The Future of Work: Tina Tahiliani on Running Brick-and-Mortar Stores
While #WorkFromHome is standard protocol now and many have come to find comfort in this arrangement, that isn’t possible for many professionals in industries which necessarily require the workplace to be outside their homes. In our new series #TheFutureOfWork, we talk to individuals whose nature of work doesn’t allow them to log on remotely and ask them how they envision their industries changing in a post-lockdown era. Here, we chat with Tina Tahiliani, owner, Ensemble.
How has your day-to-day work been impacted?
I closed the stores on March 18th as I realised it was the most important thing I could do to protect our employees and customers and halt the spread of the virus. Six days later Prime Minister Modi imposed the lockdown. We worked to keep our employee morale up, tried our best to be supportive to our designers and also responded to our customers who have had needs at this time.
I had been working on taking Ensemble online for the past year, which was supposed to come to fruition at this time. Our young team went back to their homes all over the country but had done such an incredible job of storing all their work in an accessible and systematic manner that we were still able to launch during the pandemic. While we hoped to launch under better circumstances, the team came together wonderfully with a common purpose and we were able to launch our website, www.ensembleindia.com, on April 27th. Despite not being able to fulfil orders till the lockdown is lifted, the sense of accomplishment our team felt was huge. I felt like I had delivered my third child!
What are some of the ways that you are keeping yourself occupied? Where do you find comfort?
I actually have been having very full days! I have set myself a routine that keeps me grounded. This includes exercise, some spiritual practice, and working from home. I am using this time to look at our current systems and processes from a distance and figure out how to make them better. We are also putting in place systems for the post-Covid world that will help with employee safety and customer comfort.
On a personal level, even though there have been a few nights that I have woken up in a sweat wondering how we are going to navigate this with zero cash flow coming in, so much new inventory locked up and so many staff to support, I have tried to remain positive. I have been going non-stop for the past 25 years trying to balance work, my home and raising children. This is the first time in a long time that I am focusing on myself. I have used this time to reflect, to think through the patterns that repeat in my life and I think I am going to come out of this healthier in mind and body.
I have also been spending time with my husband and daughter, who had to come home from college, as well as our rescue puppy. This time has allowed us to have extended conversations on many topics, which has made me aware of so much. My daughter is writing her senior thesis on fast fashion, humanitarianism and climate change, which has made me think a lot about carbon footprints — my own, Ensemble’s, and the fashion industry’s at large.
Witnessing the world around me battle this lockdown has also given me a renewed awareness of how privileged I am. I have the luxury of using this time in the ways that I am because I am not worried about where my next meal is coming from or how to keep my family safe, which unfortunately is the reality for many of my countrymen. This has renewed my desire to help as many of the people around me weather this storm. As they say, gratitude is the best balm and I have a lot to be grateful for!
How do you truly feel about having to bring your work into your home environment, if at all? Are there any ideas you find yourself contemplating?
While working from home initially was a struggle, putting a routine into place was helpful in increasing my productivity. Now, approximately seven weeks in, I find that I can concentrate better without interruptions, as I have managed to create boundaries, allocating time for work, family and myself. I have also found that the time that I usually spent in commuting is so well used in other ways. This time has made me contemplate the possibility of working from home, when convenient, as well as the role technology can play in our office, thereby reducing the need to travel, especially to other cities, while still being able to conduct meetings.
What do you think the future of your industry and business will look like? How will you have to rethink what you do if social distancing is still in effect?
I am so grateful we launched our website when we did and in doing so we pivoted to an omni-channel strategy. Digital is going to be central to our business now. It is going to be tough for brick and mortar stores in the short run. However, I believe that our relationships with our customers are strong and we will put in place stringent systems to help them feel comfortable in our space. Man is a social being and clothing is a big part of people’s identity. I do hope that within four-to-six months we will limp back to semi-normalcy, hopefully a new normal that will lead to a more balanced world. Crisis always brings opportunity and this is the time for us to reimagine our business model to fit into a post-Covid world.