It is likely that your plans for a sweet summer holiday were quelled in the wake of the pandemic. On the fashion turf, no travellers, plus no e-commerce deliveries, means no business for designers and labels. It has undoubtedly been a challenging few months, but it is an exciting time to see what awaits the fashion world.
A brand like AiSPi is redefining the rules of travelling and fashion through its virtual fashion vacation that can be enjoyed within the boundaries of home—from shopping haute couture to discovering European cities, where couture is at its best. A host of fashion experts and influencers take you as close as possible to the hidden corners of London, Milan, Venice and many more such cities, all through your digital screen.
Belgium-based Aisha Saraf Kothari, Founder of AiSPi, speaks to LuxeBookabout what consumers can expect from this action-packed European holiday from home, while also diving into what the future of fashion looks like.
What is the idea behind AiSPi’s virtual fashion vacation? With the current pandemic and adjusting to a new normal, AiSPi (i-spy) believes it’s time to take a break to rejuvenate and refresh. We aim to bridge the gap between consumers and the hidden gems of the fashion world. Our newest initiative #AISPIaNewFashionJourney, is a unique 21-day summer vacation and fashion voyage for the Indian consumers, connecting them to a distinct selection of 25 contemporary, currently inaccessible, European labels and boutiques.
Being locked down at home doesn’t mean there are no opportunities to enjoy summer and travel around the world. It just needs some creativity and innovation. The three-week tour of Europe till July 13 will offer an experience for everyone combining art, cuisine, adventures, popular markets and historic walks, with interesting fashion insiders guiding you all along.
How can the consumers access this event by AiSPi? One can access the #AispiGetAway event via our Instagram stories (@aispi.co) and through our website. At AiSPi, travelling is the driving force behind why we do and what we do. We’ve always celebrated the different experiences that travel brings, from lifestyle and fashion to history, food and culture. We’ve curated exclusive experiences with our designers, influencers, stylists and speakers, to transport our guests to different cities every week and let them experience what they could have, first hand. On offer, are interesting products, fashion edits, culture conversations and local masterclasses.
Which designer labels can the buyers expect to see? Designers on board include leading luxury brands such as L’alingi, Fyodor Golan, Izaak Azanei, Rosantica, Nita Suri and 0711. They have been coveted by stylists and worn by the who’s who, including Hailey Beiber, Daniele Bernstein and Negin.
How can the consumers shop from AiSPi? Are you currently delivering worldwide? Due to COVID-19, we are only selling online and we are trying our best to deliver worldwide. However, we initially started off through offline trunk shows and our belief is that any retail channel needs to have an online and offline presence where online is more around efficiency and scalability and offline is more around experience. Our current virtual trunk show is also trying to capture a large part of the experience in the online world, given the lack of physical movement right now.
Please tell us about your journey into fashion. How was AiSPi born? With no background in fashion and formal education in the field, I never thought I could become a designer, although I was always enamoured by the industry. In the past, I was in the strategy space, and I noticed a gap in the fashion business, that it was lacking in offering experience like in food or art; and that’s how AiSPi was born.
Whenever I travel, I make three lists—where to eat, which places to visit and where to shop. The ‘where to shop’ bit is the hardest to fill up. It is either filled up with art stores or concept stores selling furniture and homeware. There was never really much insight on where I could discover local boutique designers. And that’s where I found a gap.These undiscovered designers are now a part of AiSPi. There is no such portal anywhere, which allows you to discover these experiences as you travel and that is where we started off from.
On what parameters does a designer get listed on your website? The end result at AiSPi is that you find things that are hard to find. The fashion on our website is geared towards local brands, which can be big or small. While we steer away from mainstream brands, we do encourage multi-brand stores, as some stores reflect the curation of the city.
Similarly, we work with emerging designers who are willing to personalise and customise clothes for our clients. Along with this, we feature the ones who are fashion-forward, be it in the context of trends, sustainability or timelessness.
Who are your target consumers? Our main aim is bridging the gap. This means uniting the buyers who are looking for unique mediums of expression with talented designers who are looking to scale up. Developing countries that don’t have complete access to western contemporary labels and designers are our target audience.
How has consumer behaviour in the luxury fashion space been impacted in the past months of the lockdown? Consumers have definitely become more mindful. They are more aware and conscious of what they are buying. They want to know the purpose of their purchase. I feel they have also become more curious, and now have the time to consume more information.
What does the future of fashion look like? The future of fashion post the pandemic is going to be more transparent and in-line with consumers rather than trends. I think it’s not about throwing away clothes and consuming mindlessly, but thinking if it is a piece that you love, if you are going to keep it for a long time and how you can wear it, and style it the way you like. And finally, does it express who you really are?
What differences have you observed in European couture as compared to what Indian designers are doing? I think this is a really interesting question. Firstly, I feel that Indians have a genius mastery in their karigiri, embroidery and the sheer talent in creating intricate work. The way an Indian designer makes the lehengas with gorgeous crystals, Swarovski and thread work, it cannot be replicated by someone else in the Western sphere.
On the other hand, with European designers, I think their cuts, fits and drapes are amazingly done. We have a designer called EPOK and her clothes from the exterior look simple, but in reality, it’s all complex draping techniques, cuts and pattern making. For international designers, whether big or small, material plays a huge role, maybe because they don’t have local karigari or craftsmanship.
At the end of the day, it is your material that will actually lead to a good fit, fall and pattern. Today, every Western designer has a huge emphasis on branding, storytelling, inspiration and putting the whole look and feel together. It’s about giving the client the whole story and that is something we, including myself, can learn from them.
What are your goals for AiSPi in the next five years? For the next five years, our main goal is to establish this conscious mindset and to establish AiSPi through right associations and partnerships. We believe that we bring the great hidden talent to the front, and making them available to the audience. We would love to collaborate with the right organisations, which would help us understand and bring us one step closer to consumers. We also wish to expand into menswear as that is an untapped opportunity for us. Finally, AiSPi wants to bridge more gaps between other countries; today we do Europe to India, tomorrow it can be India to Europe or it could be two different destinations entirely.
Which Indian or international fashion designers do you look up to? I adore the works of Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla. I’m also really impressed with how Gauri&Nainika have really upped their game and are doing a lot of different things. Rahul Mishra is one designer who has been able to crack global fame and enter the international market. Recently, I also came across Dabiri, and their work is quite interesting.
With respect to Western designers, Balenciaga & Balmain are amazing. Gucci I think really deserves a lot of respect for the way they have revamped themselves. Others that I appreciate are Cult Gaia and Jacquemus—these brands have not only managed to build a brand in a short period of time, but have also maintained it sustainably.
What challenges did you face during the lockdown? How did you tackle it? Like all other brands, we faced a challenge of what’s next for retail. Shipping the products to consumers in different countries has been a huge challenge. However, we tackled it by connecting with our consumers. There is a reason why we are having this trunk show 3-4 months after the lockdown was announced, as this is what our consumers have asked for at this point.
We connected with our audience on social media and started going back to our roots of offering an experience in fashion. Through IGTV interviews and sessions, we tried to get and give real-life insights to our consumers and that’s exactly why we decided to launch this trunk show.
How do you define luxury? Luxury to me is a feeling that something was actually made for me and that it can last for a long time. The exclusivity and feeling of having something that no one else has, is special.