India exported about $33bn of yarn, fabric, carpets and clothes during the financial year 2011 but many luxury companies still avoid talking publicly about their India connection, concerned that the country's image as cheap manufacturing base will tarnish their brand.
Nigel Preston, the late British designer, was best known for luxurious sheepskin, suede and leather coats and clothes. Since 2008 (when he died), his wife Brenda Knight has continued his brand at her own factory in India. Brenda says that in India, I have found the most amazing, reliable, hard-working team. The capability, the desire to achieve perfection is really fantastic. In Italy, we were creating a finished idea and it had to go through a third party. In India, we go into the factory and we work with them to create what we want to create.
International brands like Prada have used India as a base for embroidered garments since many years, but have only recently (as with other International Fashion Brands) have launched an India inspired line. Prada has a collection that features summery dresses featuring Chikan embroidery from Lucknow and colourful woven leather handbags and shoes. There have also been mis-adventures - like in 2007 Louis Vuitton opened a workshop in Pondicherry to supply shoe component. The company sold the workshop 5 years later after deciding to expand its shoe production in Italy.
Dries Van Noten has been working with the same family-owned business in Calcutta for the past 25 years. A lot of people assume that if you are going to do embroidery in India, it's ipso facto ethnic, says Patrick Scallon, a spokesman for the designer. But it's a very respectful creative process. He has his designs, they have their views, and they both inform each other.
Meanwhile, Ms Knight hopes to soon expand her Indian factory's operations in order to produce sheepskin garments and leatherwear for other high-end fashion labels. People imagine it's cheap in India, cheap with a small and not good, she says. But the fact is that the inflation in India is high and the wage levels in general have increased over the years. This means that manufacturing in India is no longer a cheap off-shoring strategy, but a commitment to manufacturing quality garments that are beautifully detailed by skilled artisans.
But, as Ms. Knight says, "They can do things nobody else can".