Against an unprecedented global economic crisis, businesses must come together at the industry level to excite consumer imaginations with new initiatives. And one group of Indian fashion designers is taking the unusual step of exporting its signature fashion week.
The Fashion Foundation of India (FFI), an independent body that endorses the bi-annual Delhi Fashion Week in the country's capital, will fly in a dozen established Indian designers tomorrow to Dubai for a two-day, trade-only event. The event, called "12", is aimed at "expanding the boundaries of fashion", according to organisers, and to introduce the designers – many of whom have never exhibited here – to buyers and clients from the region.
"We decided to call it "12" because it represents the clock face. This indicates our desire to be all-inclusive, encompassing the entire region," explains Sumeet Nair, the principal of Delhi Fashion Week and one of the founders of the FFI.
"In the past, it has always been Paris, Milan or London. The focus has never been India or the Middle East. So we thought it was time to get together for a collaborative effort and explore and develop the entire region for fashion."
The initiative, adds Nair, will act as a catalyst for the fashion industries in India and the Middle East to foster business relationships for mutual benefit. While the fashion industry in the GCC remains largely unregulated, the last formal study conducted about three years ago put the Indian market at about Rs5 billion (Dh376 million).
"Designers have come and gone but nobody has really been serious about a collaborative effort," says Nair. "This region and India have a lot of shared traditions and ideologies, especially in fashion design, and they are both still great markets despite the global economic situation.
"Besides, Middle Eastern designers have not explored India at all and we want to create that gateway."
All designers who will exhibit at the Dubai event are regular participants in the Delhi Fashion Week. Designer Vineet Bahl, already a household name in India, says he is looking forward to establishing contacts and partnerships with buyers from the region.
"It will also be a slight teaser of what you can expect at the Delhi Fashion Week in March," says the designer who launched his label in 2003. "Keeping in mind the recession, I think it's a good time for the Indian design fraternity to start a dialogue. When I show in Paris, New York and Delhi, I always get a lot of buyers from the Middle East which makes this event very exciting for me."
Malini Ramani, often referred to as the enfant terrible of Indian fashion, says a trade show targeted at wholesalers directly could be an "interesting event".
"I think the kind of collection I have is for this kind of thing," she says. "I have had a number of one-day exhibitions in the UAE that have always sold out."
American-born Ramani, who already retails in some Dubai boutiques, says she would consider opening her own boutique in the future.
"It's an emerging city that is still finding its feet so I'm in no rush. Of course, I'm sure that time will come soon."
Another rising star, Gaurav Gupta, whose work experience includes training with international designers Hussein Chalayan and Stella McCartney, says it will be his first time exhibiting in the emirate.
"I think the city has two sides when it comes to fashion – one which is very modern and international, and the other which is a bit more traditional. That duality is something I can relate to."
The FFI is a breakaway group from the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), the country's first body formed in 1998.
Nair, who was one of the founding members of the FDCI, served as its executive director and helped organise the country's first fashion week in 2000. But following disagreements among members, the premiere fashion week split between those based in Delhi, the capital, and Mumbai, the country's financial and entertainment hub, in 2006.
The new body, FFI, was formed "to avoid the same mistakes again", according to Nair, who is married to another well-known designer Gitanjali Kashyap.
"We've learnt that having 16 designers on the board is not a good idea. Designers are creative people and they are not always the best business people," says the Stanford-educated managing director of Incube Fashion, a company that helps turn contemporary designers and their labels into profitable business ventures.
"We wanted to create something away from the politics and bickering and really provide a platform for designers to grow, expand and flourish internationally – and not just organise fashion weeks."
While still leading the charge at the FDCI, Nair commissioned the only comprehensive studies done on Indian designers and the fashion industry. "The first study we did was in 2000 and the industry was then worth Rs1.8bn. In 2005, it was almost Rs5bn. That might have grown marginally because we were growing at about 20 per cent a year," he says.
As open economies have proven their susceptibility to the reverberations of the global financial meltdown, Nair thinks a unified industry in the region would see a resurgent fashion trade with those from the Middle East and India leading the way.
"We want the body and the designers as a group to go away with collaborations and not short-term associations. We want this to be a starting point," he says.
For those worried about how the global scenario will affect the Indian fashion industry, designer Ramani says: "Everything might be bad and everything might be going haywire. But I really don't want to complain. It's my job and I'm still doing it. There will still be parties and events and meetings to go to… and people will still need to dress up."