The stylish revolutionaries
April 24 is marked as Fashion Revolution Day, to provide transparency in retail chains, and a face to countless people — from factory workers to artisans, who support the industry. Taking cue, we invited six young city designers to discuss the hurdles, the highs, and why change is vital
Q. Are Indian craftsmen getting enough recognition? Is their work being showcased?
A. Tanya Sharma: There are certain designers who are working towards this. Like Aneeth Arora, who works with craftsmen, T-shirt brand, No Nasties, their main focus is fair trade and organic cotton. All designers can't work towards that because each has a different working technique, but it definitely is happening.
Rixi Bhatia: It's vital to educate the masses about the origins of our fabric. The Indian consumer doesn't take to Indian fabrics, and considers them as artsy. Many designers opt for retail fabric.
Rixi Bhatia, Nikhil Thampi, Tanya Sharma, Karan Berry, Nishka Lulla and Leon Vaz. Pic/Satyajit Desai
Q. Apart from traditional artisans, are masterjis and embroiderers getting their due?
A. Nikhil Thampi: Our lives revolve around them. Tanya: My master comes to see my shows each time. When I skip Fashion Week, he asks, "Paise ka problem hai? Mein du paise!" Rixi: They are more important than anyone else in our lives. If they are working in-house for us, and if I can speak for everybody in this room, they are given due credit, monetary as well as emotionally. It's like one big family. There are ups and downs, they have issues and problems with us but at the end of the day we know that we are nothing without them. Leon Vaz: The onus is on designers to be responsible for them. Though when compared to global markets, we don't have a regulating body to maintain standards such as minimum wages, working conditions, etc. When 1,000 workers were killed in Bangladesh it brought worldwide attention to their plight. There is no fraternity to help new designers to understand labour or advertising, laws, taxes and marketing.
Karan Berry: Everybody is doing their bit. But things can change if forces unite. I feel India's fashion bigwigs must lead the path. When you go to factories outside the city, you can't even stand there for a minute, and to think that these people work there for hours on end.
Leon: We work for the passion of the job, but for them, it's money. The time they are spending away from the family is for money. We can do all-nighters; if they are doing it, they need to be compensated.
Rixi: Even if we want to help artisans, we don't know how to do it and whom to connect with.
Karan: If a designer does a collection based on a particular craft, there is encouragement, but it fizzles out later.
Q. While there is a governing body for designers, the industry seems divided…
A. Nikhil: Couture in India means lehenga choli. But everyone doesn't want to work on this. There is no nurturing within the industry. It took so many years, and international recognition for the Indian industry to recognise the work of Rahul Mishra. We don't know where we belong, as there is no identification. Alexander McQueen did a show in a decrepit church with a skeleton sitting in the front. Internationally, you are given the liberty to do things. But here, we have to be correct at every step.
Tanya: It's wrong for an artistic community; they cut your wings.
Rixi: Who decides what's crazy? If I want to put a jacket on the ramp without a camisole, experts will decide what I should do.
Nikhil: …But Sunny Leone dancing on TV in a bikini is worshipped. So why is fashion not art?
Nishka Lulla: Today's young designers are creating lines that that everybody around the world can wear. We use Indian fabrics and embroideries in a modern way too. A support system can take Indian fashion to an international level.
Nikhil: We need to filter rather than have blanket bans.
Karan: Often, what is seen on the runway is not your vision because there are 10,000 people in between to dilute your idea.
Q. Many young designers prefer to take the Bollywood route to fame. How important is the film industry?
A. Tanya: Kallol Datta does anti-fit clothes (he is honest with what he shows on the ramp); mainstream actresses won't wear his creations. It does take his genius away.
Nishka: I do relaxed fits. Initially, people did not want to wear it because it does not flatter
Karan: When we showcase at Fashion Weeks, the first thing we are asked is 'Who is your showstopper?'
Tanya: It's become the only way to survive now. Bollywood controls the fashion scene.
Nikhil: The reason why I am sitting here today is because of Bollywood. But I have never had a Bollywood showstopper, and I will continue that. Celebrities have Filmfare and IIFA awards, and we get one Fashion Week. We need to ensure that our work is seen. Post that, if a celebrity endorses it, then it's fine. It's their discretion. If I put up a picture of Deepika Padukone wearing my gown, I get 17 orders. I am happy.
Nishka: India is all about Bollywood. Two seasons back, I did a blue crop top and skirt. When it was seen on the ramp, people claimed that I had done a simple collection; but I was keen to show that I am all about silhouettes. A week later, Sonam Kapoor wore it and I got nearly 100 orders! Suddenly, I became the 'Crop Top Girl'.
Leon: Social media and celebrity endorsements will be there. We should just do it in a balanced, less crass way.
Rixi: The newer lot is making collections for Bollywood! It is tempting…
(On this point, all unanimously agree that fashion and fashion events in Mumbai are more celebrity-centric)
Q. So, is it easy today for someone to become a fashion designer?
A. Leon: It's very easy! Everybody is a fashion designer.
Karan: In fact, I feel embarrassed to say I am a designer these days!
Rixi: I tell people I am an artist (laughs).
Leon: Properties such as London Fashion Week have different criteria (such as number of stores you stock at) for participation; we have them in India too, but no one really bothers.
Nishka: …however, it's through these shows that people and stores notice your work. There are pros and cons.
Nikhil: We have jury members for selection too. But the output of so many designers is identical. Many shows today are PR gimmicks.
Rixi: Today, collections are made looking at the number of 'Likes' that designers get on their social media posts, and with a mix of elements from different designer hits, a collection is made. But this seems to work for a lot of people.
Nikhil: But Mumbai designers get a lot more press than those in Delhi.
Q. Are fashion schools in India responsible for shaping this herd mentality?
A. Karan: We have been associated with schools and in some cases it's a shame to see a class filled with 50 students. It's why 300-400 designers apply for every season of fashion week. In our time, it was a batch of 10-15. This puts pressure on the tutors on so many counts. There are good schools such as Parsons in India where 70 per cent is self-study.
Leon: Internship periods are very short too.
Nishka: Fashion schools are important but the correct people should be teaching you.
Rixi: The business aspect is missing to some extent even at good schools.
Nikhil: Students need to know that if they are teaching you A,B,C,D, you need to put the E,F,G,H. Today, instead of CVs, I get messages on Facebook saying, 'Hey bro, looking for intern?' This frivolousness in the industry has to change.