“Made in India” yet “Not Made in India”

Manufacturing export house, Kolkata-based Ventures, has been the first-ever Indian company to win The Grand Jury Prize award for its innovative fabric at Première Vision in Paris for the year 2016–2017. Established in 1994, the production house today employees around 3000 embroideries and weaves for some of the best luxury brands in the world.

From left to right, Balenciaga, AF Vanderost 2017 Couture, Craig Green Fall 2019 Menswear — embroidery technique by Ventures, Kolkata

In my recent article, where I questioned “Why Indian Artisans failed to become Brands of their own”, to this the CEO of Ventures, Mr.Ayush Murarka put forward an interesting set of possible reasons that might have hindered the making global of “Made in India”.

Country of Origin

In luxury “Country of Origin” stands to remain one of the most crucial characteristics. The history, geography and quality are unquestionably important, the first two attributes having a significant bearing on the third. Country-of-origin has numerous implications on brand image perception, being an important brand positioning element. The country image hence has a noticeable impact on the brand prestige also influencing consumer’s willingness to pay a premium price for the brand.

We all know how “Made in France” stand’s for its legacy and “Made in Italy” for its impeccable quality.

Many studies investigated that the degree of development of a country of origin of a product can influence the quality perceptions of the goods manufactured in this country (Papadopolous et al., 1990; Usunier, 1996; Johansson and Nebenzahl, 1986).

A country of origin concept includes — country of manufacturing, country of assembly, country of design and country of brand (Nebenzahl, Jaffe and Lampert 1997; Samiee 1994; Srinivasan, Jain and Sikand, 2004). These sub-categories of the country-of-origin concept stand relevant for hybrid products with global ethnicity when a brand makes the decision to outsource its production. It is the Country of manufacturing which is known as the “Made in Country”, highlighting where the maximum work is done.

In today’s global digital world, consumers enjoy easy accessibility to products from different brands and compare their qualities. There are many reasons as to why brands nowadays outsource their production in different countries.

For many years India plays a central role in European luxury when it comes to their iconic embroideries. The big fashion luxury houses — Dior, Saint Laurent Chloé, Hermès, Dior, Balmain, Ralph Lauren, Fendi, Alberta Ferretti, Saint Laurent, Giambattista Valli, Prada, Valentino, Céline, Gucci and Loewe have been quietly using Indian embroiderers for their goods, owing to the lower cost of production and incredibly high levels of artisanal excellence.

Tracing back Alessandro Michele’s exuberant collections for Gucci, emblazoned with tigers and butterflies to Dior’s embellished saddlebags; and red carpet looks for Lady Gaga, Lupita Nyong’o are products of Indian artisans.

Lupita Nyong’O in Calvin Klein, Gucci Cruise 2019, Lady Gaga in Alexander McQueen — embroidered by Aditiany creating couture pieces for international houses

However, the “Made in India” tag remains missing.

Many of the local suppliers to big global brands have strict non-disclosure pacts, which forbid them from revealing names of clients as Western consumers are wary about buying products made in Asia due to poor perception about the quality of products, and labour — or environment-related issues”.

Irrespective of India’s unmatched expertise in embroidery, jewellery, diamonds, leather, silk and pashmina wool, which luxury brands could tap, India as a country of origin for a luxury brand still remains hesitant?

Atmanirbhar Bharat?

#VocalForVocal, #MakeInIndia, #AtmanirbharBharat, and #Swadeshi were some of the famous hashtags that we had seen trending in social media.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India )campaign where in his speech, he said that every Indian “has to become vocal for their local, not only to buy local products but also to promote them proudly.” says, Mr.Murarka.

The PM also mentions the need to focus on improving the quality of the products and alter them according to the demands of the 21st century. So why have we yet not achieved to make “Made in India” global?

“The reason for the failure to globalize “Made in India” — starts very much at the national level, before giving away to international market” — Mr.Murarka.

Poor projection of Craft

The artisans of India exemplifies the term “Haute Couture” — a skill taken to its heights in terms of technique, craftsmanship, design, material and exclusivity. Techniques such as embroidery on leather with real gold thread, gossamer fine chikankari, zardozi, fareesha, aari and resham threadwork are part of a vast repertoire of craft techniques still practised across India.

However, these skills are only projected with the much-needed grace as it becomes a global sensation when ensemble by a world-renowned designer.

Where we give out as Indians is to “correctly project these crafts at the ground level”. “Khadi”, the “Freedom Fabric” still is identified with the feeling of struggle and symbol of nationalism. The Khadi movement was where Gandhi had envisioned the hand-woven fabric as a means of income for poverty-stricken masses. “Even after 70 years of independence, Khadi remains associated with the spinners and handweavers from really weak sections of the society”, says Mr. Murarka.

An image of a woman weaver spinning on the wheel “charkha” as a part of small-cooperative societies or in the “angan”(courtyard) of her home, is how we know of Khadi.

charkha, khadi
Charkha model

The humble fabric stands for its simplicity and its ability to be the sun to the village solar system but how often do we emphasis on its exceptional quality? The number of hours and extraordinary craftsmanship that goes into weaving it? The fact it is 100% handwoven and handspun with zero carbon footprint? Have we managed to change the vocabulary for Khadi yet?

“Khadi is still looked at as a poor man’s fabric, and that has to change. I blame us as consumers and makers because we want to make things cheaper, rather than understand the beauty of it, create refined products, and target the right audience,” says Shani Himanshu of contemporary brand 11:11, whose denim khadi caught our attention a few years back. “The fabric created on the single-spindle charkha, where the artisan spins every millimetre of fibre by hand, is the most luxurious in the world and should be priced more.”

