Fashion shows and Runway Weeks, along with pageants have come to a standstill with the ongoing pandemic and have affected the fashion industry drastically. The cyclic lockdowns, reduced economic capacity and clamp down on public events has hit hard, coupled with the shutting down of retail stores.
The growth of the worldwide fashion industry which had been seeing a steady year on year growth has been on a downward trend since 2020 with India has witnessed a loss of approximately 2.6 billion dollars due to canceled orders from brands and import units due to the lockdown of manufacturing units, restrictions on trade and reluctant demand among various other reasons. It has also created a domino effect on related businesses, such as the wedding industry which itself occupies a large chunk of the fashion economy ecosystem.
Having over 14 notable Fashion Weeks annually, the most prominent ones being – Lakme Fashion Week, India Fashion Week, and India Bridal Week, the industry offers employment to people who are entirely dedicated to these events, specifically Fashion Show Directors and Runway Choreographers.
Despite the obstacles, the creativity of one individual is laudable. Born and brought up in Pune, Sandeep Dharma is a much sought-after Show Director and Grooming, who produces pageants such as Miss Pune and Little Miss India to name a few, under his banner – Sandeep Dharma Runway House. Having directed over 3000 shows in India and abroad, he continued to direct shows overseas while the events were halted considering the situation in India.
Sandeep Dharma has channeled his creative energy into digital platforms and was the first-ever to use these mediums to curate and direct the Online Fashion Week back in May 2020 when the first lockdown was imposed. The online event garnered huge acclaim and Sandeep Dharma went on to have two very successful seasons. A pundit at amalgamating a social message and digital platforms like YouTube and Instagram in an unorthodox manner, he was instrumental in his role dur ing the Lockdown Fashion Week and Lockdown Bridal Week where the models walked in masks designed by themselves, urging the viewers to wear masks and take proper precautions during the pandemic. Earlier in 2021, when there was thought to be a decline in COVID-19 cases, the preparations for Miss Pune were in full swing till the situation became critical and the event was called off at the last minute.
With the current circumstances, the future seems ambiguous, but Sandeep Dharma is optimistic. “There is definitely a massive disruption in the industry due to the pandemic, but we are looking ahead. Change is the only constant and gives way to innovation. The newcomers have been affected as the industry came to terms grappling with the abrupt decline. However, with digitalization being the new direction along with social media channels, despite obviously maneuvering through technology, we find that there has been a spike of interest as it is accessible to more people now than its earlier physical format. People do not have to wait for highlights post-show, in fact, they can now watch the entire event along with the industry’s crème de la crème at the same time! This is definitely a game-changer. The fashion industry has always put its best foot forward in coping with changes and staying a step ahead, literally!” he quips.
The pandemic continues to be dire, witnessing a sea change in the way humans will interact, dress and live. New trends which focus on sustainability and being more environmentally conscious have emerged along with ‘thrifting’ or shopping for pre-owned clothing. Major high street fashion brands have also started initiatives to resale and take old clothing in return for recycling purposes. Renting couture or boutique clothing has come in vogue as it is vastly cheaper than buying it off the designers’ racks. Plant-based or ‘vegan attire’ which are sourced from bamboo, hemp, wood pulp, and flax are also making a segway and are appreciated for having a positive impact on the environment while also being cruelty-free.
With the dynamism of the individuals of the fashion fraternity, such as Sandeep Dharma’s, a revolutionary change is underway. Industry stalwarts like him are the torchbearers in the upheaval and reconstruction in the wake of the pandemic and encouraging new directions of creative outlet.
The fashion industry stands united in these times – collaborating, evolving, and innovating. Being more mindful of our cultural roots by supporting regional handlooms, fabrics and workers is the utmost priority, and hoping that soon, this too, shall pass!