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Last Updated: Friday, 12 October 2007, 23:35 GMT 00:35 UK
After a fashion for Indian designers
By Shilpa Kannan
BBC News, Delhi

Model at last year's Lakme India Fashion Show
Many Indian designers prefer to exhibit abroad than at home
Tiny sequins are being embroidered in a Kate Moss dress for Top Shop.

This Christmas line is being manufactured in India Fashions, a garment manufacturing facility in Faridabad, an industrial town outside Delhi.

Indian garment manufacturing is shining, with improved quality textile quality and cheap skilled workers boosting the industry's value to $20bn.

"Business has been growing for almost 20% per annum and we hope it keeps growing even in the future," says A.S. Chaddha, the owner of India fashions, who has been in this business for more than 20 years.

"We are sure it will grow and it is basically because of the workmanship and the quality we produce. More and more new brands are coming to work with us and we are working with some of the top designers in the UK like Zandra Rhodes, Kate Moss and Celia Birtwell."

Focus on design

The domestic market has been growing in the last few years but ready-made garments still form the bulk of India's textile exports.

Sarojini Nagar in south Delhi is Asia's largest market for export surplus clothes. Here you can find the latest couture designs before they hit the shops in Europe.

All the clothes here have been made in India for big international designers but none of these are made by Indian designers.

While Indian manufacturing has made a mark internationally, Indian designers are yet to arrive on the global fashion high street.

The country is trying to shift focus from manufacturing to design and now has two annual fashion weeks in an attempt to structure the chaotic fashion industry.

It is not just talent which takes a designer big globally
JJ Valaya, fashion designer

However many of the country's top designers are choosing to showcase their collections on international ramps instead of the Lakme Fashion Week, which starts on Saturday.

Designer J.J. Valaya, known for his rich, embellished couture lines, recently staged a fashion show to unveil his autumn/winter 2007-08 collection called "The Taj Blueprints".

With Mughal architectural imprints providing the backdrop to the stage, 40 top models sashayed down the ramp to showcase his signature pieces.

He believes Indian fashion industry is still young and has a bright future.

"It is not just talent which takes a designer big globally," he says. "There are lot of other things involved.

"Given the entire sort of shebang, I think now is probably the right time for them to start taking the first steps. That's what is really happening because you can actually see the Indian presence slowly and steadily increasing globally."

Lacking ambition?

Indian designers have been often accused of catering only to wedding seasons or to the South Asian diaspora nostalgic about India.

There is also a huge Bollywood influence which helps them sell clothes both domestically and internationally. Critics have always said that Indian designers need to be more original if they want global recognition.

Model at last year's Lakme India Fashion Show
Critics say Indian designers need to break out of old conventions

"Just indulging in the pleasure texture, just giving into whimsy, to fun and to frolic, I don't know we have those people," says fashion commentator Sunil Mehra.

"I wish they indulged themselves a little more," he adds.

"The fact remains tragically that as a 50 year-old man when I want to go out for an evening and buy a linen shirt which is not an extortionate price I still have to pick up my year's supply from Banana Republic or from Rajesh Pratap Singh, a friendly Indian designer who gives me a discount because he is a friend.

"Surely he can't be friendly with the whole country. I think bedevils Indian fashion and no amount of fashion weeks or the attendant blitz of publicity can mask that one fact."

Another hitch with the Indian fashion industry is the lack of corporate funding.

Some designers have started attracting corporate attention in a bid to tap into the huge domestic market. But it is still very nascent.

Leading textile group Raymond's has started an exclusive chain of designer stores - called Be - that stock creations by Anshu Arora, Gauri and Nainika, Rohit Bal and other designers.

Now the industry's challenge is to maintain the growth while at the same time making inroads into the domestic market.

Next generation

In an effort to close the gap between fashion and common consumers, the government of India is now investing in design schools, training facilities and industry management.

The National Institute of Fashion Technology is one such school in Delhi.

Delhi is going to be the next big fashion destination, bigger and better than Milan or Paris
Pallavi, Indian fashion student

With growing international interest in Indian fashion, schools like this are churning out thousands of young hopefuls.

"All the big companies have been coming in, big brands have been coming in and that is because they realize the potential that is here in India," says Pallavi, a young fashion management student at the college.

"Ten years from now I see myself as a very successful designer working right here in Delhi which is going to be the next big fashion destination, bigger and better than Milan or Paris."

India is hoping that the international attention will soon translate into business.

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India says established and upcoming designers are slated to contribute nearly $50m (25m) in annual revenues.

As Indian designers are gaining a foothold in the global market, Indian clothes may soon be in fashion.

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