Indian designers have a long way to go and are still primarily suppliers and exporters, says Wendell Rodricks, one of the few names in the fashion industry to have revolutionised the Indian ramp scene and also promoted it globally. "We are far away from international presence. The day I see an Indian brand with stand alone stores in the world's fashion metros, I will say that we have arrived. Till then we are just suppliers and exporters," Rodricks told said in an interview.
Rodricks, whose Goan heritage is reflected in his designs, began his career in fashion after a successful tenure in hotel management. Trained in Los Angeles and Paris, he returned to India in 1988. After a brief span of two years, and designing for companies like Garden Vareli, cosmetic giant Lakme and diamond corporate DeBeers, Rodricks established his own label in 1990. He later moved to his ancestral village in Goa in 1993, and there's been no looking back since. His ready-to-wear line with its minimalistic designs have found many takers.
Recalling the initial days of his career, the designer revealed he has had his share of disappointments. "I did face rejection many times. I was disappointed not to get an internship at YSL(Yves Saint Laurent). But that led me to India and it became a positive move eventually. In the initial years I had to fight off requests to add embroidery to my clothes. I stubbornly stood my stand as I was sure my minimalism would eventually get accepted," Rodricks said.
A keen art patron and promoter of Goan talent, Rodricks has lent his support to local education, cultural associations, the Red Cross and the Alliance Francaise in Goa. He has put the Indian state of Goa firmly on the fashion map. He not only managed to use rich Goan aesthetics in his designs but revived the Goan sari 'kunbi' from extinction. Worn by tribals, the just four-five yards sari was difficult to drape but Rodricks has crafted a new way to drape it. The normal sari is six yards.
"I was born in Mumbai but with Goan parents. I always wanted to live in Goa. Goa gave me so much inspiration that it became vital that I did more for the state. It took a long while to revive the kunbi sari," he said. It's slowly catching on. "But I was very certain I wanted to do it. I am glad it succeeded as the Government of Goa's Education Department began teaching weaving in the state. I am overseeing the project," he added.
Rodricks also feels that it is necessary for Indian designers to promote their state and culture. "Preserving the cultural heritage of India can vary from designer to designer. Each person takes a different route. Some designers have certainly added to the culture and image of their state. Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Rohit Bal come to mind," said the designer who is also an avid writer.
Asked his age, he just said, "Let's keep it a secret."
Apart from his latest book Green Room, he has also written Moda Goa- a first-of-its-kind pictorial and illustrative fashion chronicle of the state. And there are many more in the pipeline. "Moda Goa was the result of 11 years of research in the history of Goan costumes. The Green Room was born out of a challenge in the Goa writers group. I have plans to write more books as I enjoy the process of writing," he said.
Rodricks is the first Indian designer to be invited to display his garments at IGEDO (world's largest garment fair) in Dusseldorf, Germany. He has been actively involved in all areas of fashion: lecturing on world costume history, chairman of the courses committee at the Board of Technical Education (BTE) appointed by the Government of Goa and member of the Advisory Board of Lakme Fashion Week (LFW).