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Sunday, September 02, 2007

We had rules that were not conducive to imports and that’s why Indian fashion grew indigenously

Ritu Kumar, J.J. Valaya, Tarun Tahiliani at the EXPRESS
Indian Express Sunday, September 2, 2007
RITU KUMAR: In India there are over 16 million craftsmen on whose work the fashion industry depends. Those are statistics that nobody hears, because people only see the frivolous side of fashion — the partying, the glamour, the alluring ramp visuals. When I started in the fashion business 40 years ago, fashion was called crafts. This (the focus on the frivolous) is largely due to the media, especially the electronic media. Actually, fashion is the backbone of a large textile industry...
When we talk about Indian fashion, it’s a definition that cannot be used in any other part of the world, because you could be talking about the sari or any variety of indigenous clothing. Globally, almost every country today is ruled by the European or American fashion palette and style. India is one of the few countries that have come up with a very strong, indigenous fashion handwriting. I think it’s due to 60 years of independence. We had rules that were not conducive to imports. We also have a very huge crafts base, and that’s why Indian fashion grew indigenously...
Fashion abroad is dictated by a few multinationals. I’ll go further and say that we are watching how lots of foreign brands are coming into India. I won’t be surprised if in the next five years we don’t have every brand in the world in India. They see India as a huge potential market. This is where Indian fashion will come in, because there’s an alternative here, while in the rest of the world there’s none. These MNCs are strong and have deep pockets that give them staying power. They are looking at the young market, the 460 million young people in the country. I think where Indian designers will come in — and that’s going to happen fast — is that they are going to give Indians their alternative to western dressing. With more malls coming up, we will see a lot of prêt from Indian designers in these places. So rather than go and buy a Calvin Klein, you probably will be able to buy a J.J. Valaya, whose clothes suit our lifestyles better, are more climate-friendly, and are in line with our tradition. That’s where Indian fashion should go: give Indians an alternative to western fashion...
Let me tell you my story. I started work 40 years back, when what you are wearing today was just not available. There was no hand-block printing — thanks to what 150 years of colonisation had done to our crafts. There was no hand screen-printing. The embroiderers had no work because the market was full of cheap copies of Indian prints imported from Lancashire. Today, we have about 16 million people actively engaged in handcrafted textiles — not in a studio, not as a hobby, but as a livelihood. They are people who have been doing such work traditionally and for generations. Fashion has been the single, most visible marketing tool for craftspersons. Before that, emporia did it, even before that, cottage industry groups did it, and Pupul Jayakar and Indira Gandhi made sure many of these crafts were revived. For instance, the blue kurta you’re wearing today, you wouldn’t have found it back then because the fabric was gone. So I think fashion has a very important part to play in shaping the way India looks today.

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