Fashion editors’ e-commerce switch – The Hindu

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Former magazine editors and journalists are taking their skills and roster of contacts to e-tailers like Amazon, Myntra and Nykaa. Will it prove to be the Promised Land?

You don’t have to be a fashion insider to know that the past few years have not exactly been easy on print publications. Within this segment, lowered ad budgets and dwindling subscriptions (with social media bringing brands and designers closer) have hit fashion magazines the hardest. Over the past two years, this has led to a few shutting shop in India, with veteran editors and journalists out of jobs.

Amid all the gloom, those who once set trends and could make or break brands with their editorial power have found an unlikely refuge in e-commerce. Multi-brand e-tail destinations like Nykaa, Tata CliQ, Myntra, Amazon and Ajio, among others, now employ many whose bylines once populated the pages of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Marie Claire and L’Officiel, to name a few.

But what could mass e-retailers want from people whose sole job it was to talk to select audiences who would rarely, if ever, shop from such portals? The answer is simpler than the question makes it seem.

For years, fashion editors and journalists have been walking a tightrope between their responsibilities to their advertisers and their readers. In an ideal scenario, readers would take precedence. But in the harsh, real world, where fashion titles in India came to rely heavily on ad-sales, their allegiance shifted to those paying the bills and salaries. They had to survive.

Now, these writers who grew up knowing and understanding the Indian fashion industry and customer inside-out find themselves free from that insane balancing act. It is not surprising that the top people at India’s fast-growing e-commerce sites turned to them. Their reasons range from the social and cultural legitimacy that comes when on-boarding respected names, to utilising their clout and roster of contacts to expand retail categories. Former journalists also bring an editorial edge to the way such e-commerce giants talk about the products they sell.

Bringing in some heft

This isn’t new. Back in 2012, I was offered the post of fashion editor at Myntra when its founders were still running the company. Apart from overseeing the almost daily shoots for both clothes and accessories, one of my main roles was to suggest cool, young brands to on-board for the then-emerging category of homegrown designer labels with accessible price points. I was no path-breaking forerunner; it was too early in the day for that category to exist — no matter how farsighted the founders may have been.

Besides, once there, I realised that I wasn’t ready or trained enough to bridge the divide between luxury fashion and e-retail. I also found it challenging to fit my style of working into the kind of detailed, structured way a corporate office is run. Used to taking decisions, and being responsible for them, it was hard for me to run my images and copy past the desks of those who specialised in data analytics and SEO/SEM, and had literally no connection to my dreamy world of fashion.

For our recently-liberated friends, though, it could be said that they have trained for this. And it shows. Myntra has launched a successful video series with famous fashion and celebrity stylists; something I wouldn’t have thought they’d ever do because of the mass-oriented price points their merchandise represented earlier. NykaaFashion has an expanding array of brands as well as designer labels on one platform.

Already, shoots, videos, and captions on social media, emailers, website banners, and even digital ads have begun looking better. E-tailers are now more responsive on social media, and take an interest in regional festivals and cultural high points, too. Ideas like inclusivity — in size, shape, gender and race — are coming to the fore, however tenuously. Ironically, even sustainability is being discussed, though we cannot be certain to what extent it is being inculcated. And this signifies that if not directly, these former magazine editors have definitely helped e-retail giants develop a new understanding of our very unorganised fashion industry.

Tackling the grind

But like anything that’s too good to be true, it raises the question: how long will these marriages last? Already there are murmurs within the inner circles that the hierarchical, corporate structure is proving difficult to navigate on a day-to-day basis, that editorial creativity may have taken a back seat to the realities of the retail cycle. Keep in mind that many of the former editors and journalists come from a monthly publishing cycle. E-commerce, by stark contrast, is a beast that never sleeps.

A recent chat room on Clubhouse — that wonderful new app making audio addicts of us all — reminded me of the conversations I used to have with my peers at various fashion weeks. We spoke about designers, retailers, our editors and publishers, and the future of fashion in India. Too soon, it seems, the future is here, standing in front of us. Mais ou sont le nieges d’antan? Where are the snows of yesteryear, it asks, mockingly.

It is here that I tell myself to have more faith in an industry that has become a major player in the world economy. In India, the domestic textiles and apparel industry contributes 2% to the GDP, 7% of industry output in value terms, and 12% of the country’s export earnings, according to government figures.

In these significant numbers, all set to climb in the future, shines a silver lining. Former journalists may yet invent new forms of expression to meet growing necessities. Maybe the voices of my peers will come out stronger for having been honed by the needs of homegrown brands, labels, and companies that can no longer be ignored. The talk of locally-relevant material has been growing louder over the years; owned content that does not rely on inaccessible tastemakers is already being spoken of as the way forward. Who knows, we could even see new magazines coming out, funded by successful e-retailers. Perhaps this is the deep breath before the much-awaited plunge?

Varun Rana is a fashion commentator.


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