Business of Fashion columnist, Bandana Tewari interviewed fashion designer Rahul Mishra to discuss how India’s fashion industry can communicate a sense of social responsibility. While speaking to Rahul Mishra, Bandana Tewari asked the fashion designer why he was chosen for the International Woolmark Prize this year. The designer answered that apart from his creativity, the jurors were impressed by his ability to give a ‘Gandhian’ twist to his designs.
Gandhi always believed that before we do anything we should always look at the poor people in our country and ask ourselves what we are doing to help them. Mishra tries to incorporate this philosophy by aiming to create more jobs and opportunities in the fashion industry with his label.
At the United Nations Young Changemakers assembly in February 2013 while discussing the agenda for India between 2014-2020, Bandana Tewari was asked to talk about the role fashion plays in creating social change in a fast-growing economy like India and how fashion can affect a country like India with a stark disparity between the poor and the rich.
At her talk, she says that every aspect of life in India can be seen by two lenses, as there are always two realities present. These realities lie in the differences between the urban and rural; national and regional; dynasties and newcomers (whether in business, entertainment or business); differences in language and differences between the extremely wealthy and extremely poor; and the inequalities between females and males.
Bandana Tewari believes that this divide is present in the fashion industry as upmarket and bridal wear sales are worth over 32$ billion. She believes that although rural craftsmanship and cloth weaving may not be as profitable in monetary terms, it does employ 34.5 million craftsmen over all of India, which is immensely valuable. These craftsmen have learned the skills and techniques that have been passed over generations that will slowly die out if they aren’t utilised and engaged by the fashion industry.
She further went on to explain that urban India faces a lack of information about how even small decisions related to fashion can impact the nation’s craftsmen. For example when a customer is deciding whether to purchase a real ikat weave or a print of the ikat, this decision can impact not only the craftsmen but also their families.
While discussing these aspects of fashion and social change with Rahul Mishra, he explained how these problems go deeper because handmade textiles are always linked to organic and sustainable fashion and sustainable fashion is not always the best option for India because even using organic cotton seed with no pesticides and fertilizers to make yarn for clothes can be harmful in the long run. He goes onto explain that when these organic and sustainable clothes are made, they can at any time be exported to China and made in bulk by just one person handling a machine. He further explains his viewpoint by stating that if more indigenous fabrics such as Chanderi or Jamdani are used and that although they are not natural and hand-made, more artisans can be employed to make more of this type of clothing and thus more families are fed and this could achieve more sustainability in the long-run as it gives rise to employment.
Thus fashion can be one of the triggers for bringing about social responsibility in India by employing indigenous craftsman. Moreover, a percentage of the profits brought about by the brands that employ these craftsmen can be given back to them, helping their local communities. India currently has over 500 designers that showcase their collections at the various fashion weeks with numerous other independent and local designers from the various states that use these artisans. This could be beneficial to the craftsman by increasing their employment levels and alleviating their communities.
Bandana Tewari also explains that there should be a change in the perception fashion is understood in the country. She believes all design that utilises these skilled rural craftsmen should benefit them in some way too. She believes that the answer to this issue should be devised by having a system of participation where even the uneducated and rural can use their specialist indigenous know how and skills to sustain and uplift themselves.
This discussion leaves us to think that in the 1940s, when Mahatma Gandhi was addressing the issues of our nation and building the democracy from the start he promoted the aspects of self-sustaining, cultural integrity and rural development with his famous ‘Khadi movement’. The Khadi Movement was to cultivate the idea of self-sustainability and reliance through weaving – a concept common to every part of India. The success of this movement became an integral part of India’s fight for freedom empowering the nation’s economy and political scenario to stand united against the British Raj. Thus Indian designers can create social change through fashion.