The apparel industry’s new pattern for a post-Covid comeback

In the lockdown, business is literally closed. And much ground is already lost to Bangladesh and Vietnam. It will take a mindset shift at many levels for the sector to reclaim lost ground

Founding Fuel

Note: Founding Fuel is leading a series of conversations to explore reset opportunities across a variety of businesses, through an Indian lens. This is the first in the series on the apparel industry.   

There are three ways you can access this discussion: 1. Watch the complete video above (recommended). 2. Listen to just the audio track below. 3. Watch interesting takeaways from the discussion (further below in the article) before you choose to watch or listen to the full discussion.  

 

There is no more an illusion that kapda (clothing) is part of the essentials in roti-kapda-makaan (food-clothing-shelter). Stores and malls are closed. For the apparel industry, that’s a physical reminder that business is closed, literally.

Not just that, but when customers do come back, many things will have changed.

Meanwhile, India has lost ground to Bangladesh, Vietnam and Sri Lanka in serving the global market. 

The task for the Indian apparel industry now is to focus on evolving creative solutions and strategies at both an industry and a firm level, post-Covid-19. The experiences the industry goes through and the innovations and experiments, might well be relevant to other consumer businesses, which need to re-look at their inner workings and their supply chain issues.

This is the heart of our conversation with the three special guests:

They examine key questions:

Question 1: Firms will have to go digital. What does that really mean?

Deven: “Direct-to-consumer will pick up. While there are established ecommerce channels, this opens avenues for an apparel brand to open a competing channel and try and go direct to consumers”

Vineet: “Moving online is not just last-mile delivery. You also have to design the experience of shopping online. For example, how do you ensure hygiene for returned garments?”  

Devangshu: “Very simply, if you are not able to go to trade shows, you can actually do a virtual catwalk with live models. Adopting those kinds of technologies is something more suppliers are thinking about.” (Social distancing is here to stay. Watch the clip on how tech can help firms go to customers.)

Question 2: Can India benefit from the negative sentiment against China? And what will it take to catch up with Vietnam and Bangladesh in serving the global markets?

Devangshu: “Who will actually capture the opportunity depends on the level of preparation on the ground… Distributed manufacturing across the country will create a much more robust manufacturing base. And we have to break out of the mindset of small-scale.”

Vineet: “People look at India as a cheaper alternative, not necessarily a better alternative. We need to make our manufacturing compliant to the best standards in the world…. I never understood what ‘export quality’ meant. Quality should be quality.”

Deven: “I don't know whether we have the ambition. Perhaps the domestic market has made us lazy.” (Watch the clip on the mindset shifts this will require.)   

Question 3: What will boost Indian exports? What do we need to do differently?

Vineet: “For India, exporting means Western Europe and America. There is a huge market out there. What about Australia? What about Latin America?”

Devangshu: “We're a mercantile society. And yet, most of our best merchants are sitting in London, Hong Kong, Singapore, New York, Paris. If we can make it easier for them to be merchants based in India, we will see a lot more business flow into India.”

Deven: “Somebody who's lean on inventory will bounce back much faster. This dovetails with digitization, with how agile you are. Your agility has to be planned for.”

Devangshu: “To turnaround product in three days, requires an enormous shift in thinking. You have to work very closely with the supplier. Fast fashion is not about being cheap and disposable. It's about how to make fashion available quickly. For that you need very nimble product development.” (Watch the clip on what it means to be nimble for the fashion industry)

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