JAIPUR, India — The International Foundation of Fashion Technology Institutes’ IFFTI conference, which is held in different locations each year, this time was hosted by the Pearl Academy of Fashion here last week focusing on the theme “Fashion Without Borders.”
Among those attending were Angela Missoni; Jeffry Aronsson; Simon Lock, creative director of Dubai Fashion Week; Frances Corner, head of the London College of Fashion; Rajeev Sethi from the Asian Heritage Foundation, and Santosh Desai, managing and chief executive of Future Brands Ltd.
Representatives from more than 40 fashion technology institutes from the U.S., Japan, France and 16 other countries put their heads together to reflect on how the industry could do better in terms of design and technology and some of the overriding issues that cut across borders.
The $58 billion Indian fashion industry came under scrutiny, too, becoming a focus for analysis from both design and fashion experts from India and internationally.
“The idea of fashion has struck a universal chord with multiple fashion weeks occurring across continents. Despite these global market trends, fashion and design haven’t quite evolved as mainstream career options in India,” said Dr. Satoshi Onuma, chairman of IFFTI. He pointed out that the meeting of global minds would help “place India on the global platform of fashion education and change mind-sets significantly.”
Sharad Mehra, chief operating officer of Pearl Academy of Fashion, said that fashion was one of the fastest-growing sectors in India and that the forum in which brands, designers and academics came together to discuss ideas and become thought leaders was a key way of moving the industry along in India. He said that more than 35 to 40 percent of the organized retail market in India is dominated by fashion retail.
Missoni said that fashion was one of the filters of society, like movies or music, a way to translate the world with your eyes into clothes. “India will be an opportunity in the next few years, and we plan to enter…with a strong presence in the accessory space. It is also one of the few markets in the world where ties are very popular,” she said.
Rajeev Sethi of the Asian Heritage Foundation, who has been a designer, cautioned that westernization was not modernization and that the process of growing design needed to be carefully monitored. “We need to make the base of the pyramid very firm instead of making random notes into a floating situation. The corporate sector needs to be less myopic in the way they approach fashion, too,” he said.
Simon Lock, who earlier founded Australian Fashion Week and has been closely associated with others across the world including Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai, said that there are 283 fashion weeks across the world and one of the key learnings was that each of them had to create a clear cultural identity. He said that India was sitting on a gold mine, with its hand-loom industry and crafts and embroidery, and that with more unity within the industry and a clear focus on the silhouettes, the opportunity for the nation’s fashion industry is immense.
Aronsson, former ceo of Emanuel Ungaro, shared a strong brand perspective and the challenges of growing a brand. He said that the key is to balance the strategy for the brand in terms of balancing cohesion and consistency; the need for repetition while creating freshness and managing distribution. He said that one of the most important things to remember is the big multiethnic opportunity where countries like India with a deep cultural heritage and those like China with years of suppressed creativity have an important role to play.
The changing world of technology and how this is affecting fashion globally was a recurring theme during the event. Ram Sareen, head coach and founder of the TUKA group, described the concept of the smart fitting room on the Internet which allows customized outfits using sites such as styku.com or avirate.com to be produced and delivered within hours of an order being placed. Technology is also driving the creation of new fabrics. E-commerce has also grown rapidly — 43 percent in India in 2009 and 2010, and 25 percent globally in the same year — but m-commerce via smartphones is the new growth area.
The point that emerged was that each culture had to address their own markets and then compare and work together with the rest of the world. As Tina Guglielmino from the School of Fashion and Textiles, Royal Melbourne, Australia, observed: “Collaboration is the catchphrase these days. This is true for movies and music. It is also true for fashion.”