COVID-19 – WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF INDEPENDENT BRANDS

05-Jun-2020

In a world fuelled by consumption, the COVID Pandemic has hit the pause button and allowed us time to reflect on the past and speculate the future. The many iterations of what a ‘new normal’ would be like, has a common underlying thought – conscious consumption. No matter the industry, people are now more than ever in need to slow down, focus on what counts as necessary, and evaluate how they consume and what they consume.
Fashion is one such industry that has seen the impact up close. The closure of mega-retailers, surplus inventories, order withdrawals from factories in China, Bangladesh, India, and serious shifts in the fashion calendars are some of the most talked-about topics lately. These factors have forced the industry as a whole to analyze their production and supply chains up close, and predict this ​new era​ consumer’s demand.

However, a positive outcome could be more conscientious. The most indulgent shoppers are now considering a more sustainable approach of “buy less, buy better”. As fast-fashion takes a back seat, independent brands that have integrated sustainability in their business models “in reality”will take precedence. If this proves to be the ‘new normal’, it could be a promising future for independent local players and the planet as a whole.

Rise of independent brands that produce in limited quantities and source locally will not only contribute to the green movement in fashion but also help in preserving the traditional crafts. Several platforms are now beginning to see the potential of the same and have altered their offerings to showcase indie-labels under dedicated categories. A few have gone a step further to solely talk about small designer brands, and give them visibility in order to reach their desired audience. It also provides an opportunity for skilled craftsmen to now find suitable collaborators where they do not need to worry about competing with mass-producing machines. Local brands can now employ traditional techniques that may cost a little more but translate into the quality and longevity of the products.

Isn’t luxury all about that? Durability, timelessness, and quality?

One of the key factors that make any product luxurious is the craft that goes behind it. No number of logos or stories can match up to the life that an artisan can breathe into the making of a product. Working on century-old looms, punching pattern cards, maintaining the machinery – all of these are skills perfected over years of practice and rightly so, need to be taught and passed on from generation to generation. Adriana Marina, founder of the brand Animana that is now working with Bottega Veneta on sustainable strategies and circular models of the future, has rightly put it this way. “In an interestingly digitized world, where our material connection to the past is constantly being eroded, where knowledge and know-how are being lost because of an inability to compete in an industry obsessed with fast and cheap goods, the best chance for traditional craftsmanship to survive and be preserved for future generations is through re-contextualization in the luxury market”

However, many skilled artisan communities go unnoticed or are at the brink of extinction as result of rapid industrialization. These communities are from forgotten towns that were once the epicenters of culture, art, and innovation. With only a rich history and sincere generational craftsmen, these valuable communities may not have access and the means to compete with the fast-fashion industry.

One such forgotten community of weavers resides in the Turkish province of Denizli. Turkish textiles have found themselves a loyal audience these days, but very few know of the make of their turkish towels. In this village of Denizli, every house had a loom and every family a weaver. For centuries they had been turning their homes into ateliers that produced the finest quality of textiles ranging from peshtemals (Turkish flat towel) to blankets for the women of the Harem (Palace). Peshtemals date back to the 17th century and have been an integral part of Turkish Bathing rituals ever since. Only 300 of the 8000 looms that existed 20 years back, are left now with the last ten weaver families.

In an interestingly digitized world, where our material connection to the past is constantly being eroded, where knowledge and know-how are being lost because of an inability to compete in an industry obsessed with fast and cheap goods, the best chance for traditional craftsmanship to survive and be preserved for future generations is through re-contextualization in the luxury market

Adriana Marina

These weavers, with their magical spins, turn the finest black sea cotton into a towel that is as soft as the cotton it comes from, as beautiful as the town it was made in and as timeless as the traditions of the community. In order to find their rightful place in today’s time, this 400-year-old craft requires a modern companion. For example, ‘E-Collective’, is one such brand that stands for the modern voice that has partnered with this community of weavers to bring a unique aesthetic that marries the old and the new, to a larger audience.

The Berlin-based, luxury brand is not only unifying the modern and the traditional in terms of design but also by using DLT based tracking technology as a means to provide transparency on the make, source and journey of their offerings. ​The fash-tech startup hopes to revive a precious art form and offer modern, timeless, handwoven towels that are organic and ethically made. The post COVID era will see a rise of independent players like these that are shifting the conversation from see now, buy now to buy less, but buy right.

As the world gets more uncertain, there will be a need for real conversations, real products, and realistic consumption. With limited production lines, and the capability to pay attention to special details, these new-age brands have the potential to offer products and services that truly stand the test of time and build strong fanbase communities. The new true-blue luxury experience will be based not only on quality, exclusivity, and personalization, but also foundational humane practices. Maybe the silver lining to this, is a more greener world with unique and ultra-creative independent brands at the helm of it!

Etisha Pipada and Nainisha Mehta

Click here to know more about the E-Collective.

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