The pandemic has brought the whole world to a standstill, prompting a lot of questions surrounding the new normal once we come out of it. The biggest industries have been forced to re-evaluate their systematic processes and reconsider the implications these processes are having on the environment. Everything is going digital, the biggest names in the luxury space are turning season-less, and attempts at sustainability and a more circular production are at the top of everyone’s list of priorities. Increased consumer sensitivity, along with constant information about the implicit adverse effects of fast-fashion, have led to a heightened awareness of the moral ramifications of spending time and money on it.
Ace couturier and designer, Payal Khandwala’s eponymous label has reimagined fashion ever since its inception. Her layered separates, geometric silhouettes and extensive use of handwoven fabric, made in India, are a prime example of conscious fashion that is tailor-made for women, whose non-conformist sartorial choices reflect practicality and comfort, as well as style. She has also emerged as one of the few designers in India working towards adapting themselves to the post-pandemic industry. We connected with her to know more about the unique virtual retail initiative by her label and the new normal of the fashion industry post the pandemic.
Do you remember your very first tryst with fashion/textiles? If yes, what was it?
I remember vividly, I used to hand sew little clothes for my dolls. Then I decided to design a black, fitted satin dress with tulle for my graduation party when I was 15, and I looked nothing short of a disaster. It was very fashionable but was certainly not right for me. I guess I learnt very early on that personal style is more important than fashion.
Tell us a little about what your label stands for.
I hope this label stands for the quiet luxury of a new India. It's for all the gentle non-conformists that care about style, but won't sacrifice their comfort for it, women that are practical but have a relentless need to express themselves. A label that tries to make considered clothing for women, by women.
How would you describe your design sensibility?
Fierce yet feminine.
Who/what are some of your biggest inspirations when it comes to your designs?
I'm inspired by varied things. Tribal jewelry, vintage textiles, architecture, geometry, kilims, minimalism, paintings, and sculpture, are amongst some of them. I love the works of Richard Serra, Chillida, Mark Rothko, Ed Reinhardt, Egon Schiele, Zaha Hadid, Franz Kline, the genius of Yohji Yamamoto — it’s a long list.
You have recently launched a new initiative, allowing your buyers a virtual shopping experience. Tell us a little bit about it.
We've always been a client-centric label, whether we are servicing them in our physical stores or online. So we wanted to continue to focus on how to be accessible to our customers, in the safest and most efficient way. We’re concentrating on client services that feel almost like a personal shopper experience, trying to retain some of what might be lost when one is not able to shop at one of our physical stores. We launched a one of a kind virtual shopping experience by having our senior-most client services executives personally guide, recommend, and offer custom sizing options to each individual client, all from the safety and comfort of their own home. This is done via telephone and video calls, and includes 360 degree videos plus images of the products.
Once a garment(s) is selected, our client services executive organises to have the pre-steamed garment — sealed in sanitised packaging — delivered to them via a contactless local delivery service. For the client's safety, we ensure that all garments remain untouched for a minimum of 48 hours so that the clothes are safe to wear immediately. The client then has the option to keep the garment or return it within 24 hours for either an exchange or refund. This allows our patrons the convenience of online shopping but with the added luxury and attention of an individual, that in some cases knows their shopping history and/or understands their needs.
How do you think the pandemic has impacted the fashion industry? What according to you will be the new normal for the industry once we come out of this?
The psychological effects of this pandemic will be enormous. Besides the uncertainty regarding our future, financial, social, emotional, and health-wise, in the context of business, this prolonged disruption will bankrupt small and large businesses alike. It will make entrepreneurs risk-averse and tentative because fear will guide most decisions. However on the brighter side, perhaps it will compel us to run our businesses in a more concise, lean way. Maybe we will care more about the purpose behind the products we make, and the people that make them. If we learn our lessons today we can have a responsible fashion industry that encourages season-less, timeless clothing that is artisanal and supports local skills and economies, a system that rids itself of trends, and this inherent culture of 'buy more, discard more'.
Do you think sustainability could take a major hit due to the disrupted supply chains, or do you think this slowdown will be beneficial to rethinking fashion on a global scale?
Needless to say in the immediate future, because of the lockdown, there will be disruptions in supply chains. But going forward, if we collectively address the need to slow fashion down, its cycles, the endless collections each year, mammoth inventories discounted by way of sales every few weeks — if everyone makes a concerted effort to ease the pressure on the fashion ecosystem at least then, all of this will not have been in vain. However people also tend to have short memories, so I sincerely hope that we don't go back to our old ways of excess, and let greed and profit inform the choices we make.
Lastly, how have you been coping with lockdown?
I live in a bubble for the most part anyway, I like spending my time at home when I'm not at the studio. So this has not been as hard on me, as it has been for people that perhaps travel a lot, or are more social than I am. Plus we adopted a rescued Indie pup a few days before the lockdown started, I already have a resident cat, and that coupled with my daughter's online schooling, was enough to keep my plate full.
That said I've had days where I've missed my studio, my girls, the team, that energy, the freedom to step out, on some days I've wanted some time and space to be alone or being able to visit my parents — little things that we take for granted. But overall I was happy and grateful to spend so much time with my family, content at home, in a space that I love and feel secure in — I’m aware it’s a privilege given what some people have had to endure during this time. Although the short answer is chocolate!
Text Samadrita Khasnabis