For an outsider, the fashion calendar can be a bit of a head-scratcher. Summer and Spring sales run from January, when most places are at their coldest, to June. Winter and Fall collections take over in July, while most places are still sweltering, and run until December. There’s also the Resort collection, which generally consists of summer wear, but is sold in the winter—for people looking to holiday somewhere a bit more tropical.
If that calendar sounds strange, brace yourself for the concept of fashion week. Held twice a year—once in February and then in September—you’d expect the former to be for Spring/Summer, with the latter for Winter. You’d also be wrong. Indeed, the New York Fashion Week—one of the most important fashion events in the world—which will happen in two week’s time, will see Summer collections on display.
This is a cycle that the fashion industry has stuck to for decades. It allows retailers time to decide what they actually want to carry, designers have time to service this demand, and fashion magazines have a long runway to popularise new styles and build demand.
The Covid-19 pandemic, though, has thrown a wrench in the fashion conveyor belt. Lockdowns have disrupted supply chains. Inventory has piled up as brick and mortar stores remained closed for months, with even online channels affected. Customer behaviour, meanwhile, has entered entirely uncharted waters. With people largely stuck at home, fashion preferences have moved wildly—high-fashion is out, comfort clothing is in.
At every level of the fashion industry, there is confusion.
For India’s brick and mortar fashion sellers, it has been the worst of times. Take Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd (ABFRL), which operates over 3,000 stores—350 under its popular Pantaloons brand—all over the country. Its retail real estate footprint spans over eight million sq ft. During April and May, with the entire country in lockdown, this empire stood deserted, with mannequins being the only human-like presence.
Revenues plummeted. From a healthy Rs 2,065.50 crore (US$ 281.3 million) in the quarter ended June 2019, it has seen a year-on-year drop of 84.4% to just Rs 323 crore (US$ 43.9 million). All told, the company reported a loss of Rs 410 crore (US$ 55.8 million) in the quarter.
Its rival, Shoppers Stop, which also saw its 88 department stores shuttered during the same period, saw a 93.5% year-on-year drop in revenue. What probably hurt Shoppers Stop more is that many of these large-format stores are in malls, which saw stringent shutdowns even while lockdown measures were eased.
Delhi-headquartered value fashion retailer V-Mart, which boasts nearly 266 stores across 19 states, was similarly hit. Revenue for the quarter ended June was down 82.77%.
Even with the lockdowns largely lifted, it is hardly business as usual.