NIFT made all the difference
The National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) is India’s premier institute imparting fashion education. Set up in 1986 under the aegis of the ministry of textiles, NIFT is an institution of design, management and technology for the fashion business. With its head office in New Delhi, NIFT has centres at Mumbai, Kolkata, Kangra, Gandhinagar, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bengaluru, Raebareli, Patna, Shillong, Bhopal, Kannur, Bhubaneswar, Srinagar and Jodhpur. NIFT was granted statutory status in 2006, empowering it to award degrees and other academic distinctions. In this interview with Richa Bansal, NIFT Delhi Campus Director Dr. Vandana Narang shares her opinions and impressions about fashion education.
Do you think the fashion education system in India is able to meet industry requirements both in terms of quality and quantity? For an industry that is ever growing, quality fashion institutes need to be established (barring NIFT, of course).
We at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) are definitely able to meet the requirements of the industry; rather, we have set the bars and benchmarks for the fashion industry. I will give you an example of how we have done this. In 2000, when we were talking of the post-quota system, going back in history, we were talking about the opportunity of being there or not. The industry said, "Oh! Everyone will be coming to India, there won't be any quota."
There was one gentleman I remember who said that design will be the engine that will pull the industry, and we will be able to pull people to India if we are able to design. This has come true. Because, even during the recession of 2009-2010, when people were not hiring, design students were being picked up (from NIFT) and hired. A gentleman from Japan came from Wear, a social networking site for fashion, and said, "We zeroed in on to you people because we realised that more than 70 per cent of the trained human resources at the managerial level (in India) is from NIFT." Most of these people have come after checking the credentials of the institute.
Hence I would say, yes we are able to meet the requirement. But as you asked that since the industry is ever-growing, are we providing quality education in everything? No, I don't think so.
Which are the streams that are lagging behind?
Everywhere in India, there is a negative attitude-that if we are a private institute we only need to follow benchmarks established by the University Grants Commission (UGC) or All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). There are a few private players that have set up universities, ones which are global in thinking, like Shiv Nadar and Asoka. People are already talking about them in the education sector.
An Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and a regional engineering college cannot be in competition with each other. Similarly, NIFT and any other fashion institute cannot compete with each other. What NIFT and the National Institute of Design (NID) are doing for fashion and design education is totally different. We started from the right ethos, which we have developed. There are several other institutes that have been opened (with the government) in the field of fashion and craft, but they are yet to reach a level like us. Where NIFT and NID have made a difference is that we have taken industry along with us. The industry not only recognises this fact, but accepts it also.
Among students, fashion design and fashion communication are popular streams. What does the industry have to say about it? Is this causing a shortfall in other areas of the fashion industry?
Fashion design and fashion communication are filling two major areas of the industry. Other courses are material-specific. Textile design is doing very well. Textile designers are doing very well too. On the other hand, the leather industry is not so huge, so we have fewer numbers there. But we are doing a very good job in providing quality education. The Footwear Design & Development Institute (FDDI) started with a footwear specialisation, but what NIFT is providing is fashion in leather education. Accessories design students are doing pretty well-be it jewellery, lifestyle products, table-tops-they are all doing brilliantly. Then comes knitwear. Knitwear again is a material-specific course and is coming up in a big way. But yes, students prefer design and communication; there is no dearth of human resources. NIFT keeps these things in mind, and we evolve the number of seats. Our total number of seats is 3,000+ for Bachelor's in design. We have a master's course in fashion retail management -we have it in 13 campuses and each class has 35 students.
Tell me, when we talk of design, where does design fall in the hierarchy of a fashion organisation?
At the top!
Was it so, always?
When we started, it was the other way around-this I am talking of 35 years back. At that time, those were all family managed or operated businesses. The father or the husband was managing the entire business, the wife was designing, and the children or the brotherin-law would be marketing. It was thought that anyone can be a designer-people thought I will take this colour, this fabric, and that trim, and it would be design. But that's not design. That is where NIFT made all the difference. We have changed the mom-and-pop culture to a professionally-managed system. A lot of senior designers have taken over as chief executives of companies. Like ITC, for instance, may ideally be managed by a marketing person, but it is headed by a NIFT graduate from knitwear design [Sartaj Singh Mehta is the creative head of the Lifestyle Retailing Business Division of ITC Limited]. Karunesh Vohra is creative director (Louis Philippe) at Madura Fashion & Lifestyle. Reliance is getting a lot of international brands to India like Italian designer Renzo Rosso and Muji, for instance. Renzo Rosso himself came to NIFT. We had a chat with him on a day when the T-20 World Cup semi-final match between India and West Indies was being played, and on such an evening, we had an amphitheatre full of students! Rosso was in conversation with Suket Dhir, an alumnus of NIFT. He was trying to gauge what Indian designers think. He had come for a purpose, and what he told the students was that hard work and vision can take you anywhere, and he shared his own story. Tommy Hilfiger came to India too, and the only institute he visited was NIFT. We have worked with Ikea for a collection called Svartan, and it is to have a global launch in August. The Madein-India range of products have been designed by students from NIFT Delhi. These are the major associations of the recent past. We will announce more when the time is ripe.
The National Skill Quality Levels (NSQL)-how is NIFT involved with them?
We are part of the board of directors for apparel and man-made. We are working closely with them. They have come up to the certificate level as of now. Since it's a national skilling mission, we are talking numbers here; we are not coming to the managerial level.
What are the skillsets that are going to be focused upon like patternmaking or embroidery or stitching or anything for that matter?
At NSQL, we are looking at developing a lot of skills like pattern-making and embroidery under the ambit of the Apparel Man-Made Sector Skill Council (AMMSSC). They are looking at the entire fashion industry-right from cutting to stitching, finishing, tailoring, ironing, draping, to quality levels. We have covered 46 skills on 1-5 levels, with 5 being the level of a certificate. This doesn't come to NIFT. The Bachelor's degree at NIFT would be Level 7, and Level 8 would be our postgraduate diploma.