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BW Businessworld

An Athleisure Style Moment

Industry estimates point to a plunge in prices of luxury fashion brands this year by anything between 50 per cent and 70 per cent. Covid times have taken a toll on summer, winter and even the festival collections for Diwali, necessitating frenetic makeovers in styles

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The lockdown has been prolonged and even where it has been lifted, shoppers avoid crowds. The high-rise mall and shopping arcades are therefore, bereft of the throngs of shoppers who once milled around them. The pandemic and the restrictions on movement it necessitated, struck just when luxury brands were in the throes of a transformation because of the hegemony of ecommerce and the convenience of buying favoured brands online. So, the restrictions on movement and the supply chain disruptions that occurred because of them, naturally plunged global luxury brands deeper into the doldrums. 

For long, these brands that attract exorbitant prices for their exceptional craftsmanship, have survived on the efficacy of the supply chains. The approximately $100 billion luxury fashion industry anticipates a contraction of 40-50 per cent. It may take two years for highend luxury brands to recover pre- Covid volumes. Rajat Wahi, Partner, Deloitte says, “With malls opening, the footfall is still 35-40 per cent, creating a challenge for the brands.” As luxury is a retail business, a lot of brands have moved to malls from the high-streets and the pandemic hasfurther brought down footfalls, often bringing sales to a standstill, adds Wahi. Malls in the cities no longer get the desired footfalls, but luxury fashion brands are banking on a rebound in sales before the festive season. 

In times when crowds are unlikely to come crawling back, fashion brands are trying to recover lost ground by hawking their new collections on online websites, but so are other retailers. To cope with this tough competition from other retailers also pushing sales online, luxury fashion brands have begun to focus on digitisation and demand-led home-wear collections. A recent McKinsey study highlights that sales for the 2020’s spring season were as much as 70 per cent lower than that of last year. 

“It’s been tough for luxury brands owing to the nature of the product and because people want to touchand- feel these products before buying,” says Wahi. “It’s challenging for the industry,” he says and elaborates how “many brands have come up with several innovative ideas to reach the end-consumer, including home deliveries, getting trials at home, several sanitising processes, etc.” Digitisation does seem to help luxury fashion brands cope with the pandemic, for companies like Prada have reported an increase in online sales by 150 per cent for the first half of 2020 over the same period last year. Overall sales though, have dropped by 40 per cent. 

While several brands see these times as an opportunity to lift up their businesses, some find it challenging. The concerns, explain Wahi, are mainly  about facilitating interaction with consumers, while ensuring that it is sanitised and hygienic. However, brands have innovated to virtual try-on to omnichannel supply chain strategies. Says Akhil Jain, Executive Director, Madame, “Madame saw a surge in demand for work-from-home wear and we quickly ramped up our manufacturing and sales game. We are implementing try-on technology which brings store garments and apparel to life in the form of a virtual dressing room to attract more customers to stores. Even, omnichannel strategy is under beta testing at 24 stores so that the brand is well prepared to welcome customers at stores in the future.” A part of the luxury industry is particularly dependent on events like weddings and fashion weeks, etc. and has been deeply impacted by the pall in celebrations. Globally, brands are still figuring out how to deal with the current crisis. From WFH-Edit to athleisure collection to gold-studded face shields and silk de chine and cotton poplin face masks, brands are pulling out all stops to stay afloat and create a buzz around themselves. 

An Athleisure Moment 

Indian fashion and luxury brands may be witnessing the athleisure moment, as apparel manufacturers try to keep in step with times when work-fromhome is more the norm than an aberration. Brands are focusing on collections that offer a slightly dressy top and comfortable bottom wear in easy-topick sets. Says Jain, “We have pastelshaded shirts for client calls, glamorous blazers from virtual meetings and essentials like T-shirts, jogging suits and hoodies fry basic home and loungewear.” Luxury brands are in a rush to capture eye balls of consumers, in a bid to push up that demand curve. “We are on our way to join the loungewear revolution with our designers rattling their creative minds for cracking styles to make loungewear look sexy and fabulous,” reveals Jain. 

Lack-lustre 

Industry estimates point to a plunge in prices of luxury fashion brands this year by anything between 50 per cent and 70 per cent. Covid times have taken a toll on summer collections, winter collections and even the festival collection for Diwali, necessitating frenetic makeovers. Brands have focussed on many innovations in their repertoire for the season to stay in step with the assumed demand. 

Many luxury brands, though, are yet to opt for the online marketing route. Wahi explains that several brands have shied away from the online market because they feel that their products require “touch-andfeel”, have designs that are exclusive or because they are not comfortable with the services offered by the online mode.

Undaunted by the market trends, brands are going all out to showcase their best ware during the festive season. “We are coming up with shimmery festive styles in relaxed fits! We are attempting to make the most of each season and festival to rake in sales for the brand,” says Jain. 

Currently, luxury brands are focussed only on staycation styles at both the stores as well as the online market. “At this point in time comfortable wear is on our minds. These include floral ruffled dresses and tops, formal shirts, bottoms which can be carried anytime  whether its staycationing at home or zoom call meetings,” says Jain. Wahi keeps his fingers crossed. “As we are getting into the festive season, the market will surely see an uptick,” says Wahi, adding, “Most cities have opened up and retail is slowly getting back to its original numbers. The weekend shopping has returned to 60- 70 per cent and a lot of that is having an impact. Once things normalise, the luxury industry will kickback fast.” 

Rebound sales 

“In the business of apparels and fashion, we can only experiment with the inventory of our new collections,” says Jain. While brands f ind athleisure a small part of fashion in India, it is growing steadily. Brands are focussing on collections showcasing relaxed hoody styles, more layered apparels and more snuggle for the upcoming winter season. 

“This festival season will be different as a lot of people will not be travelling and 65-70 per cent people won’t travel this year. This may lead to less buying of accessories and apparels which in earlier times were a key focus of luxury brands,” says Wahi. He goes on to say that overall, the market was down because of the lack of celebrations and occasions for meeting. There are also no events to buy products for. 

The pandemic has indeed taken a heavy toll over a section of the luxury business. Market watchers predict though, that this is the very segment of the market likely to witness the most voluminous rebound sales once life reverts to normal.