COVID Times – A Talk with Neeraj Sachdeva

During the discussions on our how corona virus is affecting us all and our industry , we speak to Neeraj Sachdeva on the current situation and timings which we call #Covidtimes . An industry veteran and having held position of creative heads in many global retailers including Benetton besides being a Professor in Fashion Institute of Technology (NYC) , Neeraj shares his unique perspective with Sandeep Agarwal on this situation and what all we can expect. We bring the talk verbatim.

Hi Neeraj, How are you doing and How’s everything going in NYC?


Good Morning Sandeep, it’s getting a little sunny now, sometimes the Sun definitely helps when other things are not going so well. I’m sure you’ve seen the news, unfortunately, I wish I could say the news is exaggerating for once, actually, things are not. 

I think the good thing is everybody’s taking the severity of the situation very seriously and we’re following orders and shelter in place and social distancing and non-essential services and business are on hold. 

It’s definitely helping the contagion but there’s a lot of work ahead for everybody and it’s interesting to see how the small businesses are being so creatively evolving, how to deliver, how to service customers. Because safety is first and even when you go out for your grocery, I can see every day New Yorkers actually exercising extreme caution and courtesy and common sense. 

Sandeep  : 

Coming to the business side, it’s a terrible situation right now, stores are closing down and supply chains are being badly affected, so what do you think it is going to lead to?

Well to tell you the truth, obviously, I don’t have a crystal ball to tell you this is exactly what’s gonna happen, a lot of stuff depends on when we can do a calendar that’s the thing as an organization or individual we are so used to working with it and believe Oh!  this is my time so I hope this happens

In two months this happened and in three months I can do this and that.

There’s not much we can do right now, I mean like you said who thought that maybe like a nationwide lockdown three weeks long and we’re all in week 3 and so we’ll just have to wait to see and I think a lot of what happens to all of us as consumers.  

Our confidence post-pandemic like how excited are we and what are we excited about do we want to go immediately on a shopping spree or do you want to be cautious and current take it slow and you know just to be a bit more conservative with our expenses. You only buy things and we wanna buy experiences, you wanna reach out to our loved one in weeks now which seems like decades for a lot of us. So I think a lot will depend on consumer confidence as we step out of it.

I think brands and businesses will have to involve products and messaging and how we kind of deal with these things. One thing that I think is gonna make a huge comeback is the brick-and-mortar store. I think all of us will rush back to engage with humanity as you said to actually touch them feel because of the product and I think currently three weeks in I’m a bit dizzy and I’m a bit digital afflicted and I will be okay not to see my computer screen for hours and hours and hours then because that’s all I do ten hours a day now. Obviously it’s great that we have the technology and tools to connect with people, talk to businesses like yourself and still stay connected and inspired but I miss physical touch and space.

I miss things to touch and feel I think we’ll all crave that’ll definitely impact on what happens once we’re out of this pandemic. Businesses are just nimble and they’re ready to adapt and do whatever that happens. We have to quickly mold into the new reality because I don’t think we’re going back to what my business was a month ago. I think you see a lot of new business models. I think a lot of new creativity I think big businesses will have to start thinking like smaller businesses and be agile and you will see a whole new rebalancing.


If this situation lasts for a couple of months and supply chains get broken, I mean it won’t be so

easy for the brick and mortar stores and even online stores to come back very quickly.


Well, this is highly nuanced and extremely technical and as you said this would be like a logistical nightmare but I myself just filling out different scenarios if I’m back to my office after two months or three months, what would come, I will be ready to embrace whatever comes our way because I don’t think so anybody can predict an exact timeline. 

So say if the lockdown left in May week two, then I have X raw materials and manufacture X number

of goods, we just don’t know and what I was going to be doing stuff for because think about it. Unfortunately, spring and summer are pretty much a wash at this point the next week is namely back-to-school or q3.


I have been speaking to some of my industry friends, and they are advocating about SEASONLESS Garments, what’re your thoughts on it?


Well, don’t you think the concept of Seasonless has been followed for the last couple of years and not new? So I think this season analogy has been abandoned as the collections are coming after every alternate month, I guess. So I do not think that there is anything new about it. I guess we should ask retailers not to produce in such heavy quantities. 

I think you may see less of quantities because since we’ll be producing less, to begin with, you know

again that could be a tiny positive out of this whole thing.


Do you think, is it the beginning of the end of mass fashion?


So again, to tell the truth, it all depends on consumer behavior. I mean do you think the whole idea that I’m just going to wear this outfit for one Instagram photo gonna go away overnight is going to be still there, probably not but you see a whole different realization of it.

The thing is when I was at the discussion with some of my colleagues about sustainability in our businesses, we realized that it is there but nobody is really investing it in a big big way but I think this experience will make sustainability a very personal thing like experiencing all of these things for something. Consumers will look at who is manufacturing and how’s it impacting their daily life actually now.

I think this would reshape everything that for a long time to come and a lot of great things will come on I just don’t know what they are absolutely 


Do you think in terms of outsourcing, the globalization model will probably take a backseat and people may look for nearshoring, sourcing near their own countries or regions as far as possible?


It’s again a matter of rebalancing and maybe well one of the things that actually comes to mind is maybe we need to look at our traditional product development. A lot of things are going to be virtual and digitalization of most of the process is going to happen now. 

One of the criticisms of virtual tools is that they are very expensive but the more the people get behind it, the technology will become cheaper. And if there’ll be more players coming up, it will bring even more innovative solutions in a much faster way.  

I think we should start to think more about digitalization.

Sandeep :

Do you think many small brands that do not have deep pockets will not be able to survive and be shutting down due to this pandemic? 

Neeraj : 

Yes, I do think  but I also think a lot of crowdfunding will happen and the small brand will find ways to save itself. Campaigns like buy from locals either its restaurants or cloth, local stores/shops have already started, and I think a lot of amazing things will come out of it.  


You work with a lot of designers and yourself being in senior creative positions , to your mind what is their main concern as of now?


I think it is just uncertainty, if they will be certain for two weeks, they will behave in a certain way or if they will be certain for three months, they will behave in a certain way. Every day new supply chains get disrupted, everyday new orders get canceled, so there is just a lot of uncertainty and that is what most of the people are worried about. 


The biggest positive takeaway from this situation ?


I am optimistic about everything and I believe that a lot of adaptability, flexibility, and creativity will come out of it. 


It was  really wonderful speaking to you and thank you for joining us and please be safe 


Thank You, Sandeep, Take care.

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