Ahead of the NIFT’s international conference, seasoned fashion commentator Narendra Kumar talks about how fashion is becoming our cultural ambassador on the global stage
Even as we see a sustained shift in focus of fashion designers towards a more responsible attitude towards the fashion environment in the country, a lot needs to be done to stitch concepts like sustainability and value of indigenous crafts in the mindset of emerging designers. Keeping this in mind, National Institute of Fashion Technology is holding a three-day international conference in New Delhi on ‘Rediscovering Culture: Transforming Fashion’ where seasoned designer and fashion commentator Narendra Kumar will share his vision on how technology is playing a vital role in identifying craftspersons from across the country. An alumnus of NIFT, Kumar, who is the creative director of Amazon India, says, “This is a first big step in identifying a way to address the changing climate of fashion by creating an inclusive and self sustainable environment.”
On rediscovering culture through fashion
Every state of fashion goes through a cycle. In late 1990s, the government run textile emporiums were there but the onslaught of brands took away that novelty. Everybody wanted a global feel as they felt wearing international clothes would make them global citizens. But things are changing slowly as India is becoming a larger, stable economy. There is a growing sense of confidence within the country about Indianness, which marries the contemporary global aspirations and what India means. It is not about rediscovering; it is a journey which every culture goes through.
On the idea of sustainability in fashion
It has lot of implications. The good thing is that there are a number of local textiles which are suddenly getting lot of visibility. It is also creating sustainability for Indian crafts and Indian craftspersons; there is a large sector in India that does this. Even international brands Zara are also looking at creating sustainable stuff. If you see trends in fashion over the past few years, lot of younger Indian designers are emerging and they are working with indigenous textiles and are showcasing their work abroad. And they are being recognised for that. All this is significant as designers are reorienting themselves and not looking at everything being driven by Western brands.
On the impact of Make in India campaign
Make in India has played a big role in giving us bigger visibility. It has created consciousness about our textiles. There is also a sociological dimension. We are now proud of our heritage. It is part of our evolution that we are confident about carrying our roots to the global stage. Earlier, it was carried through the medium of dance. Today our heritage is being conveyed through fashion. Fashion is a big conveyor of sensibilities across the globe.
On the conference’s focus on craftspersons
We are creating so much due to a multitude of crafts available across the country. They suit our body types. A special online store on handicrafts has been created which will work with designers to create new age products. So it is not just talk; you can actually see it happen.
Technology will help take innovations to remote regions. Our skilled artisans are not technologically savvy so we need interventions. Technology will enable them to take their crafts to new markets. NIFT students are working with those working in handicrafts.
On the role of NIFT
It has evolved in many ways and has contributed to the industry. Every brand has NIFT students working at different levels. At one point, the government was thinking of shutting it down as it had become elitist but today it has become a place which contributes to such a large extent towards the Indian economy. Like the craze for the IITs, IIMs in 1990s, today NIFT is the go to place because lifestyle sector has become much more important than it was 20 years ago.
However, it needs to create more entrepreneurs. This is a challenge for the future. It needs to make necessary changes in its curriculum. Where it stands out is that it is not running for profit but providing a platform for students to excel but I think they need deeper integration.
Harmeet Bajaj, former professor and founder of fashion communication course at NIFT, who was in conversation with NIFT faculty, at a curtain raiser to NIFT’s upcoming International Conference, says the mega event will be one of its kind. would be one of its kind.
On the relevance of upcoming international conference, Harmeet says: “With the change in government policies over time, today we have access to all leading fashion brands in the world. Everything is available almost at our doorstep. A lot of brands are manufactured in India, exported, branded and brought back for consumption here.” Bajaj says for years we have been a manufacturing nation. “But now with trained designers we are in the process of creating brands. It is essential we go back to our culture and establish an identity which is unique. The process has started with designers like Manish Arora, Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Rahul Mishra. Their creations compete in the international market but have an Indian accent, reflective of our culture.”
On the metamorphosis of NIFT and fresh challenges it faces, she says: “Fashion industry has grown exponentially over the last 30 years. This has necessitated training of people for the diverse job requirements in the industry. Today NIFT is the leader in offering courses that cater to the fast changing industry. Design across various genres, merchandising, marketing, communication and technology are blended to create the wholesome professional for the industry. The challenge lies in catering to some of the centres where availability of good faculty is difficult.”
On fashion students being encouraged to make use of traditional embroideries and craft techniques, Harmeet says it needs to be done as an essential prerequisite. “Embroideries and craft techniques is our history, our culture that defined luxury. almost 5000 years ago. Even today it inspires leading designers all over the world. It should be an integral part of any design course. Its application should be not only at couture level but also at the fast fashion level. That’s what international brands come to us for.”
On the yardstick of selecting an institute which provides a platform for budding designers to get a foothold in fashion, she says: “We need to look at the following alumni and their profile in the industry, infrastructure- physical and faculty, industry relations and opportunities for experiential learning for students and collaborations.”
On the monopoly of designers in India over every fashion week, Harmeet says: “Yes presently the councils and associations managing fashion weeks are biased towards the senior designers. There is limited opportunity for young designers. However organisations like Woolmark are offering international platforms. Design competitions could offer opportunities to the younger designers.”