Quo Vadis Indian Fashion Industry?

Sharmila Katre

March 14, 2008

Fashion merchandising textbooks state – a society that is fashion aware and fashion conscious is a society that is economically healthy. Thus Fashion is a reflection of lifestyle. In the Indian context it is a reflection of the growing ‘affluence’ of urban India – the upwardly mobile Indian middle class, more so, the upper middle class. The growth and progress of the Fashion Industry in the last ten years has even warranted the institution of the bi-annual Fashion Industry event, which is eagerly awaited both by the producers and buyers of fashion in India. Every year the fashion fraternity, glitterati and media await this event with much excitement and impatience. For weeks leading up to the event one reads of the who’s who of the International Fashion scene, the top of the line buyers expected to attend the event ……and yet, when the dust settles, Indian Fashion is yet to truly make its mark on the international scene.

Internationally the Indian apparel industry is better known as a supplier of competitively priced, mass produced, ‘fashion basic’ apparel merchandise sold by various retail chains and discount stores. In design terms however, that merchandise cannot be truly distinguished from any of the other merchandise on sale in the same outlets that have been produced in other Asian, Caribbean or east European countries. So where is the uniqueness of Indian fashion/design visible globally??? And yet when India forayed into the global clothing business in the late sixties it was its design identity of unique silhouettes, textiles and value addition techniques that gave it international acceptance and demand. What sold very happily and profitably at that juncture was ‘Brand India’ through it cotton crepe kurtis and ‘drawstring pants’, and its hand block printed wrap skirts. Indian fashion laid the foundation of an industry that today employs over 35 million people and contributes 14% to the GDP of the nation.

Indian Fashion has true potential to grow exponentially in the next decade, but before that there are many issues that the creators and producers of fashion need to address.

Most importantly what comes to mind is design discipline, understanding the commercial viability of design and realizing that the business of fashion is like any business enterprise. To grow the fashion business, fashion merchandise has to reach out to market segments beyond the fashion leaders and innovators and consumers of bespoke fashion or couture apparel. Product design through design discipline should enable a product to be scalloped and extend the product’s life span to justify the cost of design development. The product line has to evolve beyond the all encompassing design technique perspective. It has to have an individual signature that has a sense of permanence and identity of ‘unique’ design like an Hermes scarf, a Chanel jacket, a Bill Blass sheath dress or a LV handbag. The signature design element itself becomes the product’s brand identity.

The Business of Fashion requires business strategies, planning, organized marketing and selling, promotion and positioning. Design research based on market and consumer feedback, lifestyle trends, market economics, raw material resources, colour palettes, textile trends and other factors need to be done in depth and in all seriousness. Fashion merchandise is highly perishable and dynamic. Product research and development needs to become an on going and continuous process, very much like the R&D processes, which are the norm for all other lifestyle products. The business of fashion too, needs to be pre-emptive, and proactive rather than reactive.  Product design needs to be clever and production friendly to ensure timely deliveries with out taking away from the design innovation factor. Market potential needs to be studied vis-à-vis the adaptability of the design/fashion content of the product to enable growth in the market share and business by straddling consumer segments. The time has come for the talented Indian Fashion fraternity to truly shift the focus to the Business of Fashion.