The pace of fashion will change, become slower, only the best will survive, says JJ Valaya
In the early nineties, Jagsharanjit Singh Ahluwalia, better known as JJ Valaya, entered the fashion industry. At that time, he was the new kid on the block, and founded his label ‘The House of Valaya, which became instantly recognisable in the fashion circles across the globe. Over the years, JJ Valaya’s work has earned him the title of the ‘Czar of Indian Couture.’
After revolutionising the fashion industry, the veteran fashion designer returned to couture after a three-year hiatus and held a runway show for his collection, 'Tabriz', last year. Amid the pandemic, JJ Valaya is back with his new collections, website and plans to go digital at the India Couture Week to bring about a digital disruption in the fashion industry.
JJ Valaya speaks to Fashionnetwork.com about his journey, impact of Covid-19 on the fashion industry, and digital disruption.
FashionNetwork.com: You have completed almost three decades in the fashion industry, how has the journey been so far?
JJ Valaya: Imagine an era with five designers, one shop selling designer fashion, no magazines or newspapers writing about fashion, no tv channel other than Doordarshan, no internet, no fashion weeks, one institute that churned out 20 students a year -- all this in a country as large as India. Cut to now, I don’t think I can stress enough how the industry and country has evolved since then. We’ve been privileged to have been a part of it all, the best part being, it’s always been exciting and continues to be exhilarating.
FNW: How did it feel to make a comeback after a three-year sabbatical and how have you dealt with the subsequent Covid-19 disruptions?
JJV: I stepped away for some time to reassess, relook and reconfigure my life as I wanted it to be. Once that was clear, getting back into action was the natural step. As far as the lockdown is concerned, I got a lot of quality time to spend with my two daughters. In addition to that, I managed to completely design a brand new collection in clothes, as well as luxury homes, which we will showcase soon. There was a required calm with no phone calls, travel, traffic and disturbances. We were laid back and that gave a very pure and high-quality time to create something which was extremely encouraging. There has been too much to do at our end, we have been putting the website together and doing the interiors of the new spaces, which has been taking a lot of energy. By God's grace, we have been more than busy and this is a phase we just have to go through. Might as well laugh your way through and be grateful for whatever is happening.
FNW: The fashion industry has been badly hit due to the Covid-19 pandemic and resultant lockdowns/restrictions. How has the lockdown been for you and the brand and what changes to do you foresee as an industry veteran?
JJV: Mentally, across the board, all the designers were ready for a season which would be lacklustre, and we had decided to focus on the next season instead. Initially, as most of the people went back to their homes and villages, there was an outflux of all our karigars and workers. The market has diminished because of the pandemic worldwide and there is a lesser demand. So, it will take time to come back to full speed. However, we are quite pleasantly surprised, because weddings are still happening -- maybe not as many and maybe a lot smaller, but they are. I'm happy to observe there is a big return to physical walk-ins. People, after a point of time, have decided that they have to learn to live with this; be extra careful not to make foolish mistakes in terms of the pandemic, and go on and live their lives normally as much as they can. As far as the changes are concerned, the pace of fashion will change. It will become slower, and more sustainable, but the quality is going to improve. This is something that was much needed anyway because fashion had become too fast as everybody was running a rat race and launching too many collections too rapidly, which wasn't working out. This would also mean that you will have a better quality of clothing which can last longer, which you can invest in. Values of tradition and values of craft are going to play a very important role. The cheap stuff that had started coming up is all going to fade away and only the best will survive, which is a great thing by any standards. People will invest in pieces which have credibility and which will stand the test of time, something we have always believed in.
FNW: How will the Indian fashion industry make a comeback and what steps are you taking as a designer/brand to revive sales?
JJV: Between the fraternity, we all thought that this season would be a washout and have a very reduced footfall. The good news is that sales are getting better every week. I think one has to keep focusing on all the positives rather than keep thinking about the negatives. It is a tough phase for everybody and will take its time to get over. All the workers and embroiders have now started coming back and factories have now started coming back into full strength. Our real-time stores have been open since the past two and half months and we have seen an increase in walk ins. The reality of this season is that weddings and group gatherings are smaller and most of the guests that are being invited to weddings are now seeing weddings virtually. It's a very intimate family moment now, therefore, the clothes have been changed to a little lighter and intimate, rather than wearing very heavy clothes, which are more relevant to a larger gathering. Other than that, there is no change as given the weddings are still happening, but smaller. The clients are still having video calls with my team members and visiting the stores.
FNW: You have launched an e-commerce website. The pandemic has brought a lot of new shoppers online across the globe. Is e-commerce the way forward for designers?
JJV: Because the pandemic has stopped people from coming to real-time stores, the virtual world has become very important. I can't speak for the others, but can only speak for myself. We are following a natural trajectory, where we have launched our website as it was planned. This launch is not in response to the pandemic, but a part of brand strategy. E-commerce will definitely be an added avenue for purchase. We are hopeful that the launch of Valaya.com and the entire collection being available online will add to our sales and also increase our audience reach to an international market.
FNW: What has been the response so far to the brick-and-mortar stores after unlocking and will we see any offline expansion in the near future? What happens with 'The World of Valaya '? Will you still go ahead execute it the way it was meant to be or has the pandemic made you scale down the project?
JJV: Due to the pandemic, the purchasing power and the size of gatherings have reduced, but boys and girls still want to get married in style. They are purchasing our garments, maybe not as heavy, but more intimate and lighter, and they are in touch with our teams. Yes, the plan is to launch the real-time 'World of Valaya' in Delhi, 2021. It will be a large space and will exhibit everything that we do from fashion, jewellery, interiors, art, photography to everything. The only change that has happened due to the pandemic is that we had initially planned to launch the real-time store this year, before the launch of the website in August. But due to the pandemic, the launch of the real-time store has been moved to early 2021.
FNW: The entire fashion event calendar for the year has been wiped off due to the pandemic. However, many organisers are planning virtual fashion weeks. The Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) will be organising India's first-ever digital fashion week later this year. How do you see this new trend and will we see you participate in any of the upcoming digital fashion weeks?
JJV: This trend is not by choice, but more circumstance driven. I think you have to look at the positive side that everybody can devise a strategy and still be able to solve the negativity that is floating around. We are very excitedly looking forward to the FDCI virtual couture week in September and are working on a very very special presentation, which of course, you will see when the couture week happens.
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