Aren’t we running late?
As the second day of the India Runway Week 2017 concludes, this question needs to be asked and not just about the shows that begin an hour later than their scheduled time, but about India’s fashion design fraternity that seems to be running against time while blending innovation in design with aesthetics.
The highlight of Day 2 was a Khadi extravaganza by Hyderabad based designer Shravan Kummar. The show seemed to get almost everything right. From evening jackets for men with Kalamkari motifs to lehenga ensembles in solid colours, Kummar’s garments were a visually pleasing tribute to the Indian textile artisan.
From the most ubiquitous off white Khadi fabric to the regional specifics like Pochampalli, Mangalgiri, Kalamkari, amongst others, Kumar’s collection made a strong case for the revival of the traditional textile industry of India. A Jil Sander-like style sensibility was at work in the service of the Indian weaver.
And that sensibility, accompanied by a high degree of integrity and artistic finesse, invites us to ask some fundamental questions about the design aspect of Indian fashion industry.
Is there a way of asserting an Indian identity that is not held hostage to nostalgia? The revival of Khadi, along with other traditional handicrafts, is an ode to the pre-industrial times. How compatible is the fabric and its production process to the changing socio-economic realities of India?
Kummar’s collection relied on minimalism, traditional motifs, and hand-spun weaves. In both Indian and western ensembles, wearability was given due attention in a bid to render the traditional fabrics attractive to the urbanised cohort of young Indians.
But is the Khadi eco-system, like other comparable vestiges of an agrarian society, capable of meeting the challenges of a fast changing world? A fabric that crumples and frays despite being more expensive than many of its machine-made counterparts is unlikely to capture the market in a way that designers, weavers, and even legislators dream of.
Jaya Jaitly’s Dastakari Haat Samiti on one hand and the Fabindias and Anokhis on the other have been trying to bring Khadi out of the huts of weavers to posh wardrobes and have seen some success. The grim reality, however, remains that Indian weavers continue to languish in abject penury.
In Kummar’s home state, Andhra Pradesh, the incidents of weavers’ suicide have become an important electoral issue.
Is the ambitious Indian design industry working towards combining form and function with an eye on the mass market? Khadi, which was once everyman’s fabric in India, became the poor man’s fabric before its present designer avatar.
Kummar says that his garments start with a price tag of Rs 7,000 – quite reasonable by the fashion industry standards. Nonetheless, is this what Khadi really needs to become a serious market contender and not an elite indulgence?
By drawing attention to the plight of the weavers, Kummar’s collection has its heart in the right place. He follows the policy of ‘use more fabric’ to render support to this impoverished community.
Shravan Kummar, DesignerEven if people want to copy my designs, they’ll have to at least buy the fabric and that will be a victory for me.
However, can this new-age patronage, combined with existing government subsidies, stop the indebted weaver from killing himself if his produce is not a player in the market? It hasn’t worked for decades, will it work now?
(The writer is Associate Fellow (Gender) at Observer Research Foundation. She can be reached @TedhiLakeer.)