The Strand of Silk team in India attended the Lakme Fashion Week - the fashion week of Mumbai, that featured the brilliant Rohit Bal as the grand finale show.
We re-connected to a lot of the designers that we have worked with in the past and also started many new conversations with the designers that we thought are most appropriate for our customers. For the Banking blog, we thought it appropriate to focus on the actual business aspects related to the Lakme Fashion Week, so here is our take on the business at the fashion week.
We loved the fact there multiple emerging designers had been showcase and given an opportunity to present their collections. It was great talking to some of the designers and the manner in which they see their business evolving and the challenges on the production side - be it availability of fabric, the sudden disappearance of the skilled manpower or the supply chain logistics in India. These conversations really put in perspective the issues at hand - but what seemed clearly lacking was a mindset or plan from the designers to address some of these issues. A lot of the issues were just taken as a given and there did not seem to be an indication that they wanted to address these issues head-on and find a longer-term solution.
We strongly believe that every market and industry faces unique challenges, but unless these are tackled head-on, there is no long-term solution that can be sustained, everything turns out to be just stopgap arrangements that are meant to address the immediate problem rather than the broader issue. Some of the issues that are probably worth elaborating on include,
The skilled tailors and karigars that are almost crucial for the Indian style clothing that flaunts embroidery and embellishments are sometimes the most fickle segment of workers.
We have often heard from large and small designers how their production suffers when these workers are in their village for 2-3 months at a stretch and often without adequate advance notice.
This is a crippling issue for the designers and there needs to be better organisation for this segment of workers if suitable scale and consistency is to be achieved.
We have been told innumerable number of times that the fabric for the style has run out and that a particular style can no longer be produced.
Some of the designers have a very good planning system for the fabrics that ensures that they have enough fabric available for the styles produced in a particular season. Alternatively, they have a system of creating the same style in fabrics that are very similar to the original style.
But these designers are a minority, most of the designers either have a very limited stock of the right fabrics or they just stop making the styles once the fabric finishes. Hopefully the younger designers prove to be path-breakers in this aspect and start to better control and manage their production to ensure that the beautiful styles can continue to be produced.
Selling products online requires a different mindset from the designers, it's not as simple as taking a picture and putting it up for sale (as some of the people we met seem to suggest!).
While online retailers like ourselves play an important part in satisfying the demand from this channel, it is crucial that designers understand the challenges and the underlying factors that drive this channel. A lot of the designers seem to think that an online retail channel is an option that they can "experiment" with and only consider seriously in the far future.
We obviously beg to differ, because this is a management and organisational mindset that needs to be put in place from a very early stage. Once behaviour and habits are formed, it is difficult to get people to see and do things differently from the perspective of production, customer service and the entire customer buying experience.
We do have some thoughts on how these issues can be addressed, but these are thoughts rather than concrete solutions. Hopefully we can work with some of the designers to help them find sustainable and longer term solutions for these issues that they face.