Fashion: the ins and outs of 2021

January 17, 2021

Looking at challenges the fashion industry will probably face and possible opportunities that will arise in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Couture house Elan was one of the first fashion brands to hosts an exclusive solo show in Karachi last October, and it set the trend for a very good idea of small and safe shows.

The ongoing coronavirus crises has left fashion, amongst other affected industries, in desperate need of a reboot. There is need for mindfulness and renewed sense of responsibility. There is need for change, a new modus operandi conceived as a result of the shifts witnessed in sales patterns, consumer behaviour and disrupted supply chains. Things do not stand as steady as they did in 2019 and one isn’t just referring to the 12 percent decrease in global demand for high heeled shoes.

Are we sending fashion weeks out?

Fashion Weeks are the first and most obviously affected events, even in Pakistan. For over ten years, Pakistan’s two fashion councils – Pakistan Fashion Design Council (Lahore) and Fashion Pakistan (Karachi) – had been organizing and hosting biannual events regularly. Divided between spring/summer and winter/festive instalments, these fashion weeks had become a customary part of the fashion calendar, feeding into months of media coverage. Both councils bowed out of hosting fashion weeks in 2020 and no official announcements have been made regarding the 2021 schedule yet.

Internationally, the fashion week circuit projecting trends for autumn/winter 2021 has started but all major players have been advised against showing to live audiences. Paris, Milan and London Fashion Week (February 19-23) will be mostly online; all shows shall be streamed on official websites.

Digital fashion weeks, unfortunately, do not work for Pakistan, where fashion weeks are still seen as evening entertainment rather than a platform facilitating the business of fashion. Overwhelmed by unfiltered lineups of mediocre, commercial designers that had nothing fashion forward to show, fashion weeks had also become a display of wealth and popularity, the odds falling in favour of designers who could afford the bigger stars. They were often not the best designers. There were exceptions, and one looked forward to the few names that always impressed, but in the past three years those names had thinned out and fallen far and few in between.

Everything that one saw at fashion week is in fact all over Instagram now – the over-dressed stars and the mediocre fashion - so the purpose of spending time and making an effort (while facing the health hazard) of stepping out into a public gathering is lost. Unless a stellar lineup promising cutting edge fashion and bona fide style excitement is offered, why would one bother?

Time to call in the solo shows

A few designers, those who have the resources, sponsors, the will and the vision, have stepped up and come out, investing in small solo shows. Last year we saw Khadijah Shah host a small wedding show in Karachi; Hussain Rehar hosted an outdoor bridal show in Lahore, which unfortunately ended with news of several models contracting the coronavirus. Ensuring better SOPs and more safety, Huma Adnan unveiled her new collection at a spaced out showcase held at Karachi’s Beach Luxury Hotel in December. And just recently, Zainab Chottani has sent out an invite for her solo outing, to be held soon in Karachi.

Blocked by Afsheen Numair is a home-based brand, available online, which is keeping the art of block-print alive while financially empowering small pockets of women artisans in interior Sindh. This is the kind of brand that one needs to see more of.

These small, safe and exclusive shows are actually the smartest way forward. The creative concept of the show is completely in the designer’s control while the guest list is handpicked, eliminating anyone who doesn’t need to be there. Efficient PR and Digital Marketing can immediately ensure online publicity and subsequent sales and that’s basically all there is to it. As part of the fashion media, one would rather pick and choose events to cover than sit through delays and over extended evenings displaying collection after collection of ugly clothes.

Out with over-priced designer lawn

The next fashion staple that will take a hit, in all likelihood, is designer lawn. As we know, Pakistan’s fashion calendar is divided into two seasons: summer and festive, and summer is dominated by designer lawn brands. Last year was devastating for lawn campaigns and collections and this year doesn’t look to be much better. For one, with unemployment on a rise and the economy falling to a slump, to spend an upward of 10,000 rupees on fabric (that you’ll spend another few thousand getting tailored) seems like an excess that women may not be willing to invest in anymore. Second, with partial lockdowns and safety measures still in place, there aren’t many places left to dress up and go. One doubts that Ramzan, the busiest month of the year for fashion, will witness the same level of iftars and suhoors that were once customary and that fueled the fashion season quite lucratively.

