The Indian Budget 1996-97 The Indian Economy Overview

IN DEPTH: Indian Garment Export Industry

Indian fashion goes global

India is a major exporter of fabrics and accessories for the global fashion industry. Indian ethnic designs and materials are an important factor in the plans of fashion houses and garment manufacturers the world over. Those buttons on the Levi's you're wearing could well have been made in India!



Tribal women from Rajasthan, India, in traditional attire.

If your books about India tell you that India is one of the largest exporters of tea, jute and tobacco, and that's it... get yourself a real education: India also happens to be one of the biggest players in the international fashion arena, in fabric sourcing for fashion wear.

Talk to any garment exporter in India, and you will find occasional references to "a heavy booking season", and that "buyers are in town". So who are these buyers? Next and Top Shop of the UK, Federated Stores, R.H. Macy's, Target, Maryn's, to name a few - all names you have read of in fashion magazines or heard your fashion-savvy cousins pontificating about with religious fervor.

These and many other international fashion chains have made a beeline to India for its mind-boggling range of fabrics, new concepts to incorporate in their own designs, as well as for a sneak preview of what will be hot on the international markets next season. This works boths ways, Indian garment exporters are extremely quick on the uptake about what will sell next year, and fashion houses go home with new ideas, new fabrics to use, and new sources of raw material.

The Indian garment and fabric industries have several major factors going in their favor, in terms of cost-effectiveness in manufacture and raw material, quick adjustment to what will sell, and a vast and relatively inexpensive skilled work force. India offers the international fashion houses competitive prices, shorter lead times, and a virtual monopoly in embellishments.

This last includes intricate hand embroidery - an absolute rage the world over - and accessories like buttons, zippers, laces, et cetera. For instance, were you aware that "Sadar Bazar", a vast marketplace for garment accessories and base materials in New Delhi, India, is known as the "bull's eye" of the Indian garment industry, and is an important nodal point in the world map of garment manufacturers? Those cool brass buttons on your Levi's or Wranglers just might have originated at Aziz and Sons Button Wallahs, some 7880 miles from where you go shopping for jeans in Los Angeles, CA!

In the embroidered garments segment, India has always been the default source, but the recent devaluation of the rupee against the dollar has further lowered prices, favoring buyers, so the international fashion houses walk away with customized, finely crafted works of fabric art at throwaway prices.


Urban girl dressed in designer Banarasi Saree.

The borrowing of traditional Indian concepts does not end here, what with vests made of kantha and mirror-work, appliques, screen prints and sequin-work evening wear being hot buys this coming fashion season.

As for the market for fabrics, the variety available in India can leave the buyer impressed but confused. A key determining factor in the selection of fabrics is the current "fashion movement" in the international market. For instance, the recent "eco-friendly", politically correct "natural" wave saw fabrics like pure cottons, linens and silks from India being lapped up by fashion trendsetters the world over.

Much of the manufacturing activity for this takes place in parts of the world you would never even have heard of, like the small town of Chapa, in the eastern state of Bihar, where fabric production is a family industry. The variety and quality of raw silks churned out here belie the crude production methods and equipment used - tussars, matka silks, phaswas, you name it, they can make it.

Surat, in the state of Gujarat, far to the west, is the source for an amazing array of jaquards, moss crepes and georgette sheers - all fabrics used to create those dazzling silhouettes seen on the ramps of the hottest fashion shows the world over.

Another Indian fabric design that has practically made fashion history is the "madras check" - originally used for the ubiquitous "lungi", a simple lower body wrap worn in southern India, this pattern has now made its way on to bandannas, blouses, bags, home furnishings, and practically anything else you can think of!

Of late, designers like Jean-Paul Gaultier have been increasingly using Indian fabrics, designs and cuts to enhance their western wear fashion collections. The Paris-based designer duo, Didier Lecoanet and Hemant Sagar, have used a lot of Benares Brocade in their Spring/Summer Collection recently unveiled in New Delhi for a select audience. There is a trend in the making here...

Forget Louis Feraud or Paul Smith, ethnic Indian design is in, and not just in India - whether it be a batik cravat, a tie-and-dye T-shirt, or a vegetable dye block-print skirt. So don't blink if you see a Donna Karan creation in a Madras check, or spot Naomi Campbell in a brocade jacket with a Kantha skirt to match... Talk about making a fashion statement!


Meeta Chopra is working on her Masters degree in International Business at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, after working with a documentary film maker and one of India's top 3 advertising agencies. She is an expert commentrator on international trade trends in the fashion and garment industries.


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