I expected much worse from 2020: Couturier JJ Valaya

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JJ Valaya (Photo: Twitter)

By Puja Gupta

New Delhi– Fashion designer JJ Valaya says he was convinced that 2020 would be a washout and that the focus should be on the coming year. But he now sees that the fashion industry reviving.

“It will take its time to come back to full strength but you should always look at positive things, at least it’s picking up again,” he says.

In a candid interview with IANSlife, the celebrated designer, who launches his e-commerce site valaya.com, speaks about the impact the pandemic has had on the business of fashion, the future of the industry and how fashion will be phygital in the future. The designer is also set to show his collection at the FDCI Virtual Couture Week to be held soon.

Excerpts:

After all these years, why do you feel its important to launch an e-commerce website now?

JJ: So as a recap, we are now a 28 year old brand. When internet came into India and people started making website, we were amongst the first to make a website, but at that point of time websites were not for e-commerce but for information. Across the passage of time, the website took a back seat as we focused more on expanding real-time in terms of stores, to the extent that in the last 10 years, we did away with the website and didn’t have one at all.

Last year we went through lot of business decisions and changed quite a bit, including the opening of ‘World of Valaya’, our signature flagship location in Delhi. It was a very large space, which included everything we do from fashion, home interiors, photography and to more. The flagship store opened in July, followed by the website launch in August, the online version of World of Valaya, but the pandemic has changed everything.

The launch of the actual store has moved to 2021 early and the website is being launched exactly when it was planned. There are no changes in what we had planned, other than the fact that the virtual world is being launched before the actual.

Generalising, most designers frowned down on e-commerce arm of business, and here we are today with almost every designer scrambling to get one up and running. Has the pandemic driven this change in mindset?

JJ: Everyone is going into it for very obvious reasons, because the pandemic has stopped people from coming to real-time stores, so the virtual world becomes really important. I can’t speak for the others, but can only speak for myself. We are following a natural trajectory which is to launch when we had planned; in about six months you will hear about the launch of the real space as well.

Marriages are now happening on a very small scale. How do you think it is going to impact the business?

JJ: Frankly, I expected much worse. I was convinced that the season of 2020 is going to be a washout, because Indians are known for there large and extravagant weddings; if they don’t get that, then most boys and girls can’t decide. If there is no drama, then what’s the point of having a wedding! I was assuming that most of the weddings would be delayed to 2021.

Mentally, across the board, all the designers were ready for a season which would be lackluster. We are quiet pleasantly surprised, because weddings are still happening, maybe not as many and maybe a lot smaller but they are still happening. When there is a wedding, people have to dress up, look beautiful and stunning, so we opened our stores about two and half months back and since then I was very pleased to note that the footfall as well as the business has started to go up again.

This is a welcome sort of surprise because technically, in our minds, all of us had decided to focus on the next year. I’m very glad that everybody is now realising that this is going to be the new normal and they can’t stop living their lives. So the weddings are happening, they will be intimate, having 50 real guests and virtual guests watching in. But the boys and girls, they still want to dress up and look good, they might not spend as much, as they would have in a large wedding, but they are still getting married in style. I think we should be very grateful and thankful that the fashion industry is not totally kind of affected by the pandemic, but it is reviving.

It will take its time to come back to full strength, but one should always look at the positive that at least it’s picking up again.

But recently many designer stores have shut down permanently, why do you think this is?

JJ: I don’t know what is happening across the board because there is too much to do at our end, we are putting the website together and doing the interiors of the new spaces, so that is taking a lot of energy. There is the FDCI India couture week next month, so we are working on that. By God’s grace we have been more than busy; this is a phase, we just have to go through. Might as well laugh your way through it and be grateful for whatever is happening.

What do you think about the idea of fashion going phygital? Would you like to talk about your show at the FDCI Virtual Couture Week?

JJ: That’s because we don’t have an option. It’s not by choice, but by circumstances. I think you have to look at the positive side that everybody is able to devise a strategy and still be able to solve the negativity that is floating around. For example, we are excitedly looking forward to the FDCI virtual couture week. We are working on a very special presentation, which of course you will see when the couture week happens. I can’t talk about it now.

Looking at the current scenario and the kind of marriages and events happening, do you see changes in trends and in the preferences of the brides?

JJ: I don’t think that there is any significant change. I only think probably that since the functions will be fewer, so people are buying less. It still is the most important day of your life, I don’t think there is any significant difference except for the fact the number of weddings have significantly reduced this year.

Secondly, the functions are fewer, therefore the purchasing power of people is also limited, so I don’t think there is any radical change other than the fact that girls and boys want something new and still want to make something bespoke for themselves. There is no such major change other than the usual thing, which is not industry driven but more circumstance driven, and there is no way around it, which is why the virtual platform is going to play a major role.

A large number of our enquires of business are buyers from outside India. It’s not easy for them to travel long distances, and this year that also can’t happen. When you see the site when it’s up and running, you will notice how we have created the same experience as you would expect if you were to visit us. From the human touch, detailed appointments, measurements, everything online will make sure that we don’t lack in any way and the customer is happy. (IANS)

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