The old brick and motor model will get extinct sooner or later. Online is the way forward; touch, feel and experiential shopping will be restricted to wedding ensembles only. as consumers may be hesitant initially to purchase bridal and couture online. Couture and bridal ensembles are an intimate shopping experience and takes a lot of discussion, detailing and time. So, for the time being it's personal unless technology plays cupid.''