How 5 Indian designers are giving back during the pandemic

As India officially went into lockdown mode, Indian designers temporarily shut shop, brands are manufacturing hand sanitisers at their perfume factories, and the #QuarantineLife has made everyone into an influencer and Insta-worthy outfits have turned into pillows (literally). Of course, imagining what the post-Covid-19 world looks like for designers is tough. This (truly) is an unprecedented time. But, amid the pandemic, a selection of Indian fashion labels are donating some of their profits to charities helping healthcare workers, making reusable masks, and have also started relief funds for their employees.


International Woolmark prize-winning designer Suket Dhir shut his atelier temporarily after the lockdown was announced. But, the menswear designer started working with Seva Bharati, a national NGO that works with economically weaker sections of Indian society, including tribal and indigenous communities.


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“The NGO wanted me to create a food packaging unit that could be replicated all over India. So we took a place as big as 1200 square feet in Okhla, which can package up to 2000 boxes in a day, while ensuring hygiene, cleanliness and social distancing. So there’s a firewall between the packagers and the distributors and the distributors only pick up the packages once the packagers have left. These are then distributed in the nearby slums and the food packages can feed up to a family of 6 over a week,” says the menswear designer.


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As far as his brand his concerned, Dhir says he feels as clueless as anyone else. “I honestly feel like a child in this situation because I do not know what will follow. Our sales have stopped 100%. And, we’re still paying our salaries for the next two months along with all other expenses. But, we’re taking it one step at a time. We’re trying to do positive stories on our digital platform but other than that not much is in my control,” he says.


“It’s quite difficult to exactly predict the impact of this healthcare crisis because it depends upon how long the lockdown is going to last. The pandemic has affected different countries in different ways, in India as well as the rest of the world. We’ll be seeing low turnovers, recession and might miss one whole season which is going to impact the bottom line for a lot of companies. The inventory will be held for long before we can sell it all,” says veteran designer Ritu Kumar, who is known for her deep commitment to India’s craft community.


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“But, to combat the effect of the pandemic,” she continues, “We have joined the fight and taken up a special initiative to meet the major need of creating and supplying high-quality face masks to aid the most affected local communities. The precautionary face-masks are made out of cotton which are reusable and easily washable. These masks are being currently manufactured in the brand’s factory at Gurugram, Haryana and delivered via civil defense DC Gurgaon to the slums in Haryana.”


At Anita Dongre, 24 women employees from the brand’s two tailoring units in Charoti and Dhanevari will also be creating reusable protective face masks to meet the needs of the community at large. These community tailoring units are a part of Anita Dongre Foundation’s efforts to employ rural communities. These tailoring units will also be producing special disposable masks for doctors, nurses and medical staff at the request of local hospitals in the area. Dongre says, “We’re trying to do everything in our power to help. We have started the production of masks in two of our village units to be distributed in the villages and disposable masks for the hospital in Palghar. We’re estimating to produce 7000 masks currently in a week.”


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For the last four years, 11.11/eleven.eleven has been following a production model that records each garment with a unique serial number. Co-founder Himanshu Shani says, “Through this number, we can document the data of all the people we work with: farmers, tailors, sales associates, spinners, weavers, natural dyers, block printers and young creatives. My partner, Mia (Morikawa) has done the ethnographic study of these craft clusters as well.”


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Now the brand is using this data to support the artisans who’ve been working with them and has started a relief fund through in New York for its 60 full-time workers and 300 part-time workers. “These three months are going to be hard as a lot of our international buyers from Japan couldn’t fly to Paris to see the Autumn-Winter collections. But, I’m pretty positive that we will bounce back from this,” smiles Shani.


Womenswear designer Vaishali Shadangule believes that post the pandemic, every action will be taken with utmost consciousness. “There will be mindful production, we are now bound to go back to our basics and be in sync with the nature’s cycle,” she says. And, to counter the current economic hit that artisans on the grassroots have taken, Shadangule has decided to work on a capsule bridal collection for Fall-Winter 2020-21.


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A percentage of the sales of each garment will be donated to the weavers that she works with and each customer will also get a certificate that mentions the amount that is being donated, and to whom. Other than this, she has also started an online auction via bidding on social media. The winner of the auction will send funds to one of the weaver families.

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