Monisha Jaising on post-COVID fashion, new consumer behaviour and migrant labour crisis
'I'm a seamstress first and then a designer,' quips fashion designer Monisha Jaising when she was asked about the philosophy behind the minimal fashion choices she makes for herself. She goes on to say, 'I'm minimalistic because I'm working in the factory all the time. I consider myself the labour class.' During the latest edition of Time Pass-- a series of conversations hosted by The New Indian Express Group, the legendary designer gets into a free-flowing conversation with author and senior journalist Kaveree Bamzai and Edison Thomas, Editor of Indulge.
'Monisha has been around longer than we have had liberalisation,' says Bamzai as she introduces the designer to the session that went on to delve into topics ranging from the new shopping choices to migrant labour crisis.
"The pandemic has had an effect on all sectors of the economy worldwide but the sectors that are extremely hit come in the category of non-essential spending, and fashion, of course, is one of them. You can see that everywhere around you,' begins the designer, quickly moving on to the brighter side of things. "But one thing good about it is that people have stopped overproduction. From production companies to trading countries around the world, everybody was in the rat race to get all the new collections out on time, to have a certain amount of turnover every season and the environment was being abused because of that. Now it has changed for good as production is as per demand."
Talking further about the pandemic's effect on buyers in the post-COVID era, Monisha shares that the pattern of buying is going to see a big change. "People are no longer going to buy just for the sake of buying. They will buy if there is an occasion or if they are in need of it. One will obviously think if they can use a thing for a long time and if it's functional and comfortable before making a choice."
She further adds, "India has a high population of youngsters who are aspirational. They love to buy things, they love fashion and the whole lifestyle experience. Obviously, now it's curbed because of the economic strains and the disease that is still around. What is going to happen is that the shopper is going to be smarter. They will definitely want value for money. They are going to look at the longevity of the products. There's is not going to be any careless or impromptu buying."
And what happens to fast fashion and store that used to come up with new collections every three months? Monisha says, "I feel that high street stores like H&M and Zara will survive. They will just have to rebrand their production and stop overproducing. They will continue to churn out new collections every three months because fashion is something that you get bored of in some time. It is something new that comes into your life unlike your house or the paint on your walls or furniture - which you can't often change. But you can wake up one day, look in the mirror and decide that you want to wear florals that day. That can give you a sense of 'new' every single day. Nothing else can give you that. Fashion is a bit of vacation that gives you joy every day."
With the lockdown, most people have started working from home, and as a result, their fashion choices have also changed, agrees Monisha. "With the Zoom meetings and everything, people focus more on the top part. The torso is what is important now (laughs). Also, bright colours really work on screen, they are attractive. On the other hand, people are out there now. They have slowly started getting out-- for walks, small gatherings, intimate weddings etc. Leisurewear and athleisure have been big for a long time. They have been worn by celebs for airport looks and now for Zoom meet looks. What is nice about it is that although there is a sense of luxury in it, it is also comfortable and functional," adds Monisha whose resort wear is about celebrating the non-formal aspects of life and yet, giving it a sense of luxury.
When asked how her design philosophy has evolved over the years, she says, "It had been pretty much the same for the past 30 years. We believe in sticking to a certain brand identity. We have always looked at western cuts and shapes but we give it an Indian twist by using Indan fabrics, embellishments or motifs. There is something about India in every garment that I make." And what are some of the changes she's brought in her designs during the pandemic? She shares, "We are trying to make garments that are affordable because everyone's gotten hit economically. We are also making it functional, with pockets that will let you keep sanitizer and mask in it and focussing on garments made of breathable fabrics, something that doesn't need to go to the dry cleaner."
Moving on to fashion weeks and how they are going to be functioning, she adds, "All the fashion capitals- London, Milan, Paris, New York- have announced that they are going to go ahead with the fashion weeks, just that it's going to be in the digital space. In India also, FDCI is planning something similar in November. It is going to be virtual for some time but it will happen because it is a very important platform for designers to show their collections."
When asked what she feels about migrant labourers going back to home states, she says, "Most of the weavers and artisans who worked with me wanted to leave for no other reason but that they wanted to be close to their families. I have been telling them to come back for a very long time. Some of them have so we have started work at 50 per cent capacity. But some still fear as to what is going to happen. A lot of them have found employment in their state and they feel it's better for them to work there because they are close to their families," she shares adding that she is helping some of her ex-workers who have started their own small business by giving them job work.