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Fashion in India is unlike anywhere else in the world. Indigenous clothing is still the norm for the vast majority of the population and the sari, the traditional garment worn by women in India, has remained virtually unchanged for the last five thousand years. As the sartorial diversity of the nation reveals, clothing is much more than what you wear. It’s an intrinsic part of one’s identity denoting everything from place of origin to caste, religion, occupation and social status. This significance was most evident during India’s freedom struggle when in an act of defiance and nationalistic pride, Indians discarded mill produced fabric from Europe for locally made khadi or hand spun cotton. “This is sacred cloth” Gandhi said of khadi which became a potent visual symbol of India’s fight for independence.
The trade that began with a spinning wheel and hand spun thread has evolved over the decades to become a bona fide global fashion industry estimated to reach $187.5 million by 2012. Although, Indian style has been represented in Western fashion for almost half a century, its design industry is more nascent. Traditionally, local designers and artisans were known for their handicraft skills, not their design and therefore, worked behind the scenes, discreetly serving the world’s top brands like Armani, Oscar de la Renta and Christian Dior by creating stunning works of beading and embroidery. It was the arrival of IMG, a global leader in fashion show and event production and the founding of the Fashion Design Council of India that launched India Fashion Week and an emergent design scene. India’s first ever fashion week took place in the Fall of 2000 and has since exploded to include two major ready-to-wear fashion weeks, a couture week, and regional shows in cities throughout India. However, in spite of the industry’s rapid ascent the question that remains is whether Indian fashion and its designers can make it internationally.