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Outsourcing’s new frontier is fashion design

India’s fashion design industry could do with textiles and patterns what its software programmers have done already for western clients, reports Narayanan Madhavan.

business Updated: Apr 16, 2007 00:29 IST

Move over geeks, the fashionistas are here.

For those who think outsourcing is a word associated with information technology or business process outsourcing (BPO) alone, there is a charming surprise. India’s fashion design industry could do with textiles and patterns what its software programmers have done already for western clients.

A small Bangalore-based company, Munch Design Workshop Pvt Ltd., incubated by garment exporter Prateek Apparel, is blending innovation and design processes to help global fashion labels.

“India has all the ingredients to provide intellectual property in apparel and lifestyle design,” Karunesh Vohra, chief executive officer and principal designer of the company, told Hindustan Times. “Nobody has put that together in an organisational context. We can actually market that service.”

Vohra, a 1992 batch graduate of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) said India’s fashion designers are as hot as its IIT engineers and they can help blend creative spirit, English language skills and management talent to cater to big labels that face challenges every season in meeting demands in the right mix of cost, material and volumes.

Typically, the business of fashion does not go for style by whim. While colours and textile material are part of forecasts, manufacturers and marketers try to make the best out of the material they can buy to generate volumes to maximise profits while tracking what is hot.

Munch Design (named after the Hindi word for forum), started out in 2004 to offer design management as an outsourced service to manufacturers.

Its clients today include Levi’s and its affiliate brand Dockers, retail chain Westside and German fashion label Orsay owned by Mulliez, and TVS Motors, for whom it has designed motorbike accessories.

“It is still a startup but we broke even in year two,” Vohra said.

He maintained that trend forecasting could be scientifically approached and tailored to maximise the strengths of each client. Combining aspects of technology, fabric and manufacturing details, a service provider like Munch can create a “directional trend board” to help clients.

When apparel makers invest amounts of the order of Rs.60 to 70 crore, fashion cannot be a fancy, Vohra said, adding: “It is about knowing what product will be in store even before you design it.”

Apparel companies are so busy worrying about manufacturing, retail and related issues, that design needs specialist focus that can be done by outsourcing, he said.

Munch now has 50-odd staff, 28 of them designers, who are helped by a resource centre of data crunchers and fabric, graphic and technical prototyping experts including revered “pattern masters” who are like rock stars in the fashion business, thanks to their deft fingers that do just the right cuts. Computerised design leads to other processes that lead to three-dimensional prototypes that are shipped to corporate clients.

In a typical instance of globalisation, Orsay could get the design from India and then manufacture its volumes in Turkey, much like microchips, where a firm like Sasken can design a wireless chip for an American client who would take it to Taiwan for cheap manufacture.

There is a fine blend of art and science, and Vohra had a visionary statement to capture it: "If we can build a quality organization that runs on systems, then we can build a combustion engine for ideation.”