“Over nearly two decades, I and AMPM through me, have sincerely tried to engage our audience in a conversation about ‘less is more’.
In the years that I was growing up, Indians as a community lived by certain simple values. We were not consumerists by nature, at least not in the way we are expected to be today. Neither were we callous in our consumption, buying solely because we can or because it’s supposedly therapeutic.
Purchase in those days equated to meaningful investment, an action that had been thought through and mulled over, and executed when a high level of return was nearly guaranteed. Quality and timelessness used to be priority, followed by aesthetics and versatility.
Today of course, these most essential Indian attributes seem to be long forsaken.
With the influx of western values and incentivized prices, we’ve walked down a slippery slope of inadvertence. What began as innocent curiosity towards a foreign culture, has tragically turned into a painful and pointless study in imitation. The influence of fast-fashion combined with artificially created demand, has irrationally pressured our entire community into a loop of ‘more and fast’. Over the last few years, this vicious cycle has severely damaged our retail ecosystem, economy and the environment. By producing more and consuming fast, we created unsustainable demand and supply chains that could easily be disrupted, and would crumble under the slightest pressure of an adverse situation. As luck would have it, we face today one of the greatest crisis of our age.
At the time when the lockdown was announced, the fashion industry was just warming up to the summer season with our newest collections launched and our stores brimming with merchandise. We had produced with the usual optimism, which meant that we probably made a little more than we could sell.
We now find our warehouses packed, our markets empty and our choices achingly limited. Our industry as a whole is looking at a complete annihilation of profits and margins that will undeniably be caused due to the onslaught of discounted selling. Some brands that produced carefully might get away with cautious discounting vis-à-vis the ones that produced one too many. The consumer on the other hand will now be looking at buying the best ‘deal’, woefully unaware that discounting is a disease that eventually leads to inferior quality, reduced value and futile investment. In the end, everyone loses.
Unfortunately, we cannot reverse what we have done. We cannot simply forget and buy our way out of this one. Then what can we do?
I for one believe that adversity is a great teacher. So, we can learn. Learn from our storied past and misadventures. Learn from what nature has not so subtly been trying to tell us.
We need to learn what I call, the art of Conscious Consumption.
Even though this has numerous facets that will continue to unfold over time, for now we can focus on what is most brazenly in front of us. Entrepreneurs such as us will need to take decisive steps forward, in order to moderate our consumption as a community. We need to start understanding that consumption is not alone the burden of the end-consumer, but that we as an industry have a crucial role in determining consumer behavior.
First, we need to be conscious of the value we provide. We need to stop selling ourselves short by discounting. With the advent of large e-commerce platforms and their unrealistic discounting behavior, the Indian consumer started expecting and demanding discounts across the entire retail landscape. And we gave in.
We are an industry that makes products that are handmade by labor with heirloom skills and precision in craftsmanship that take years to acquire. So why then would we want to produce rampantly when we know it can only lead to discounting, and then eventually to compensating margins by lowering our quality? We must at all times remain conscious of this.
Second, we must start putting ethics on par with aesthetics. We must ensure that we have robust HR policies in place that actually impact the well-being of our employees, that we work with vendors who we have carefully chosen and have fair trade practices, that we make sure our raw material is sourced consciously and that our products have a low carbon footprint.
We must not let ourselves believe that sustainability is only to do with fabrics or raw materials. It is equally to do with quality and durability.
Third, as consumers we must remain conscious. Another thing the pandemic has shown us is how little we actually need. Buy what you need, but not out of anxiousness or fear and not because you simply can. Buy only good quality, and not out of greed for a great end-of-season deal or because you have a tendency to lose interest in your possessions very quickly and demand a replacement. Once bought, we must consciously try to extend the lifecycle of everything we own by practicing reuse and repair.
It is this important conversation that we need to start having, now that we begin to align ourselves to the new normal. It is the root of the cause that we must address, as too many years have been spent scratching the surface. We do not want to run the risk of propagating another ‘fad’, which will then be relegated to some insignificant pages in history.
Let’s educate ourselves to consume mindfully. Consciously.”
– Priyanka Modi