Young designers are among the most affected by the pandemic. It will be difficult for them to emerge unscathed, but there are solutions that they can mull over.

The fashion industry today is dominated by marquee designers, populated by upcoming talents and influenced by fashion metropolises. All leading companies, designers and fashion houses in cities together drive consumer preferences and the fashion ecosystem on a global scale. The global outbreak of covid-19 has not severely impacted the fashion industry. The outbreak of this disease has affected high-end fashion retailers and leading/emerging fashion designers the most. Leading fashion designers have conceptualised creative marketing and sales strategi es to clear their Autumn/Winter 2019 inventory. Designers have not been able to generate significant sales despite offering heavy online and offline discounts. Since we are in the midst of a global recession, brands are focusing on restructuring their merchandising plan.

However, there is a great variety of emerging designers that compete in the fashion industry and bring a fresher feel to the industry. PR fashion agencies, consulting firms, special apparel service providers and small size fashion design companies help market the collections produced by ace and new talent alongside helping them attain the required visibility.

Regardless of size and structure, every company in the textiles and apparel industry is in business to generate value by providing consumers with products and services. They promote products that have high marginal value and less operational cost. Brands are striking out traditional marketing expenses and focusing on their digital presence to increase their brand visibility and sales. The emerging designers need a structured venture launch and strong business foundations to survive the troublesome first years of their entrepreneurial journey.

Listed below are some challenges faced by new age designers and possible short-term and long-term solutions that can help them in tackling the problem.

Financial Distress: Survival amidst this crisis has become a struggle for all industries. Emerging fashion designers are having a difficult time with planning their inventory and production. There is a lot of cost-cutting since sales have been limited. A lot of designers have laid off their staff to cut their overheads expenses and survive in the long run. New fashion designers are financially more burdened. They are unable to pay full wages to their karigars. Since they run business in a small capacity with limited investment, they outsource their manufacturing units and connect with suppliers. Due to the shortage of funds, initiating payments for suppliers has become another constraint. This is resulting in cancellation of orders.

  1. Product Manufacturing & Outsourcing: Emergingdesigners have been trying to launch an alternative range of fast-sellingessential products at a reasonable cost to keep business afloat. Productpricing is being determined by considering the manufacturing, distributioncosts and marginal value. Profits are not being factored in at all. Challengesare being faced in producing the products, as they are unable to affordproduction in their own units. They have been trying to find the rightmanufacturers to outsource their work. The manufacturers are not showinginterest in working with designers offering limited scope of work. Designersare forced to pay extra fees and opt for expensive production units to gettheir collections ready. They have to offer products at a subsidised rate inorder to stand in line with their competitors. Many new age designers havetaken up opportunities to work with major retail brands for resolving theircash flow.

  2. Customer Relations: Emerging designers have strivedharder to gauge their target audience from different cities to ensure theycreate relations with their clients and generate maximum order viadigital/offline channels. These designers do not get repeat clients easily asthey chase new trends.

  3. Distribution: Distribution can also be a challenge for emerging designers, as they mostly struggle to get through their desired multi-designer store. They try to reach out to stores/platforms with valuable market presence, higher visibility ad traction. It becomes difficult for them to retail their collections at huge marketplaces due to leading market players and increased competition.

Short-Term Solutions

  1. Scalable Business Model: During this pandemic, thebiggest concern for designers has been sales. There has been a big shift inconsumer behaviour and their buying outlook. To address this issue, designershave strategically planned a scalable business model, that amplifies theirsales target.

  2. Affordable Price points and Social Media Engagement:In order to survive through the crisis, emerging fashion designers need to promote their products at an affordable price. This time can be wisely utilised to generate more sales of their collections with real perceived value and strategic marketing. Fashion designers need to focus on sharing valuable content and interacting with their followers on their social media platforms:for example: hosting flash sales, talking about why they chose this profession,what sets their brand apart from others, USP of their product, educating their followers on sustainability, etc. It will be effective if designers can host live chats to address common questions asked by their customers.

  3. Fashion Merchandisers: As online consumption rises,it becomes crucial for designers to consider viable fashion ecommerce platforms for retailing purpose— the platforms which provide promising sales through a large clientele base. Designers should hire merchandisers to help them smoothen their on-boarding/retailing process for their desired platforms. They should also consider virtual pop-up shows internationally to touch base with NRI clients.

  4. New Sales Verticals: Designers can branch out and launch additional verticals like bespoke designing, customisation and styling services to expand their reach. They can collaborate with other brands and work on their product designing, stitching and other production processes to generate more revenue.

Long-Term Solutions

In order to ensure constant sales,designers should consider B2B collaborations which will serve as an alternative source of recurring revenue. It means collaborating with other designer brands,fashion houses, fashion boutiques and studios to bulk manufacture theircollection. This can boost their sales, increase their visibility and get them publicity.

  1. Manufacturing for Other Brands: Designers can also be product manufacturers and suppliers for other brands. For example, a high-end jewellery designer also struggles with their production/manufacturing due to labour costs, lack of productivity of their karigar, problems in sourcing the raw materials and searching for vendors who offer higher quality of production and finishing can collaborate with other designers and outsource their production. A jewellery designer running a small business can be a sole manufacturer and supplier for the brand and take bulk orders for every season.

  2. Direct International Sales: Designers also need to focus on creating relations with NRI clients to ensure constant sales in the long run. They should connect with independent fashion curators and sales representatives who can showcase their collection at global social events and pop-up shows to increase their reach and sales. They can hire them as their sales representative / agent to represent their brand in the international market and expand their sales channel.

  3. Join Market Groups: These groups are platforms for independent designers to connect, share information and test their product range before launching it in the market or selling it to the retailers.Designers can join flea market groups in India/overseas to be a part of one communal retail space to sell their products.

  4. Big Designers Can Support Small Designers: Sales via B2C clients and B2B collaborations need to be balanced to ensure optimum mileage. While we all are in the midst of a pandemic and recession it is extremely important for everyone to work together, support each other’s ventures and help the community grow. If big designers and brands support emerging designers, there will be an influx of orders for both (big and small brands) and consumers will be motivated to buy products of superior quality and a subsidised price which will encourage shoppers to use their disposable income. This act of togetherness will help the fashion community to grow as well.

This article was first published in the September 2020 edition of the print magazine.