“Global fashion business is in the middle of recovery and rediscovery” -Dheeraj Khanna, an Expert Fashion Consultant

Dheeraj Khanna, an Expert Fashion Consultant, and current brand management consultant for Robert Barakett, is one of the many designers that are fashion-forward but are kept behind closed doors. Mr. Khanna acknowledges all the changes made in recent years to the fashion industry;   however, he believes that there still needs to be major reforms on the back end of the fashion world, and a voice that speaks up for the face of change.

Recently Dheeraj Khanna talked with Team Textile Focus and shared his views about the global Fashion industry. For our readers, the key points of the conversation are mentioned below

How do you see the global fashion business in 2022?

Photo: Dheeraj Khanna, brand management consultant for Robert Barakett

Global fashion business is in the middle of recovery and rediscovery. Coming off the unforeseen sales boom of 2021 and preparing for the cooldown of the global economy in 2023, the fashion industry is still struggling with supply shortages, shipping logistics challenges, shifting consumer tastes, labor struggles, trade wars, political instability and overall fundamental ideal changes of what the future of work should look like. This confluence of events can be almost described as a mid-life crisis for the fashion industry.

Whether individual companies manage to adapt to the changes remains to be seen but from a business point of view; Smart companies can see quite of bit of new opportunities within the chaos. Companies that are reacting with modern thinking towards the paradigm shift occurring in employee culture are reaping the rewards of having more talent be drawn to them and there are just as many, if not more, digging their heels into the tried and true…but one doesn’t have to look hard to realize that the tried and true may not appear to be as solid of a foundation as once thought.

Malleability, that’ll be the key driver for success. In product chain as well as employee culture. Relevancy is hardly worn and easily lost.

What are the major challenges right now in this industry?

One of the biggest challenges right now is Identity: managing and adapting to the changing workplace culture; Specifically, working from home. It’s a fascinating time in labor relations right now because we’ve never really observed the workforce having such power for negotiation against the employers. Companies that are adapting and answering to the demands are reaping the reward of having a much wider talent pool to draw from. Whether this investment will ultimately pay off remains to be seen but the obvious effects are already visible for companies that refuse to acquiesce.

Failure to entice new talent further burdens the existing staff, which further exacerbates them into seeking alternate companies. I think the last 3 years will become their own full course in business schools across the world in the coming future. Which company ends up in the cautionary tale section and which company ends up in the success section of this course really depends on the current management’s success in balancing the company vision with embracing change. This will be a deeply unique process for each company but if I was a CEO I’d be looking very hard at what my company’s relevancy will be in 10 years based on how it operates today.

Going forward identity will matter as much as cash flow and ROIs.

How major movements have aided the fashion industry to be more inclusive and diverse in the models and the sizing, but growth needs to be made in other parts of the fashion world?

The last 10 years in fashion media and media, in general, have been transformative. From, body positivity and inclusivity, openness in discussing mental health, LGBTQIA+ outreach and support, and championing POC designers & entrepreneurs. Much has been done on the consumer-facing end to align the fashion industry as an ally, to champion social and judicial reforms, but behind the scenes is another story. If you look at the top management of most fashion companies there hardly is as much diversity there as there is on their product’s social media pages. This observation isn’t unique, nor is it to chide the current power structures. But, rather advise that such contrast will eventually be noticed by those you’re trying to appeal to. Gen-Z is the most tech-savvy generation and in my opinion, they’re the most inclusive and empathetic. Championing POC on your social media while having almost none in your boardroom or C-suite is something that will be pointed out by many.

If companies are to remain relevant to consumers’ minds and wallets they will need to organically embrace inclusion and value voices that differ from their own. If strictly viewing this as data then the more data you have from varied sources the more informed you can be and take more calculated risks. Having POC in your upper management gives you wider range of life and work experience ergo more data to better reach out to the future generation of customers. It’s just solid investment in one’s future. 

What is your suggestion to young designers, in terms of sustainability?

This will be one of the key issues facing the fashion industry in the coming future, very near future. Get good at it now and by that, I mean sustainable clothing will, very soon, become not just a talking point, but a near requirement to sell even core basics such as underwear and t-shirts.

From the design perspective – Sustainable clothing will have to look just like your regular everyday fashion. This is becoming and more prevalent but just like one day soon there will only be new electric cars being sold, so will one-day sustainable clothing be just the norm. Not a marketable call out. It’s the new spandex of the fashion industry. From marketing to the intrinsic part of the product.

From a production selling perspective – Companies will have to outfit or retrofit their entire product pipeline to be as sustainable and carbon neutral as possible. Consumers won’t just accept half-hearted measures of having a t-shirt with a  60% organic cotton blend. Is the shipping CO2 neutral, was it made in a fair labor practice factory? Is the fabric GOTS certified? Companies will have to be prepared to answer all of these questions with genuine intent.

Any Message to the Industry?

Despite the doom & gloom of the myriad of reports calling for a serious cooling of the global economy, I think there’s still a tremendous opportunity to realign or discover yourself as a creative and as a company. One of the silver linings of a recession is that it not only disrupts the status quo of business but also the status quo of culture. If one has open eyes and ears, they can observe the changing trends within their own circles and society at large. If one can do that then one can better point out new revenue streams and gained relevancy for years to come.

There’s no secret, no mystery, no reading of the tea leaves. It’s just listening. Listen to varying viewpoints, of the new generation, Disruption of everything is happening all around us, at every minute, so why wouldn’t you reach out to those around and ask what they’re observing and take that into account? It makes no practical sense to not be more inclusive of age and ethnicity. If you’re a captain of a ship trying to navigate through a storm in an ocean you’re not familiar with then why wouldn’t you want sailors that are familiar with that ocean? I certainly would. Even if purely concerned about optics; it makes you look like a better captain.