"OUR IN­ABIL­ITY TO BRAND OUR HER­ITAGE HAS LET IN­DIA DOWN!"

In an ex­clu­sive ar­ti­cle for HT Brunch, the well-known fash­ion de­signer re­mem­bers the time when the world craved for goods made in In­dia

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - News - BY RITU BERI

LAST SUM­MER in Paris, I was de­lighted to meet François Laf­fanour, an In­dophile and con­ser­va­tion­ist, who owns an up­scale art gallery called Gal­lerie Down­town.

I was amazed to learn that he had bought a huge col­lec­tion of Le Cor­bus­ier and Pierre Jean­neret de­signed fur­ni­ture from Chandi­garh. And then I was hor­ri­fied to hear that most of this fur­ni­ture had once been thrown in ware­houses as trash, and of­ten used as fire­wood.

He had re­fur­bished the en­tire col­lec­tion and then sold it at an auc­tion for mil­lions of dol­lars and made a hand­some profit.

Need­less to say his con­ver­sa­tion un­nerved me. What was con­sid­ered junk in our coun­try was auc­tioned at one of the world’s most pres­ti­gious auc­tion houses for mil­lions.

We can now wring our hands and ac­cuse him of rip­ping us off. But in my eyes, he is an as­tute busi­ness­man with a vi­sion and a great sense of trad­ing and prof­it­ing from asym­met­ric in­for­ma­tion.

The blame for not valu­ing our her­itage lies squarely on our shoul­ders. Laf­fanour recog­nised its value, took the risk to buy it and worked hard to re­fur­bish it. He is there­fore en­ti­tled to the prof­its from his en­trepreneur­ship. I re­spect his abil­ity to brand and mar­ket some­one else’s ‘junk’.

This en­counter got me think­ing. I mused about the in­nu­mer­able trea­sures we can be proud of in our coun­try. If prop­erly pack­aged and mar­keted, these could be a source of huge pride and wealth cre­ation.

For some rea­son, no ef­fort has been made to reg­is­ter var­i­ous prod­ucts of In­dian ori­gin for the sta­tus of ‘ge­o­graph­i­cal in­di­ca­tion’ or GI. A GI is the recog­ni­tion that a prod­uct gets for com­ing uniquely from a par­tic­u­lar ge­o­graph­i­cal re­gion, such as cham­pagne from the French h re­gion of Cham­pagne, and scotch from Scot­land.

Bat­tles for GI and trade­mark rec cog­ni­tion have en­sued for turmeric and neem – only af­ter for­eign compa anies recog­nised and aimed to ex­ploi t the value of our prod­ucts.

Re­cently, the gov­ern­ment es­tab­lished a Tra­di­tional Knowl­edge Dig­i­tal Li­brary (TKDL) to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on tra­di­tional knowl­edge ex­ist­ing in the coun­try to trade­mark and get a ge­o­graph­i­cal l in­di­ca­tion sta­tus for it.

Our coun­try has so many uniqu ue prod­ucts, from Lucknow zar­dosi, Agra dur­ries, Mysore silk and Chan nderi fab­ric, to agri­cul­tural pro­duce like Bas­mati rice, Dar­jeel­ing tea and Coorg car­damom. All of these can be pro­tected (Dar­jeel­ing tea al­ready is), and clev­erly mar­keted world­wide.

Why do we have to wait for the Laf­fanours and Natur­pro­duk­tes (the Ger­man com­pany that re­port­edly reg­is­tered Khadi as a trade­mark) of the world to un­earth the value of these uniquely In­dian prod­ucts?

I was re­cently ap­pointed ad­vi­sor to the khadi board to pro­mote and mod­ernise the fab­ric. The word ‘khadi’ is sym­bolic of Ma­hatma Gandhi’s Swara­jya move­ment. I used khadi for my de­but col­lec­tion in 1990. I have al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated its rich­ness and the world of de­sign op­por­tu­ni­ties it of­fers. I am now ex­hibit­ing khadi to global names in fash­ion so they too can un­der­stand its rich­ness and ver­sa­til­ity.

The key to un­cov­er­ing the hid­den wealth of In­dian prod­ucts is in their mar­ket­ing. It ap­pals me to see In­dian in­cense be­ing sold over­seas for pit­tance. Their pre­sen­ta­tion is not re­fineded an­dad lit­tlette oor noo thought­tougt hasas gone­goe into the de­sign­ing of its pack­ag­ing. Nor is there any at­tempt to make it global or mod­ern. The same in­cense mar­keted by a French com­pany has a feel of ex­clu­sive­ness and lux­ury and sells for 100 times more.

The French are masters of brand­ing and we have some lessons to learn from them.

At a re­cent Lux­ury League Fo­rum, global lux­ury brand gu­rus spoke about im­age build­ing. Pa­trick Thomas, ex-CEO of Her­mès said that the key to cre­at­ing a rep­u­ta­tion was in the qual­ity of the prod­uct, not so much pric­ing. In In­dia, we are fix­ated on price, with not much at­ten­tion to qual­ity. Our mantra is to make it cheaper than the rest of the world and not bet­ter, and that I be­lieve is ouour dodown­fall.a .

WHEN DESI DE­SIGNS BEDAZZLE... Snap­shots from the de­signer’s col­lec­tion for Khadi In­dia

I’M IN­DIAN AND I’M SEXY Nayanika Chat­ter­jee in the Khadi Vichar Vas­tra col­lec­tion

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