I was lucky to be introduced to quality in craft -- and the infrastructure around it -- at the very beginning of my career.
In Paris the jewelry guild of the Place Vendome (just around the corner from my atelier) had its quality parameters written down in the 1650s, and they are followed up to this date. Even if the French ministry of industry has left its mark on these guidelines and declared industrial apprenticeships to be limited to a couple of years, the individual workshops know very well that the age-old rule applies and an apprenticeship takes 10 years. The Couture Guild, founded in the 1850s, implemented the notion of beginning, confirmed and excelled performance in the art of sewing as a professional denomination in all couture workshops.
What we do best in India and what we are recognised most for internationally is embroidery, arguably one of the most precise and intricate work procedures in the world. Artisans in India, however, often come from the poorest levels of society and are frequently illiterate. It is almost impossible for them to keep up with the times (as yet). Try ordering a few thousand metres of silk in Varanasi or Kanchipuram: production structures will not be able to deliver. This prevents our contributions from earning the recognition they deserve in the international luxury industry.
"In our culture coming from/training with a family of artisans constitutes artisanal denomination. It is unverifiable, but so far the only way an artisan is classified."
In my Gurgaon-based factory I have introduced echelons of quality, thus classifying tailors and embroiderers into categories. This is new in India and difficult to implement for two reasons - first, the concept of workshop hierarchy is virtually non-existent in our context, and, second, the trainers implementing said classification themselves need training.
The vision however has scope for the industry as well as the artisan. The ambition is to create the kind of scenario that exists, for example, at Bottega Veneta where handmade articles are serially produced to industry norms. In our Indian garment and embroidery context this would mean not only exquisitely embroidering textiles, but also designing and finishing the garment at an equally intricate international level and selling it in international luxury retail. While we do contribute to the international market for luxury handwork, it is not nearly close to what we have the potential to accomplish.
In our culture coming from/training with a family of artisans constitutes artisanal denomination. It is unverifiable, but so far the only way an artisan is classified. Please understand that in India, thecountry of weaving and embellishing textiles, we have neither a procedure nor a diploma to classify artisans for crafts that have existed for centuries. I wonder whether it is the availability and confounding of all "cheap labour" that has brought forth this situation. We have to be clear that it is the putting down of rules that will define all craft as National Heritage.
"A government-led initiative that permits the industrialisation of artisanal procedures would be a dream for our tradition and culture."
Thankfully, there is some international recognition of our craft, especially for embroidery, even if its value has never been officially established apart from for the price we demand for it. Do we realise that the price we give it is the value others see? Does the entrepreneur see a national interest in his sales? Do we realise it is the artisan who ends up compromising on his own craft because of this? Work ethics that include making do with the minimum of effort (jugaar) affect the quality of crafts. The international market sees this.
Proper recognition and schooling in our traditional artisanal values have never been given to the artisan who vis-a-vis the industry feels inferior. When/if these artisans do work in the garment industry they are not initiated to apply their centuries of knowledge for the simple fact that using these principles is not a part of our competitive DNA. While we are so busy adapting to foreign clients we forget we could sell them something from here rather than being cheap subcontractors of their work.
A government-led initiative that permits the industrialisation of artisanal procedures would be a dream for our tradition and culture. Our fashions have yet to make a mark internationally and are challenged in a world of technical advancement, where none of our traditional principles represents novelty... novelty which the and luxury industry cannot do without at any level. It is education, research and development for the artisan that we need desperately.