A dress that feeds the nation: Why it is essential to support the local businesses right now
Here we are. It has taken a tiny virus and a colossal pandemic for us to pause and reflect on how our greed, consumerism and poor life choices have damaged the planet we live on and endangered our collective futures - economically and otherwise. Our lives and dreams as we knew them, at least for now, have come to a screeching halt. But as an optimist and also a perennial realist, I am a strong believer that with all such seismic shifts, most often brought about by catastrophic changes, come opportunities to change and recalibrate. So how do we shield ourselves from a world that is interconnected, economies that are shared and stock markets that are intertwined?
How do we cushion ourselves from this fall, even if we can’t avoid it? Being a part of the textile industry (the second largest employment generator in this country) I can tell you with candour, that overnight, the fashion industry is on its knees. And this may seem, in the wake of a health crisis, not a top priority. But this industry is not just that beautiful dress you won’t buy, because for now you have nowhere to go and no photos to post on Instagram. For instance, if it was handmade, that dress you bought, indirectly employed; a farmer that grew the cotton, someone that spun the yarn, one that dyed it, another that built the loom, and yet another that wove the textile. Then someone that designed the dress created the print for it, a team that printed it, washed and finished it, a patternmaker that cut it, someone that tailored it, another that embroidered it, someone that manufactured the trims for it, checked it for quality… this in addition to the countless people that merchandised it, packed it, couriered that dress and brought it to you via a store or online. And in turn, all of their families. That dress is the sum of all humans it nourished.
So I have a humble premise I’d like to suggest. Perhaps there is no better time than now, to illustrate how integral it is for each and every one of us to support local businesses. To be clear, when I say buy local, I simply mean buy goods Made in India. And although in this instance I will limit my musings to clothing, this can just as easily be applied to the food you eat, the toys you pick, the books you read, the art on your walls, the furniture in your apartment…the list is endless.
Of course, no one exemplified this philosophy better than Mahatma Gandhi, when he suggested that all local villagers when they were not in the farming season, learn how to spin yarn and weave khadi. It was not just cloth, it was a way of life, one that supported self-reliance and reduced our dependency on foreign products. Oddly enough it feels like life has come a full circle and his words are truer now than ever before. We have an unparalleled, treasure trove of resources in this country, especially in this department. And when you support homegrown labels, you buttress not just our indigenous craft clusters, our skilled/ unskilled labour force and the livelihoods that depend on them, you pillar an entire fragile ecosystem that is on the verge of a crisis.
The immediate survival of these artisans, their craft and that of their future generations, depends on the choices we make now. If this becomes the norm and gathers momentum, then not only do we aid our current workforce, but we also create more jobs in this industry and a healthier economy - one with more robust supply chains, that in times like these, are less likely to get severely disrupted. Perhaps it will also teach our future generations to be India proud, create an aesthetic within the India modern context that is not just relevant, but also self-sufficient. And this endeavour will be more sustainable than philanthropy, because it is continuous, as opposed to intermittent.
You are the lifeline they need. So support your most loved Indian labels. Because it’s more than just a beautiful dress…
Payal Khandwala is a Mumbai-based designer. Her expertise lies in a strong palette, fiercely feminine drapes and layered separates.
(The opinions expressed are personal.)