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”Functionality over trends”: FDCI Chairman Sunil Sethi on the changing fashion environment

For over two decades, Sunil Sethi has been single-handedly holding the reigns at the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI). 

As the chairman of FDCI, he is a force to reckon with in the fashion industry. He’s the man you see running zealously around at the time of fashion weeks and the one who has seen the evolution of fashion in India from the front row. In the last year, he, along with members of the fashion fraternity, his team at FDCI, and countless designers, have seen a tectonic shift with the pandemic. Digital runways, phygital presentations, and the rise of e-commerce are all facets he has experienced first hand, which is why we take this time to talk to Sunil Sethi about the changing fashion climate.

Sunil Sethi

What do you think has been the Indian fashion industry’s greatest triumph in light of the pandemic.

One of our greatest triumphs is the ability to adapt and move forward. There was a time that one couldn’t imagine or explore the possibility of doing fashion shows virtually. The pandemic has also made the fashion ecosystem more accessible with physical shows and talent hunts. Earlier, the participation was limited to tier-one or tier-two cities, but with digitalisation, we were able to reach the masses. There are no front row seats, each person will have the same experience, making the fashion industry more inclusive.

And what might be the greatest learnings?

We realised the power of social media to get our message across. But the manner of communication has to be lucid and insightful. The fashion industry also realised the need for e-commerce, websites, and storytelling which is the new way of subtle brand promotion. I see a growing honesty in the narratives, which is both rooted and interesting. People have had time to reflect, reduce and slow down that has made them think more and engage effectively with their audience. Functionality over trends is the new cool!

Manish Malhotra show. Image: Courtesy FDCI Instagram
Manish Malhotra show. Image: Courtesy FDCI Instagram

What are your thoughts on the recovery of the fashion industry post-pandemic? How can fashion move forward?

The fashion industry must experiment with different permutations and combinations to ensure a format that perfectly imitates the grandeur of fashion shows yet seamlessly fit into the new normal. With the pandemic hitting us, consumers have become conscious of their lifestyles and choices. Sustainability and vocal for local are some buzzwords surfacing the internet, and this has led to a pivotal shift from fast fashion to ethical fashion. The fashion industry will slowly have to adapt and incorporate this in their brands.

Also, the millennials now focus more on themselves and less on what the others are doing, the new trend is not to follow any trends. With everyone spending a majority of their last 1.5 years at home, comfort or loungewear, relaxed dress codes, acceptance of everything basic, and grounded and going trans-seasonal has taken the spotlight. It is refreshing to see ensembles that are multi-functional and versatile and the preference for classics over the need to stay in trend constantly.

The pandemic has led to a digital revolution in all spheres. Do you think it’s an end of an era for fashion shows?

The fashion show is an eternal entity; it will be back once the dust settles. However, I must add it will come with edits as many designers have realised the need to connect with a wider and fertile audience through the worldwide web tucked away in small towns with big aspirations. The power of a live show is enormous — it is storytelling at its finest, so of course, couture is one arena where physical shows will take centre stage once the pandemic is over.

Bodice phygital show. Image: Courtesy FDCI Instagram

What challenges did you face in the shift from physical to digital and finally, phigital shows?

I would say, there had to be a definitive shift mentally more than physically. We had to oversee many digital aspects that were non-existent in the physical show with a live audience.  For the design community, transformative fashion films held a potent message. Relaying them meaningfully for greater impact needed planning. The dynamics of the business has changed with the thrust of sales mostly online. Phygital shows are the new norm as they allow the designer to take his vision forward to the consumer.  It has been a learning experience for us but we at the FDCI are a fashion-forward organisation that embraces technology to create a friendly user interface.

Fashion brands from big to small have been impacted by the pandemic. What support does the industry offer to those looking to start anew?

It has been an overall challenging time for every industry. As fashion doesn’t feature in the essentials list it was the worst affected. But the good part is that everyone understood the need to overhaul their strategies. FDCI formed a Trust, COVID-19 Support Fund (CSF) to help small designers and weavers, who have been struggling to stay afloat. The effort was to offer sustenance and we rolled it out in many parts.

#CSFbyFDCI #InThisTogether. Image: Courtesy FDCI Instagram

Tell us about Blenders Pride Fashion Tour ‘The Showcase’. What sets it apart?

Blenders Pride Fashion Tour, a definitive voice in the fashion and design world in collaboration with the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), unveils the second edition of The Showcase, an inclusive platform with the objective of nurturing and giving voice to budding talent across the length and breadth of the nation. With definitive names from the industry coming together as jury members, mentors, keynote speakers, the aspirants will have the opportunity to learn and get mentored by the stalwarts of the industry, giving them an edge over everyone else. The budding talent will be mentored at every stage and guided through the process with a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree approach which will further help them hone their skills.

Header image: Courtesy Blenders Pride Fashion Tour. Featured image: Courtesy FDCI Instagram. 

Akshita Nahar Jain
Sr Associate Editor
Akshita Nahar Jain has worked with various publications, including Elle, Harper’s Bazaar Bride, and Time Out Delhi, and written extensively on fashion and lifestyle. A sucker for alliteration and stylish sitcoms, she enjoys scrolling the web for less travelled destinations.