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Beyond the ramp

The Indian fashion design industry is an oxymoron in more ways than one, in part because “fashion” exists at too many levels in the country to have any one meaning, and in part because “industry” would be giving it a status it neither occupies, nor has aspired towards. And yet, however loosely one defines fashion, there is no getting away from the fact that it has occupied our sub-conscious level, making (perhaps infamous) icons of designers and models. Next only to film stars and sportspersons (chiefly cricketers), the fashion fraternity has become an inescapable part of urban Indian life.

Unfortunately for it, the popular perception of the industry has been moulded by a brat pack of designers as an undisciplined, partying lot on the edges of law (and morality). There’s no gainsaying that it isn’t organised and, though it gives employment to hundreds of thousands—dyers, printers, tailors, embroiderers, button-hole makers, packers, drycleaners, photographers, make-up artistes and hairstylists—the vast majority of them are out of the purview of any form of permanent occupation or financial security. For that reason, and because the size of the players is small, the industry has traditionally been qualified more for lax deliveries than for quality and adherence to schedules.

If things seem set to change—and overseas buyers view this as the transition from designing costumes to creating wearable clothes—it is because there is a growing awareness of the need to corporatise the sector. Increasingly, designers are less keen to woo the high-value, low-turnover trousseau market in pursuit of the volumes-driven pret-a-porter market. Coincidentally, or because India is the new Big Thing on the international marqee, there are any number of promoters willing to put their money behind a fashion industry that is increasingly conscious of its potential.

Making legitimate finance available to Indian designers will eliminate one of the chief deterrents for the industry—that of black money. And with the domestic retail business too getting organised, the dependence that Indian designers have had on Western buying houses will become less critical over time. Already, fashion is being brought under corporate retail umbrellas in India, creating opportunities for prêt-wear that were not available even a year ago. With the confidence that these retail houses and buying agents and representatives show in the Indian fashion industry, the banking sector will find it more viable to extend it credit, creating the lifeline for its success.

Many signs of these changes were visible at the recently concluded India Fashion Week, where the hype machine did not go into overdrive. Instead, shows (mostly) began on time, business transactions occupied centre stage, and the buzz was more about business and less about the shenanigans of models, couturiers and the like. The ramp, refreshingly, was limited to being a show window to fashion, and if the early buzz about transactions is any indication, the days of the suitcase-carting designer making sales calls to the NRI community in Dubai, London and New Jersey will soon be of the past.


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