Nirupama Rao

India’s ambassador to the U.S., Nirupama Rao, discussed how Indian companies are becoming more international and the challenges that involves.

NEW YORK — After personally greeting each vendor at the Indian Apparel Show here Monday morning, India’s ambassador to the U.S., Nirupama Rao, discussed how Indian companies are becoming more international and the challenges that involves.

This story first appeared in the January 29, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

At the Penn Plaza Pavilion to officially kick off this inaugural event, the ambassador took her time touring the show, stopping at every booth to chat with exhibitors and admire their respective designs. After being shown a Gap-tagged toddler’s dress by Tony Uppal, managing director of Pee Empro Exports, Rao said, “Look at the little black dress for a child.” (She looked even more impressed when told the retail price of $36 versus the wholesale one of $6.)

Uppal also clued her into the fact that the cotton dress was just the type of item that used to be automatically produced in China, but no longer. As signs throughout the space indicated, India is an exporting force. India employs 11.2 million workers and has 8,084 apparel exporters. Attendees also caught sight of such other statistics as the fact that apparel exports account for 6 percent of India’s total exports, and the country is the second-largest producer of silk, as well as cotton, in the world.

Rao said, “Our textiles industry is becoming increasingly globalized and connected with the outside world.” And as Indian workmanship and traditions “travel around the world, through that process I think the voice of India is being heard much more powerfully all around,” she said.

As for what the second-most populous country with more than 1.2 billion people is doing to ensure its factory workers are safe, she said, “Our industry operates under the basis of internationally recognized standards. It’s a modern industry. It’s very well networked with the rest of the world and we are very, very aware of safety standards. We rigorously implement them as far as our production is concerned. India industry is at par and fully compliant with all the safety standards that are set.”

So much so that the embassy’s minister of commerce Vinay Kwatra, who accompanied Rao on her tour, said, “People in India talk about ‘buyer audit fatigue.’ ”

The Apparel Export Council’s chairman, Dr. A. Sakthivel, added, “All the big brands, whether you say Tommy Hilfiger [or] Gap, are buying from India now. We have the latest technology designed and everything is [done] under quality control.”

Now that the Development Initiative for Self Reliance and Human Advancement has been in place for about a year, there are 200 factories in compliance and 800 more are expected to be added by the end of the year. The aim is to bolster that figure to 4,000 within the next four years, Sakthivel said.

“There are certificate requirements that are set by the buyers and they are all met by the exporters — from factory safety to labor standards. One of them that is,” Kwatra said.

As she headed for the exit, Rao mentioned she will return to New York Thursday to support Opera Lafayette’s New York production of Félicien David’s “Lalla Roukh,” with costumes by Poonam Bhagat. Rao, who saw the opera’s return to a U.S. stage Saturday at the Kennedy Center, said, “I keep coming to New York when I get the time. I am a big fan of opera. This is a French opera which has not been performed for the last 100 years or more.”

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