If you thought high fashion was high society, think again. Haute Couture does not just remain confined to the glittering ramps or the clubs and hotels that the ethnic attire getting into yuppies frequent, but also winds its way down to the villages, suburbs and slums of India. Capitalism meets socialism when the merchants of dreams and fashion rise up profits, but spread wealth downwards. From the narrow streets of Amritsar with hundreds of craftsmen busy embroidering to No-wgaon close to Delhi, which is an entire village devoted to ethnic fashion, the lower income section is fuelling aspirations of the rich nouveau as well as traditional.
Take Arshad Bhai, a resident of Chandigarh colony number 5, a slum by the administrations definition. Arshad Bhai is popular amongst new fashion designers of the city who subtask at times, 100% of the garment embellishment work to him. While he does the job for amounts ranging from Rs 500 for simple designs to Rs 20,000 for very intricate designs, the finished garments get sold in Canada, the US and Europe. The price mark-up ranges from 10 times for the cheaper items that get sold for Rs 5,000 a piece to three times for the expensive items that get bought for up to Rs 60,000 an item. Arshad Bhai in turn supports 50 employees busy spinning and operating an assortment of machines as they dress up the lustrous silks and shining synthetics on their journey westwards.
On a much bigger scale, doing the same thing for entire villages is Fabindia, that has over the years shifted its focus to the Indian retail market. What started, as an export house has today become a successful retail business presenting Indian textiles in a variety of natural fibres to sensitive Indian customers. While the ethnic retail giants officials state that there is something for everybody, the price range is definitely tilt towards the rich and the upper middle class. But in the process, of sourcing from a base of 25,000 artisans and weavers all over the country who literally survive on Fabindias orders, the company has managed to distribute a substantial chunk of its Rs 87 crore turnover in FY05 among artisans in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and the North East. In fact, No-wgaon is entirely dependent on Fabindia.
Demand created by the company for craft from Chanderi has led to the revival of the dying art of working on a mix of cotton and silk by the Chanderis of Madhya Pradesh. The success has invited a project from the UN to further promote the craft that has changed the fortunes of the villagers. From new store chains in Chandigarh and Ludhiana such as The Other World - sourcing items from rural India, to the ethnic chic of Fabindia and from embroidery done on expensive clothes in Amritsar to the Phulkari of Patiala the diffusion and dispersion of wealth continues.