Interview with Darlie Koshy

Darlie Koshy
Darlie Koshy

Institutes need to focus on the business of fashion
Dr. Darlie Koshy's pioneering contributions to fashion and design education over the last three decades have been well acknowledged by stakeholders. Koshy's efforts towards institution building are well known too. A doctorate in management from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi, Koshy has been also trained at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), New York in fashion marketing & merchandising, and had established the fashion management department at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) New Delhi which he headed as senior professor and chairperson from 1987 to 2000. He has also been the recipient of a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) fellowship for research in India's destination markets for apparel (i.e. the United States, Europe and Japan). Koshy is currently on the boards of Future Lifestyle Fashions (FLF), Lakme-IMG Fashion Week, the Apparel & Home Furnishing Sectoral Skill Council, besides being an executive committee member of the Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC). His Indian Design Edge (Roli Books, 2008) traces the evolution of Indian design and envisions a future of design-enabled India that has an edge in innovation and design in the global context. As director and governing council member of the iconic National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad from 2000 to 2009, Koshy initiated and developed the National Design Policy which was approved by the government in 2007. The Apparel Training & Design Centre (ATDC) being the largest vocational training institute for the apparel sector, along with the Institute of Apparel Management (IAM) headed by Koshy as director-general and chief executive officer, have set up over 200 directly-run ATDC-AVI and ATDC-SMART centres across India in 23 states and have also trained over 2 lakh candidates. Koshy obviously is one of the best persons to speak about the state of fashion education in India. Here, he discusses the subject threadbare in a freewheeling interview with Subir Ghosh.

Do you think the fashion education system in India is able to meet industry requirements at all-both in terms of numbers as well as quality? For an industry that is forever-growing, quality fashion institutes need to be established much more than they are. Do you agree?

The world over, various segments of the textiles-apparel industry do not see themselves as just 'raw materials' of fashion, but as an 'integrated global fashion system' in which cotton growers/manmade fibre producers, fabric manufacturers, designers, fashion-related media-all work towards promoting the current or forthcoming fashions for garments, home furnishings, lifestyle products and accessories, so as to ensure better retail sales in keeping the industry moving on a selfsustained basis. Unfortunately in India, this cycle has not been established so far. Turf protection by each segment, and not having a holistic view (of the subject at hand) have created serious impediments in the growth of the textiles apparel industry. The most unfortunate part is that there is hardly any dialogue between each other and also among one another. Only an 'integrated fashion' system that collectively moves towards creating consumer pull and demand for products can effectively create global leadership. Only then can the education system be productively interwoven and used.

For example, the textile spinning and weaving units will hardly employ a fashion graduate from the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), or a textile designer from the National Institute of Design (NID), as most of the designs are dictated by foreign buyers. Similarly, fashion designers are still an enigma for the exports sector which has not been able to optimally use them except as 'merchandisers'. Similarly, Indian retailers find the practical aspect of commercial designs probably missing in the graduates. NIFT was never supposed to have too many centres, and now there are nearly 20 centres of NIFT! Unlike the London College of Fashion (London), Fashion Institute of Technology (New York), Domus Academy (Milan), etc, which have made global fame with a single campus, NIFT was set up to produce high quality designers, merchandisers /market leaders and top production managers to change the face of the textiles-apparel industry in a global context.

Between 1987 and 1995, NIFT was able to produce many outstanding designers who have made a mark- like Ritu Beri, Ashish N Soni, Rina Dhaka, Narender Kumar and a host of such designers, following which you can see the flow has become a trickle. Similarly, the marketing graduates of that period like Sanjiv Mohanty is now managing director of Jabong, tipped shortly to become managing director of Levi's. Raymond managing director Gaurav Mahajan or Manjula Tiwari Malik, who is the chief executive of Cover Story, or garment technology graduates like Manish Bharti in Li &Fung and Padma Reddy in Triburg and a host of others, who have become leaders in their respective fields, were all products of NIFT Delhi between 1988 and 1996. Other NIFTs came up in the late 1990s, though with good buildings and infrastructure, offering the chance to redefine fashion education in a local context, but the leadership needed to break the glass ceiling were found to be missing.

Unfortunately, NIFT did not have a proper human resources policy and just under a decade it lost all the FIT-trained senior faculty members like Asha Baxi, Elsa D'Souza, Ela Pally, Mitra Dewars, Chetna Bhatt, David Johnson, Archana Shastri, Geeti Sen, Sangeeta Shroff, Jatin Bhatt, Ramalingam, Vidya Sagar and Dhapodkar and host of others, including myself. Of course, I left after 13 years of working as head of fashion management at NIFT New Delhi to become director of NID Ahmedabad. This unfortunate exodus took place because the administrators foisted from the ministry of textiles had no real knowledge of the fashion industry, and they saw the freedom of expression as anathema, and hence suppressed all senior people, who eventually left one after the other. Today, after it became a statutory body in 2007, the main attraction is that students get degrees but the quality of education is no more the focus. At most NIFTs, including the national headquarters, officers from the administrative or revenue or forest services rule at the top, and now NIFT has a chairman who has nothing to do with fashion. I do not agree with Sunil Sethi's point that anyone can become chairperson of a specialised fashion institute like NIFT.

Look at the world over, whether at Institut Français de la Mode, Paris or at FIT New York or London College of Fashion or even any of the top fashion schools-they are all led by a group of professionals who focus on the quality of education. It is a sad story that the NIFT somewhere has lost the way, and it seems to be on a downward spiral. I don't see any research papers being published by the faculty members or any papers presented at international or even Indian seminars, and they are not even seen in the fashion shows organised by the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) in Delhi or the Lakme-IMG Fashion Week in Mumbai. There has been no international activity to promote fashion in the entire last decade. NIFT is now like any other government university or college which produces degrees, but fails to promote the fashion ecosystem for the country.

On one hand, there is a need for more fashion institutes. On the other, there have been far too any NIFTs and this has diluted matters. How can one maintain a balance?

I do not think that there is need for more fashion institutes in the country any more as I think there are already 400+ universities and departments and 17 NIFTs and sufficient seats are available for the students to pursue fashion design education. The focus should be to retain the spirit of the initial years of the work of the FIT with NIFT, and the NIFT initiative with IFFTI (NIFT initiated IFFTI in 1997-98) for networking with fashion Institutions, to restore leadership. The institutes need to redefine their roles and goals in the new Digital Fashion Age with a large part of trade shifting to e-commerce and m-commerce as Alibaba and Amazon have proved to the world. The new fashion idiom is a 'distributed model'. At the local level, fashion has become no different from pizzas as it has to be delivered within a day, often thus making 'fast fashion' to capture the imagination of the youth. Our designers have to be brought up in a new fashion environment where speed, skills and imagination without boundaries matter. Couture has its place but prêt, d'fusion and fast fashion require a different level of training and a new mindset where change is accepted as the 'new normal'.
Published on: 14/09/2016

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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