Leadership in Fashion: CONV. CONVERSATIONS with Thomas Varghese
‘Leadership in Fashion’ was the first Conv. (Conversations) session conducted on 5th April 2021 at JD Institute of Fashion Technology, Bengaluru Brigade campus as part of the institute’s 3Cs’ series – Conv. (Conversations), Comm. (Community) and Conf. (Conference) – which is an outreach program to promote a learning platform for intellectual, creative and educational discourse to support a holistic approach to education beyond the classroom. The 3Cs’ initiative invites experts, professionals and recognised figures from various fields within Design, Art, Management and Technology, and in the Conv. Conversations series the speaker gives a talk to the student and staff attendees which is followed by an interactive Q&A session at the end of its one-hour duration.
The first Conv. (Conversations) was inaugurated by Mr. Thomas Varghese who is the Business Head of Domestic Textiles, Overseas Spinning and Acrylic Fibre Businesses at the Aditya Birla Group’s textile businesses, where he has been working for the past 21 years. Awarded the coveted Aditya Birla ‘Outstanding Business Leader’ in 2004, he is also the recipient of the Images Coca-Cola Golden Spoon Award for the ‘Most Admired Retailer in India (Food & Grocery) 2010’, the Images Award for India’s ‘Most Admired Retail Professional of the Year’ at IRF 2010 and in February 2012 he was conferred the ‘CEO of the Year’ by the Asian Retail Congress at Mumbai. His last assignment was as MD & CEO of Aditya Birla Retail Limited (ABRL). As Business Head of Aditya Birla Retail he oversaw its growth across India, under whom it emerged as one of the country’s foremost supermarket and hypermarket retailers. A well-experienced business leader, Mr. Varghese is leading one of the world’s most sustainable initiatives which started in 2013, and all aspects of its work are published under the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) of Aditya Birla Group.
Mr. Varghese’s ‘Leadership in Fashion’ started off with global fashion, its impact and footprints. The talk which centred around the impact of the pandemic discussed how the apparel market which employs one in eight people globally has shrunk and is witnessing a downward drop of 22%. Emphasising on the impact of this new pattern considering the fact that the apparel industry has only experienced an upward demand each year especially because of fast fashion, Mr. Varghese talked about the rising trends in fashion which include an improved reliance on athleisure, eco-friendly and sustainable alternatives, customised fashion products that include dependence on tailors, increased digital technologies to improve efficiency, and the introduction of more diversified products to meet the changing consumer demands. Covering the emerging themes in fashion, he talked about how responsibility, circularity, innovation and sustainability are ways of approaches that need to be embraced to align with the shift caused by the pandemic.
Connecting fashion with the concept and ideals of leadership and business, Mr. Varghese discussed through stories and personal experiences the importance of qualities such as agility, courage and perseverance, communication, credibility and emotional effectiveness as the top five leadership competencies that are required and valued in a crisis such as the pandemic. Sharing how crisis determines true leadership, he explained how the ‘new normal’ is a state of VUCA meaning Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguity, and how crisis fosters the emergence of a new leader. Drawing on a comparative analysis with regard to the skills that are required in the present time versus in 2015, Mr. Varghese explained how agility and cognitive flexibility are skill sets that are valued now that determine a successful leader.
During the interactive Q&A session the students interacted with Mr. Varghese and asked him questions related to their practice and general concerns that they had with regard to the pandemic and job opportunities. The session which concluded was a successful event was enriched by the insights and personal mantras that Mr. Varghese shared with the audience. He advised the students to follow their passion and to become a ‘sponge’, taking on opportunities and responsibilities and to become valuable for the skills that they possess.
JD institute was proud to welcome and host Mr. Thomas Varghese and through the introduction of the 3Cs’ outreach program, the institute aims to promote a learning environment for the students that is stimulated by such inspiring interaction with professionals from the industry. Through these engagements, the students are provided an invaluable opportunity to stay updated with the current condition of various industries and how to navigate oneself in the situations imposed by the pandemic efficiently and effectively. The institute plans on conducting Conv. (Conversations) every week, the Comm. Community once a month and Conf. Conference once a year. Watch out for any updates on the JD Institute website and social media @jdinstitute for more upcoming events.