Flavoured by the ancient, increasingly influenced by the modern, the mystic mash that is India holds a brand new appeal for designers, designs and a confident generation aspiring for the world.
A prosperous middle class is spurring change and technology has connected India with the rest of the planet, giving it an entirely new perspective of what is happening outside its borders. Economic reform, globalisation and entrepreneurial acumen have given strong impetus to the economy and today India boasts several world-class conglomerates valued for their excellence.
In addition, cheaper travel means that more Indians are getting a taste of other countries and cultures, savouring unprecedented freedoms and new experiences, transcending the barriers of gender, religion and caste. The result is an enriching contamination and a blossoming consumer market.
We live in exciting times where “new” is the much-needed breath of fresh air that lets us experiment and test ourselves, to see how far we can go, what we can achieve. At the dawn of a new year, a new decade, we all welcome change as the seed of new beginnings and a better future.
Fashion stirs and shakes the creative cocktail. Fashion is a pathfinder, a visual language that serves a purpose, that of covering and decorating the body, and has often played a liberal, sometimes political, but always pivotal role in shaping a society. The designer expresses inspiration, makes a statement through a dress; the consumer uses that to communicate personal style and, of course, status.
In India, saris, salwar-kameez, kurtas, shawls and lehengas have been traditional staples rather than fashion, they have been part of our cultural and tribal identity for thousands of years. We Indians will never give up the spice and gloss of our rich and colourful attire, the innate love of chromatic opulence and rituality is part of our psyche. Colour is everywhere in India, not just in fashion.
The demand for traditional attire is still a powerful driver of the domestic apparel industry, while pret-a-porter fashion is still a nascent industry, with the size of the Indian designer market estimated at anywhere between $50 million and $250 million in a global market worth some $35billion. This is also a question of infrastructure: brand commercialisation requires the backing of serious capital.
Established designers, those who’ve been around for 10-20 years, are now flanked by new experimental Gen-X designers whose sensitivities lie in other directions. These are the designers of the future, who will shape the clothing attitudes of the new generations. The catwalks mingle with the refinement of Indian haute ton with Western silhouettes: couture is chic, casual is cool, one does not replace the other: in the closet, kurtas and saris hang next to party frocks, jeans and leather gear. India is a huge country known for its tolerance so it has room for everyone, from the classic conservative to the eccentric liberal, from market copies to high street to brands both domestic and foreign.
Although a vast part of the domestic market’s demand for opulence and flamboyance is far from waning, its tastes are evolving. The change is subtle and flexibility combined with specialisation is key to making a global enterprise out of Indian fashion. A savvy designer can boost his/her potential by improving their branding and market awareness to attract investment and expand their reach to consumers in the rest of the world. The consumer has to feel a connection with the brand. Communication of the brand, identity and product plays a key role in today’s market. To really “come of age” we need to show clothing that can be worn by anyone, anywhere in the world, to create collections that have appeal for the wider global market. But first we need to build our brand and become known on home turf to create a springboard for the global arena.
India now has an institutional framework, thanks to the fashion design institutes like National Institute of Fashion Technology, National Institute of Design, Pearl Academy of Fashion and others, whose graduates are not merely fashion designers but specialise in all aspects of making a garment. Upstream, organised fashion weeks give the designers a platform to showcase their collections and have put India on the international buyers’ fashion map.
In addition, Indian consumers are being exposed like never before to the trends of their western counterparts, thanks to the arrival of shopping malls and the boutiques of the European and American designers. The ingredients are there, it’s just a question of getting the recipe right, to create a recognisable style language, the bedrock on which to develop the brand image.
The real spice of India is variety and diversity, a lot is happening here right now and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
by Sanchita Ajjampur (fashion designer)