This may actually benefit fashion in the long-run as while designer lawn was exceedingly profitable for textile brands, the lawn aesthetic had fallen to a place that no longer qualified as fashion. One saw some of the ugliest prints, complex concoctions and overall OTT colours and patterns sold in the name of fashion and maybe it’s not such a bad thing to see all that out.

Working wardrobes are now working from home

If it isn’t already evident, 2021 will witness concrete changes in consumer behaviour simply because the need to dress up has decreased monumentally. Most people stepping out for work five or six days a week are now working from home and so do not need a constant update on their working wardrobe.

Restaurants are following strict SOPS and only those with outdoor dining facilities are permitted to open for ‘dine-in’ customers. There’s also a 10pm closing time clause, which means restrictions all way through. Going out clothes are therefore reduced. Pakistan’s entertainment scene was already limited and with the closures on cinemas, that option is lost too.

What we’re left with is private parties and get togethers and people will dress precisely for those occasions. It doesn’t sound like too much dressing up.

In with slow and out with fast fashion

Speaking of consumer behaviour, one would urge buyers to think long as opposed to short-life for the clothes they buy. Especially when it comes to festive clothing, now is the time to look into vintage clothing, perhaps even restoring old pieces once owned by grandmas and mothers. There is romance in history and there is sense in saving money on creating a storyline that’ll live longer than a blingy, machine made lehnga.

Invest in hand-crafted clothes and fabrics, look to revive customs and creations that are threatened by extinction and need to be safeguarded. Also, read about brands and their philosophies and opt to invest in labels that care for their workers, their environment and are part of a responsible ecosystem. One would rather spend much more money buying a hand-crafted kurta that directly financed and economically empowered a family of kaarighars than spend little on a machine made top that would go out of trend and lose its appeal after one mere season. This year is all about thinking craft and empowering the artisan.

In & up: Digital innovations

The need for social distancing, for one, has turned up the demand for all things digital. Brands not having an online identity will probably not survive the pandemic and those playing with livestreaming, online interaction, sales and marketing innovations, will soar through. According to a Business of Fashion McKinsey State of Fashion 2021 survey, fashion executives expect Covid-19 and the economic crises to be the biggest challenge in 2021 and the digital market the biggest opportunity.

Women will not be comfortable walking into a boutique and trying on an outfit that several other woman may have already tried on (and possibly infected?), which means they will shop online; sizing, therefore will finally need to be standardized. When selling online, designers will need to be vigilant on sizing, quality control and delivering what they’re showing; a certain standard and credibility will be expected.

Unfortunately, not many designers have been able to ace that yet so 2021 will require upping the ante.

The ins & outs of trends

Masks, most obviously, are the most desirable new fashion accessory of the hour. Almost every fashion label has been putting out masks; some simply made from left-over scraps of their collections and others a little more thought out in design or statement. Slogans and one liners make cute masks, embellished and embroidered fabrics make impractical one-time options. Hoping that designers are following medical guidelines in adding protective layers inside the masks, one also hopes to see more options in silk (best for the skin), colour blocking (because you sometime just have to match it with your outfit) and subtle or fun prints.

One may not be buying complex aesthetic tongue-twisters (lawn) but the need for practical, comfortable and affordable ready to wear clothing will go up. Albeit on Zoom, the need to look professional and presentable for daily morning meetings is gradually kicking back in.

Official statistics already confirm the global demand for high heeled shoes to be down 12% and that number will probably suffer more in favour of branded sneakers and comfort wear.

Traveling may have declined but peoples’ crazy work schedules have eased up post-pandemic, which means more time for exercise and fitness, both mental and physical. And on that note, things don’t look so bleak after all.

The Pink Tree Company takes pride in its love for craft and classicism, two words that should never be allowed to die out.

Fashion: the ins and outs of 2021