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Rahul Mishra: "It is Our Responsibility to Support Small Businesses and Crafts So They Can Survive These Times!"

Designer Rahul Mishra speaks to Cosmo about the importance of buying local and protecting the artisans and craftspeople hit by coronavirus.

Rahul Mishra, the first Indian to show at Paris Haute Couture earlier this year, where he was in hallowed company with couturiers such as Valentino, Iris van Herpen, Zuhair Murad, Balmain, Chanel, Dior, Maison Margiela and Schiaparelli, has a plan in place to protect the craftspeople and artisans working for him. However, he feels both designers and consumers need to make mindful choices to bring businesses back to normal, post the Covid-19 crisis. 

Cosmo: Is it more important now, more than ever, that consumers focus on buying local fashion?

Rahul Mishra: “During the lockdown, people are learning the importance of resources and must learn to use them more wisely. Local fashion in India comprises a variety of unique crafts and art forms that have been sustained through centuries by small communities of people. Lives of many such craftsmen and those of their families depend of the sale of their goods. While it is important for us to sustain our culture along with these crafts, it is also our responsibility as humans to support their small businesses and help them survive this pandemic. A consumer must make mindful choices when purchasing and should invest in fashion goods that hold values such as longevity, durability and beauty. This kind of a product will remain relevant for more than a season.”

Cosmo: What will the future hold for young and upcoming designers?

RM: “I think many people will be interested in buying from young brands after the pandemic because of the excitement these labels bring to the industry. It is about genuine storytelling and creating a connection with the consumer. However, the bigger problem that young designers or small fashion businesses may face is how to survive the lockdown. While revenues have likely come close to zero, expenses such as rentals, payments and salaries remain constant. Young entrepreneurs may find themselves making extremely difficult decisions at the moment, which may include having to lay off employees or make cuts in salaries. The lockdown may even cost some people their entire businesses.” 

Cosmo: What are some of the ways we can promote green consumerism?

RM: “The first step towards promoting ethical consumerism is by promoting the use of craft based products. A product that holds artisanal value contributes to the society in several ways— by providing employment to numerous craftsmen from the villages of the country, by slowing down the pace with which resources are consumed and bringing it to a sustainable pace, and by adding a human, emotional value to every product that helps a consumer connect with it on a deeper level. For fashion businesses, it is important to support local crafts and ethically sustainable businesses by tweaking their supply chain such that it promotes more inclusivity through the design processes.” 

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Cosmo: Has Coronavirus made us question the relevance of fashions weeks? Do we need to rethink the format?

RM: “I have often found myself rather averse to the idea of trends and we at Rahul Mishra, strive to create fashion that is independent of them. The cycle of consumption that is driven by marketing propaganda and a hunger for infinite business growth is what is wrong with the fashion industry today. I believe that a fashion show continues to be the ultimate experience that a brand can provide its patrons with, but the frequency may reduce. The halt in the system has allowed us to contemplate on the same.”

Cosmo: What can be done for craftspeople, who have been seriously affected by the Covid-19 crisis?  

RM: “At Rahul Mishra, we employ about a thousand embroiderers, weavers and craftsmen across the country— directly or indirectly. Our team is like a family to us, and we are ensuring a full salary payment during the lockdown. Some employees at higher ranks, with higher salaries, have been approached to take salary cuts of 30% during the time of pandemic, and that amount can be collected post the crisis. Saving this amount may help us pay our craftsmen their full salaries because they will not be able to sustain any amount of payment cuts. If it becomes worse, we shall align our consciences and come up with intuitive solutions so that no one is laid off.

While our core teams (design, textiles, production, accounts & communications) are constantly working with a plan that will reinvent our processes, we are focusing our energies towards creating enough work requirement for when the lockdown is lifted because that is what will be the biggest need at the time. This collective effort from our end may ensure that when we resume work, all the workers will have enough opportunity to work and earn immediately, without having to wait for research and design development. We are working towards making our best ever collection of garments while recalibrating our resources. It is a constant aim to have enough work for the workers as soon as the lockdown is over, so they can recover from the difficult month(s).”

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Cosmo: Is there a silver lining in sight? Will this situation force us to focus on local production and rethink cheaper alternatives like China-made synthetic saris?

RM: “While the current situation is unfortunate, I believe that it has allowed us to identify what is necessary and what isn’t. The situation has forced individuals to look at mindful luxury, which is sustainable and closer to nature. Similarly, several Indian fashion businesses now look at sustainable alternatives for raw materials, available locally. I am hoping to see a rise in the market for the Indian handloom sector, along with the handicraft goods.”