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Official push for designers

March 28, 2007 12:53 IST

Amidst all the gripes, even a sense of fatigue at the just-concluded Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week, one particular announcement of much relevance to India's fledgling fashion "industry" seems to have all but drowned out.

Commerce minister Kamal Nath announced last week that the India Brand Equity Foundation (a CII and Commerce Ministry effort, earlier used to promote tourism) will now be made available to fund projects brought forth by Indian fashion designers.

This is significant because despite a collective like the Fashion Design Council of India making things more organised, government backing is needed by designers to hit big; or that's their line of thought.

The New York Fashion Week, for instance, has a history that goes back to the pre-World War II days, but it only came into its own (all designers showing in a single space) in 1994 with considerable help from the government. That is what also helped create the big US brands. Now, with our government too signaling interest, designers need to come up with credible proposals.

This apart, there is also some serious soul-searching on. Should designers focus on couture, the shaadi mart, or go mass with pret? Does it make sense to aspire to the European and American markets when the sensibilities and work ethic are so different and capacities inadequate?

Or ride the domestic retail wave, look for tie-ups with corporate giants (at least one designer, on conditions of anonymity, suggests she is working on a project involving Reliance); go solo -- "to B, C, D and E cities", to places like Bhubaneshwar, Gorakhpur and Jharsugor (You may not have heard of it, but Reebok, with a Manish Arora tie-up, believes in its potential)?

With some designers admitting that there have not been so many foreign orders this time at the WIFW -- and thank god, "I would rather sell a saree in Delhi than go through quality checks and months of uncertainty", says one -- the focus is decidedly inward-looking.

One of the valid points being made is why should we look to ageing markets when all the action is in Asia? The FDCI is, nevertheless, going ahead and seeking institutional tie-ups in South America, and Nath himself has pointed to Bangladesh and other south Asian countries as potential markets but as Rina Dhaka says, "We have learnt to really respect our Indian and Indian-origin customers." That could sum up much of it.
Anoothi Vishal in New Delhi
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