Right now, among students, the most sought-after stream seems to be fashion design and fashion communications. What does industry have to say about it? Is this fascination causing a shortfall of quality human resources in other areas of the fashion industry?
In Korea or Taiwan, experts used to say that for automobile and fashion design one requires only a limited number of high quality designers, but the same require a large number of model makers or design assistants, etc. And similarly for the fashion industry, the actual demand for fashion designers will not be very huge, but more pattern-makers, design assistants, design technicians, technologists and draping assistants and numerous other lower level functionaries are required to support them. While India has a commendable number of fashion designers, they have to struggle hard to find the assistants to carry out pattern-making or other such technical construction workers who are in acute shortage. So, currently 'fashion design education' is rather imbalanced.
If you go by the new National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF) which is promoted by the Sectoral Skill Council (AMH-SSC), a socalled 'fashion designer' can be skilled in six months (540 hrs) and a certificate obtained as well, whereas a 'full-blown' fashion designer at NIFT spends four years, and a designer at NID too spends four years for completing the education. Thus, nobody is able to differentiate properly between the work of fashion designer or product designer from a product technician or design technician, or between good coins and bad coins! You will know the difference of proper duration in the case of medicine because the patient may die, and in the case of fashion, it may not have any immediate fall-out but can eventually pull down the quality of the entire industry. Just take the example of fashion design technology records at the World Skills Competitions in Leipzig (2011), London (2013) and Sao Paulo (2015). At all three events, there was a difference of about 125-150 points between the eventual winners and the Indian contestant. This means that our basic skill levels have still to go a long distance to attain world standards.
Fashion communication (FC), on the other hand, can only grow once fashion journalism is taken seriously, and fashion shows become an actual commercial medium for buyers and sellers, and there is an active media to promote it to create positive consumer trends. Today, FC remains at a rudimentary level as Indian designers have not become brands like Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, or Donna Karan, etc-which is again the result of an underdeveloped fashion ecosystem. Other courses need to be developed by working closely with the industry rather than going with outdated curricula in most cases. For example, today the all-consuming medium for most of fashion communications is Facebook even more than Google, Twitter or LinkedIn. A Facebook-generated lead costs less than ?150 whereas Google leads cost about ?800. If a designer wants a trained person to develop a digital media strategy, the designer or brand will find the going very difficult.
Nevertheless, there seems to be more emphasis on fashion design and fashion communication at the fashion institute level too. Do you agree? Do you think business/management is quite a neglected aspect that is possibly creating a big HR gap in the industry?
The fashion design institutes are not being still trusted for producing rounded managers, especially because they lack qualitative and analytical strengths. However, the original apparel marketing and merchandising programme at NIFT that later converted to a fashion management programme certainly has proven that it can produce top class managers as well. As the fashion industry moves to e-commerce and m-commerce, the new aspirants require understanding of fashion with 'business fundamentals' to become successful. Certainly, therefore, the 'business of fashion' should be a clear focus of fashion institutes to succeed in this business in the long run.
But then, fashion also needs to be global. Is the fashion education system in India able to meet international standards? How can we score over other countries?
A complete reorientation of NIFT, along with a restructuring of the textiles apparel industry to work in tandem, can bring in global leadership for India in fashion as it has got the largest creative resources base to do so. Unfortunately, our designers have to go to Sri Lanka to create a brand like Amante, or go to other countries to create designs which get noticed globally. Substantial achievements of the first generation fashion designers have upped the ante, and to some extent the domestic industry especially the bridalwear and to some extent casualwear for women today have benefited. Zara, Mango, Vero Moda, H&M, M&S are all the Indian youth's toast, but they hardly care for Indian labels, if any. This should have shown whether the Indian fashion education has succeeded or not, apart from the fact that Indian apparel exports have been stagnating since 2005.
You have earlier said that the fashion curricula needs to be both industry-led as well as capable of leading the industry. How do you see the state of affairs today?
I have explained why fashion education needs to lead the industry because a fabric-maker in Erode or a flatknit-maker in Tirupur or woolknit-maker in Ludhiana or an embroider in Rajasthan or a block printer in Bagru or a Zardozi craftsperson in Uttar Pradesh all need to see these as part of a robust fashion system working for the consumers and target groups so as to complete the cycle. This has not happened because fashion education has focused on curriculum delivery rather than creating 'leadership'. The state-of-affairs need to be changed to one of increased active interface with the Indian and international industries and fashion education system for deriving maximum synergy.
You have written about All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) norms. But there has been no progress on this front. What do you think needs to be done?
The University Grants Commission (UGC), AICTE, etc, have failed to appreciate, understand and accordingly create policies for 'creative education'. Design is the process of application of innovation. Today, innovation comes mainly from technology; combining technology and design is the new paradigm for the world of algorithm, sensors and robotics. But the UGC and AICTE consider fashion as 'applied art' and have clubbed it with other technical education. As director of NID, I had seen during my two terms (2000-2009) that one never gets invited by AICTE or UGC for any discussion on higher education, and even today being the only director who has served two terms at NID during this century and having also worked at NIFT for over a decade, I need to reiterate that design thinking and innovation are critical for Indian education to go forward. The only time when I was able to convince the AICTE was when a committee was constituted under my chairmanship in 2012 to come out with 29 courses in fashion which was subsequently approved. It would be correct to say that regulatory authorities are in a 'time warp' as the world has moved on from earlier education models.
The entry/role of foreign universities has suddenly come under a cloud. How do you think foreign universities can bridge the HR gap?
If we say that only universities can enter into foreign collaborations, it is a sad story indeed. The world over fashion institutions are standalone institutions. Fashion is a global industry. What you buy in London or Milan is what you get in AmbienceMall or Select City Walk. However, our UGC thinks that a fashion institute should not have collaborations. It has interpreted that one cannot take help of even an Indian university to expand its education. Isn't that strange for an emerging economy?
The National Design Policy of 2007 is still gathering dust. And much of the world has changed. Do you think there is a need to re-write the policy all over again?
The National Design Policy was formulated with my leadership under the aegis of Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP) during 2005-07, and approved by the Cabinet in February 2007. As a result, the National Institute of Design (NID) could become an 'Institute of National Importance' in 2014, and two more NIDs could be established in Andhra Pradesh and Haryana out of the four elements stated in the policy. However, I am deeply concerned and disappointed that the India Design Council (IDC) has failed to make any progress, mainly because NID wants to keep it as its own preserve (turf) without creating a separate office or finding a separate director for the same as FDCI or Lakme Fashion Week have done, to the detriment of progress of design in the country. Between 2009 and 2016, there has been no significant international design activity in the country or any progress in design movement. I will squarely blame it on the India Design Council's leadership for having failed in continuing with the same tempo of design movement created during 2000-2008.