HYDERABAD: Hand-woven textiles and handcrafted ensembles are the backbone of luxurious haute couture; and, Indian artisans are world-renowned for their detailed craftsmanship and exceptional talent that exceeds any given international standard of luxury.
While the label on any international couture garment may read ‘Made in Europe’ or ‘Made in the USA’, chances are more than 80 per cent of the garment would have been crafted in India.
Despite being one of the biggest manufacturers in the world for luxury garments and handcrafted luxury goods, the recognition for Indian artisans is hardly a talking point in international markets.
Post pandemic, some of the world’s biggest brands are eyeing the Indian market for manufacturing and sales, yet the global luxury houses conveniently forget to acknowledge the humble craftsmen from India who play a pivotal role in creating the couture garments.
As the spotlight shines on Indian handwork, now more than ever, we speak to industry experts on why designers and local artisans need to put forward a united front for better return value and image building.
Designer Rahul Mishra, who recently showcased his couture collection for 2023-24 titled "We the People," at the Haute Couture Week in Paris celebrated the work of his socially conscious artisans at the atelier. Speaking about the contribution of Indian handwork in the global luxury market, he informs, "India has been a sourcing hub for the best of luxury in the world. I don’t want to name any brands, but it’s common knowledge that most of the clothing labels that say ‘made in Italy’ or ‘made in France’, get 90 to 95 percent work done here and just assemble it in their homeland. I feel at least the country that’s creating the product needs to be acknowledged. India has been the hotbed of inspiration and innovation, and I believe in the next seven years, by 2023, the label ‘Made in India’ should be the most prestigious label on the planet."
Recently during his trip to Paris, PM Narendra Modi met Leena Nair, the CEO of Chanel, and discussed ways to promote Indian handicrafts like khadi and chikankari. Reportedly, the PM invited the brand to explore investment opportunities and collaboration potential in India.
As the legacy of handloom khadi is nothing less than a national treasure that has been passed on through generations, Indian designers must take it into the future with equal patronage.
As per the 4th All India Handloom Census (2019-20), there are more than 26, 73,891 handloom weavers and 8,48,621 allied workers in the country, which rounds up a considerable amount of skilled artisans creating an exceptional quality of diverse, exceptional, and original handcrafted weaves.
A few months back, when Dior showcased its pre-fall 23 collection in Mumbai at the Gateway of India, the creative director of the brand Maria Grazia Chiuri highlighted the traditional Indian craftsmanship from the Chanakya Ateliers with whom she has worked for over two decades.
In an interview, she acknowledged the contribution, and said, "I personally wanted to celebrate and showcase the incredible knowledge India offers to the international world of fashion in the field of embroidery and the commitment of Chanakya’s founders to preserving India’s history and culture."
Although, it took a couple of decades for brands like Dior to announce the contribution of Indian karigars, a lot more need to come forward and speak up. To bring about the change in industry practices, designer Rahul Mishra emphasizes the change of mindset and taking pride in all things handcrafted in India.
He feels today’s luxury client is an aware and well-travelled global individual, who needs something that has elements from the homeland but is at par with global standards.
While ‘Make in India’ is fine, the idea of handcrafted in India adds a special value because it’s rare and one of a kind, believes Rahul as he adds, "It will require a lot of push from brands as well from the government to recognize the excellence in luxury. What’s happening now is that anything expensive becomes a tricky subject to talk about; we should not see luxury consumption as a drawback."
It pushes business and the economy forward, and at the same time, it also creates jobs for craftsmen. India has a huge population and luxury is all about slow production where our numbers can be beneficial. We need to move from the mindset of ethnic power towards global power for selling in the Western markets and maintain a true world standard for international buyers."
The gold standard
Not just garments, even the meticulous jewellery art and work with precious metals and gemstones are sourced by some of the top brands internationally and re-packaged and presented as their creation. According to Revathi Kant, chief design officer at Titan Company Limited, who showcased a line of precious jewellery collection ‘Tales of mystique’ from Tanishq at the Paris Haute Couture Week, it’s time for brand India to shine.
She says, "It’s very important for Indian brands and designers to develop a sustainable ecosystem for the skilled artisans and pay them ethically for taking forward the art to the next generation. Not only do we need to acknowledge and celebrate our karigars, as a brand we also set up centres for them to work in proper conditions and earn a respectable livelihood. We need to lead by example, bring in the sense of pride, and most importantly pay them the money to sustain."
As designers create contemporary designs for consumers, and the artisans have the techniques to make them come true, the process of creating a luxury product is the effort of creative collaboration from both ends. However, do we still need a global stamp to test the mettle?
Revathi answers, "Indian brands are standing up for themselves and collaborating with Indian designers to make their own space. We no longer need any international endorsements to stand out; Indian handcraft is well respected across the world and a lot of the brands are getting their job done through our artisans. It’s time for them to celebrate and acknowledge the work done here, and inform their consumers accordingly."