Models at the Indian Textile Ministry's fashion show at the Elephanta caves.

MUMBAI — The Indian textile ministry last week moved to recruit some of the country’s largest private companies to jump-start growth in the $150 billion industry.

Marking the moment, top government officials, chief executive officers, designers, retailers and artisans from throughout India set out in a stream of boats and speedboats to an island 10 miles from the city of Mumbai for the unique signing of a memorandum of understanding between the government and the private sector. The historic moment was amplified by the location: the unusual use of a UNESCO World Heritage site that government departments rarely allow for such events.

In the dramatic setting of the 2,000-year-old Elephanta caves just after sunset the point was made even before the exchange of ideas began.

Smriti Irani, minister for textiles, urged companies including Raymond Ltd., Reliance Retail Ltd., Arvind Ltd., and Welspun India Ltd. to work more closely with the government to preserve heritage while adding business for domestic and global markets.

“The textiles secretary has been speaking about the need to explore synergy between our culture and our textiles,” Irani observed. “We are now standing at a site where 2,000 years ago, people built something without the aid of technology, something which depicts pure passion and love for craft. The statues in Cave 1 depict creases of the cloth that someone then presumed a deity would wear.”

Raghavendra Singh, textiles secretary, added that the ministry would be developing a special QR coding for the nation’s weavers in different geographical locations to facilitate ties between weavers and the fashion industry.

Gaurav Mahajan, president of group apparel at Raymond, Ltd., told WWD that the memorandum of understanding signed at the event would “result in better price realization and improved market understanding for weavers, and ensure sustainable development of the sector.”

“This will mark a new beginning of major commitments by the private sector to enable textile firms to directly source their requirements from hand-loom clusters, as per defined quality, cost and time constraints and make long-term market linkages,” Mahajan added.

Others from the industry, including Jaspreet Chandok, vice president and head of fashion at IMG Reliance, which organized the high-profile designer event that followed the signing, noted that it was an important tie-up between the nation’s crafts and the retail sector.

“You can’t just have the government and no buyers. These retailers put out a global footprint as well. We’re very mindful of the stories that we tell as we curate the event. The evening was a showcase and an amplification of the backend work that goes into developing the industry, and how the retailers can carry it forward,” he explained.

The event showcased India’s rich textile tradition with leading designers Rahul Mishra, Payal Khandwala, Gaurang, Meera Muzaffar Ali, Karishma Shahani Khan, Padmaja, anf Abraham & Thakore participating. The purpose was to showcase the ability of the nation’s artisans from various regions across India. The different textiles that have long been incorporated into global designer apparel included kancheepuram from Tamil Nadu; baluchari and jamdani from West Bengal; paithani from Maharashtra; chanderi and maheswari from Madhya Pradesh; muga from Assam; patola from Gujarat; kani from Kashmir; tie-dye, vichitrapuri and bomkai from Orissa; brocades from Varanasi; balarampuram from Kerala, and pochampally from Andhra Pradesh.

Executives noted that much more was needed to spur the textile industry’s growth — there has been zero growth over the last two years. Exports have been slow as well, at $39.5 billion at the end March 2018, contributing 15 percent to the export earnings of India.

However, there was agreement that the recent trend toward making grand presentations and backgrounds available for the industry was helpful in both creating markets and drawing in retailers. Last week also saw the opening of Lakme Fashion Week here in the restored and historic Royal Opera House.

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