Over the past weekend, my social media feed blew up with photos and videos from India. After Dior’s prefall fashion show at the Gateway of India landmark in Mumbai, the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre opened its doors with the exhibition “India in Fashion”. Both events attracted not only the local who’s who but also international celebrities like Zendaya and Gigi Hadid and representatives of the fashion industry such as fashion journalist Suzy Menkes and creative designer Giovanna Engelbert.
It comes as no surprise that the fashion and luxury world turns towards India. The apparel market of the country is estimated to reach over USD 96 billion in 2023 and is expected to grow by over 3% annually until 2027. According to a report by Bain and Company, the Indian luxury market is expected to grow 3.5 times by 2030 – numbers which the big luxury brands badly need after China’s luxury market has contracted for the first time in years (-10% year on year in 2022) and remains uncertain.
When I looked at the glamourous setting of the Dior show, it almost made me forget what happened in India in 2020 – when international brands cancelled orders overnight and left the garment industry and its workers on their own. Everything seems forgotten, India is being celebrated. But I cannot get rid of this feeling that a lot of this seems a bit forced or even hypocritical …
I do appreciate that the West finally starts noticing the beauty of this country and its craftsmanship. Since the East India Companies of Europe started trading with Indian goods in the 17th century, Europeans have loved decorative items and garments from India. For decades, Western designers took inspiration for their collections (a very prominent example was Yves Saint Laurent). Furthermore, due to India’s long tradition in the textile sector, it has always been one of the major suppliers for the Western fashion industry. What first comes to mind is fast fashion using exploitative work situations; but India has been also a major contributor to the higher-end segments. Did you know that most haute couture houses have sourced out their embroidery work to India? One reason is that the craft is simply not done anymore in Europe or has become “too expensive”. I find it interesting that even in haute couture, which we relate to “Made in France”, the core element of the garments is done in India. And the worst is that the Indian artisans rarely receive credit for it. Would it not be possible to say “Made in France and India”? To me, this would not only serve as a sign of quality (because I know about the standards of Indian embroidery) but also of transparency and good moral conduct.
According to an article in the New York Times in 2020, the above-mentioned Dior who now “celebrates” some artisan studios, also outsourced their production to suppliers with standards which are shameful for a luxury brand and the entire luxury sector as a whole. (Dior was only one of many luxury brands who sourced from these factories.) In this article, the factories are described as dirty, the workers were sewing without receiving any health benefits, worked in rooms with caged windows and no emergency exit and received only a few dollars for their work. This was less than three years ago. Maybe the brands have completely turned around their business model and improved the situation. I would hope so, but given that the country struggled for two years during the pandemic, I doubt that the brands where on location to do their due diligence. And would they really sacrifice the lucrative margins? Today, these “mega-brands” are “celebrating” India with gigantic fashion events and items such as a “Lady Dior Bag” incorporating “Rajasthani mirror work”. Will this be enough to be credible?
When I look at some young labels, I see much more transparency and bold approaches. Speaking of bold, one Indian brand comes to mind: Papa Don’t Preach by Shubhika Sharma. The label is known for their colourful and quirky designs and social media strategy, their designs have been worn by Paris Hilton and Aliaa Bhatt and I truly admire them for their business model and empowerment of the people behind the garments. Artisans are given credit for their work – in their social media videos as well as directly on the labels inside their garments. At the opening of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre, actress Liza Koshy wore a mermaid-cut lehenga with a big label saying “Embroidered by Taufik Qureshi & Team; Tailored by Mahindra Zala & Team”.
This is definitely something which the big brands can learn from innovative and young designers. There is no shame in transparency – provided you do things right. If we talk about the luxury segment in particular, consumers need to ask more questions. The advantage of this increased awareness about India is that they will be asked. A global brand and high price points do not necessarily mean that everyone along the supply chain benefits from these prices and that the products are sustainable. But the very definition of “luxury” is quality, impeccable craftsmanship and beautiful design which can only be achieved by talented artisans who deserve not only credit but also more than fair pay.
I am currently working on more articles about Indian fashion – let me know if you enjoy this content and if you would like learn more!