There’s not much else Sunil Sethi can wish for. If one man can take a bow for fashion being an industry in India today, it is Sethi. So many fashion and couture weeks later, surely the man could have walked away into the sunset with a smug smile.
But when you meet him you know how restless he is for more, almost childlike about new ideas, how he is always thinking of breaking new grounds. Retirement clearly is not in Sethi’s scheme of things.
Sethi’s biggest feat, perhaps, is to make fashion in India more mainstream. And young designers laud him for encouraging fresh blood. The industry today is more organised. ‘The mom and pop tailoring units are gone. Many designers have factories where several hundreds of workers are engaged in production,’ says Sethi.
But Sethi isn’t one to rest on his laurels. He is now striving hard to make Indian fashion go international. A tie-up with Dutch designers has already happened. ‘The creativity of our designers has caused a reverse trend — many countries are coming to partner us,’ says Sethi.
So what next? Sethi says he is still struggling. Young designers are an area of focus. ‘I am of more use to the young designer with talent who is thrown into the deep end of the fashion pool and is struggling to swim. Now I can teach them the ropes that they think they already know,’ he says. ‘They will change India’s perspective to the outside world,’ he asserts.
Who are his favourites among the young pool? Sethi marks out Aneeth Arora (for handlooms), Rahul Mishra [for his craft technique], Kanika Saluja [for the contemporary look] and Amit Agarwal.
He is passionate about taking Brand India places. ‘I also want to see handlooms and crafts of India reach a quality level,’ says Sethi.
How has the business of fashion changed over the years? For one, the opening of multi-designer stores mean young designers don’t need to open their own stores. ‘The market is giving them many opportunities to sell,’ he says.
Fashion weeks like Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week also bring to table almost 200 buyers and designers do more than 70-80 per cent of their business there. ‘I would encourage smaller cities to organise B2B meets instead of fashion weeks,’ he says.
Nowadays, even those with an export house are calling themselves fashion designers. ‘We strongly object to that. As long as they are qualified designers with a degree they have the right to be called a designer. It is a free country,’ says Sethi.
‘Tailoring outfits or people with deep pockets are entering this field and calling themselves fashion designers. It’s not such a loose term because having a qualification and creativity is a pre-requisite for an FDCI membership now,’ he adds.
Has the quality of designers fallen over the years? Sethi says he is sometimes amazed to see the creativity of the young brigade. ‘I am happy that the market has taken us as a serious profession,’ says Sethi who got into the business of fashion around the 2000s when he paired up with Selfridges, London to bring ensembles by Indian designers to the store.
‘They were unapproachable divas then to me. Even now they are divas but approachable to me,’ he says, laughing.
How does he handle fragile egos? ‘I have added more grey hair and wrinkles, but it is a pleasure,’ he says. And clearly, he plans to add a few more and make the Weeks more interesting in the process.