It has been three decades since the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) was established. The fashion industry itself has changed dramatically since then. It's now an era of brands and m-commerce, and an ever-growing industry needs quality human resources to provide a backbone. Subir Ghosh looks at the problems and prospects of the fashion education system in India.
Sometime in the late-1990s, just months after Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai won two major International beauty pageants, a fashion consciousness started taking shape. For the uninitiated as also for common people, this was reckoned to be the turning point for Indian fashion. But the more discerning and the more aware know for certain that none of this would have been possible had the fertile ground not been laid another ten years earlier through a rather low-key initiative of the Indian government: the establishment of a seemingly nondescript institute called the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT).
The foundation stone for modern Indian fashion was laid by this venture of the ministry of textiles, a move that neither created a flutter nor caused a buzz anywhere. Thirty years later, the establishment of NIFT is acknowledged as the point of reference in all discourse on the Indian fashion world. Putting it differently: it all started with education, with that one course for fashion design at the NIFT campus in New Delhi.
The world since has metamorphosed markedly. Do leave international developments aside for a moment, and see what all has undergone transformation in India alone. After all, there were many other developments that had happened in parallel. In that ten-year-gap between the setting up of NIFT and the two beauty pageants, the seeds of liberalisation had already been sown. International brands trooped in one after the other, and retail exploded. Gradually, fashion became business, and the business became big.
Nevertheless, as one remarked, the world is not the same today as it was thirty years ago. The fashion landscape has transmuted and much ground has shifted, not just in India but the world over-it is a more exacting and decidedly more ruthless world now, and competitiveness decides survival. For the Indian fashion industry to not just expand beyond its shores but even to sustain there is a need for quality human resources: from designers and karigars to managers and strategists. No one questions this elementary truth: that the fashion ecosystem is all about its people. The question whence arises: do we have enough people? Do we have enough 'quality' people? NIFT may have been ahead of its times at one point; but has it stayed in tune with the changing times? Very broadly, are we rock solid as far as fashion education is concerned?