Nurturing talent in any field isn’t really all that different from gardening. The rules for both are identical. It is a mix of nature and nurture. The quality of the sapling or seed and the environment it is provided with in which to blossom.
Here’s the simple truth. Even the most perfect sapling cannot fully thrive without the correct environment. But even the most optimal environment cannot create a magnificent plant out of a poor sapling.
It all begins with the designer. We will only grow if our creativity is in place.
What makes a designer iconic? It’s more than just beautiful clothes, it’s original design.
If you look at all the great names in global fashion each one of them has a sensibility all his or her own. They didn’t look at what existed and tweak it. They threw it out of their mental wardrobe and invented anew. Design when it is pathbreaking isn’t about giving people what they want. It is creating what you want and waiting for people to begin to covet it. That is the difference between an artist and a fabricator. Artists don’t cater to a market; they create an audience for their wares.
I disagree with the notion that we must ‘lose’ our Indianness. What we need to shed is all forms of derivative fashion. Stop the borrowing. And give up wasting our time reinventing the wheel. We need to come up with something fabulous, unfettered, NEW. We need to stop apeing, bowing, scraping. And tell the world. This is us. Take it or leave it.
I keep hearing the canard that we need to educate ourselves on what the international market wants. Nonsense. Stop surrendering to trends. Start setting them instead.
Abu & I received no formal training in Design. Creativity cannot be taught. What can be learnt however is technique.
One area we lack in is tailoring and pattern cutting.
If we are going to make Western couture, we need to perfect these areas. It isn’t our core competency. Currently a jacket from Marks & Spencer fits better than any by an Indian Couture House. We cannot compete with a Dior, Armani or Prada until we incorporate this skill set into our product.
We’ve always been unabashedly Indian as a label. Many non-Indians wear our couture. There is no reason why the world cannot embrace Indian silhouettes.
It comes down to creating a taste for it among the international consumer. What else is the skinny jean except a revamped chudidar? How different is the tunic from the kurta?
Quality. We must be exacting in our standards. India must now be seen as the land of luxury as opposed to cheap and chic. More Hip less Hippie.
Now we come to the Environment we need as a Fraternity.
There are three key areas. Education. Infrastructure. Funding.
We need more institutions that focus on design. More NIDs more NIFTs. Places that can incubate natural talent and endow it with technique. This is a role for both the Public and the Private Sector.
No Label can grow to its optimal size without ramping up infrastructure. And this can only come through Funding. The Fashion Industry in India will not make a global impact unless we are able to ramp up manufacturing and retail and promote and market our wares. All of these require big bucks.
Contrary to what many might think, the kind of money, designers no matter how successful do not possess.
It’s not rocket science. In the West, designers have grown across the globe because of the Arnaults, PPR’s and Richemonts.
We need Indian corporates to show the same belief in Indian designers as they do in Western labels. Instead of bringing international labels to India, how about taking India to the World? Even before we go global, why not tap the huge market potential in India. Why can’t we produce the indigenous Zaras and the Mangos? Look at Couture. Why are Canali and Zegna selling the Nehru jacket or Hermès and Cavalli, the sari? Because they see that Indian wear means big bucks. That the domestic market itself is a huge well waiting to strike oil.
We are uniquely positioned thanks to the mind-boggling craft, textiles and raw talent we possess.
But we are crippled by the lack of cash.
Cash to produce. Cash to flog our wares through retail outlets. Cash to build and create global hype through advertising and marketing.
It is time for the Patels to become the Pinaults.
We cannot fly without wings. Where are the Angel Investors who recognise India’s wealth of talent and put their money and faith behind it?
Look no further than Japan as an example of how belief and backing can take you global.
Japanese designers, headed by Miyake stormed the bastions of global fashion with an entirely new ‘product’ alien to the western palate. And left them smacking their sartorial chops.
Fashion like all luxury goods is ultimately about aspiration. And perception. If we are to woo the globe we need to have a presence across the globe. Once again it comes down to Moolah.
We need retail outlets in every key fashion capital. You cannot conquer a market unless you penetrate it.
This brings me to the final Mantra for Success. Visibility.
We need editorial, advertising in international fashion bibles. And we need advertising.
Look at Indian editions of international publications; they are full of international brands. We need to position ourselves similarly across the globe. If you tell people something is in Vogue long enough and loud enough, they will begin to buy it as the Gospel Truth. If you look at content in all the premier design publications it is growing less and less Indian. International brands. Western silhouettes. How on earth can indigenous talent bloom if we are constantly telling the consumer that Indian isn’t as stylish as its western counterpart? This is how abominations like ball gowns at Indian weddings have come about.
Finally I want to touch upon us as a Fraternity.
As an industry we need to stand together. This means lobbying government, it means axing the multi-fashion weeks, which only serve to fragment both impact and business. It requires an end to infighting and solidarity.
The dream is within reach. All it takes is will and dollars.