What we need is — a new way to look at our textiles totally, to make it relevant to the diverse audiences and to show its versatility and its ability, leading to the creation of one of the most extraordinary garments. We need to advance with the luxury approach in every market. It is only then the craft receives appreciation and recognition.

Unchanged Storytelling

He wore a simple khadi kurta and dhoti, and humble shoes from Bata”, — from Sabyasachi’s marketing campaign, narrated the brand’s innocent association with Khadi. Here the storytelling yet connects a fond memory of Khadi as a modest fabric made for the common people.

The stories that talks about the Indian artisans and crafts are most often based on their poverty, age-old hardships, poor working conditions, and their inability to capture the international market because of their inability to adopt the technology. The emotions what our stories usually evoke are that of sympathy.

What we need now is a conscious shift in changing the narrative of our story. There is a requirement to portray and bring forward the technicalities of the crafts while showing the artisans finesse and exclusive talent. Their beautiful work needs recognition on a world scale where individuals are instigated to learn the craft based on their rare know-how.

For the recent “Dior Cruise show 2021”, Maria Grazia Chiuri talks about her love for Puglia and its unique craft. She speaks about the “tombolo technique”, a very ancient tradition, and her fascination with it. “It is a work of fragility and beauty. More than embroidery it is a work of art. Le Costantine, this association is fantastic and these women are responsible for safeguarding these textile traditions”. There is a sense of gratitude towards these women artisans while she talks about them.

Dior Cruise 2021, Maria Grazia Churi

“See how she talks about the fabrics from Italy and how she is promoting it. That is what is required to make Make in India feel precious”, says Mr. Murarka.

Devaluing our own craft

Devaluing of a craft and its artisans comes not only from monetary aspects but what we truly think of it. Our words need equal transformation as much as our actions do.

“Since the 1980s, luxury brands have quietly outsourced much of their embroidery work to India. The country is one of the world’s largest garment exporters, with a textiles market worth $150 to $250 billion, according to the India Brand Equity Foundation, a trust established by the Indian government’s commerce ministry” — The New York Times.

Today the Indian “karigars” meaning artisans are men migrated from rural India to cities where they are paid meagre sums to work up to 17 hours a day, many living in overcrowded slums. Very few, the fortunate ones have access to education or public services, yet their work has value with fashion companies abroad.

By 2019, India’s embroidery exports exceeded $230 million, a nearly 500 percent increase from two decades ago, according to the government’s commerce ministry.

Irrespective of such high-value work, we have failed to quote the right price for our craft both by domestic designers as well as international brands. A market which is dominated with middlemen, an artisan’s craft no longer remains an art, but simply a feeble source of livelihood.

Keeping aside the poor wages, what we seem to have taken away from the artisans is their imagination and creativity — by making them mere labourers rather creators of art.

A focused approach on revising the role of artisans from labour to valued craftspeople is needed. Credit-sharing and recognition are how we can show gratification for artisans who have over years been devalued as “skilled labour”. It is essential to empower artisans in innovative ways, allowing them to perceive their role as “design enhancers” and “entrepreneurs”.

Up-gradation in design and technology

Is there enough innovation in our artisanal sector that caters to a changing economy and aesthetic?

Bridal luxury India
Bridal wear designs in India

From the product designs to the process of designing these products — the entire system needs an up-gradation.

Indian luxury market still remains synonymous ad constrained to Bridal wear. With three Indian silhouettes: the sari, the Anarkali and the lehenga — we rarely get a chance to experience and witness newness in product designs.

What we need is further integration amongst disciplines like fashion, design and craft is to foster ‘Made in India’ by employing quality innovation and adding creative value to the contemporary designs market while restoring our indigenous craft.

Reuse. Repurpose. Restore. Renew. Reimagine. Reinvent — are words that will help us to drive our innovation and enhance the uniqueness of the craft-making it exclusive worldwide.

“Over the past 30 years, the number of Indian artisans has decreased by 30%, indicating the need to re-invest in artisans to safeguard history, culture and livelihood”. Re-invest in terms of design and technology interventions are needed to aim at making the age old processes more efficient and sustainable.

“Digital in India”, a study conducted by the Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and research firm Nielsen, revealed there were 227 million active internet users in rural areas, as of November 2019, compared with about 205 million in cities.

In today’s digital age — we still lag behind in employing various advantages of digital technology (like Instagram and WhatsApp) to help the artisans to promote their work and connect with possible opportunities. Technology intervention can also make a huge impact in terms of generating awareness. A programme like Google Arts & Culture, documenting the entire process of creation by artisans can make people value their unique know-how.

International participation of Indian talent

To take “Made In India” to a global scale we need to focus on crafting our craftsmanship in accordance with the international standards.

How many designers are showcasing their talent on an international scale? What is the frequency? Are we doing enough? ask Mr.Murarka

It is time where we witness a new wave of fresh young designers to reveal their innovativeness both at national and international level. The Indian fashion industry dominated by a few well known- designers requires to support the budding talent to bridge the gap between the artisans and the international forefront and branding “Made in India”. It is only then “Made In India” can create a boom worldwide by creating a remarkable showcase of skills using age-old crafts and textiles.

We need to change our brand content, brand tone of voice and not settle for no to less credit.

To make India recognized on the global platform we need to use the power of the word “ASK”. We need to start “asking” the right questions at the ground level to make the much-needed divergence.
Let’s “ASK” more of “Why’s”. It’s only then we may receive an answer.

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shrehya agarwal

shrehya agarwal

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A luxury brand enthusiast witnessing how luxury evolves in the age of millennials.