MA in Fashion and the Environment, London College of Fashion: University of the Arts, London.
Industrialization and globalization, which are considered a boon for the world economy in general, have adversely influenced the crafts of many nations like India. A need arises for the artisans of India to discover a new pathway for future sustainability. This essentially requires altering the modern perception of Indian craft by educating this generation about its heritage and relevance. Change can be brought through introspection. If the persistent want for the new fashion is substituted by the desire for an object that provides a hedonic satisfaction, it can result in a sustainable fashion cycle. Therefore, the aim of this project is to create a fashion narrative that would connect traditional craft with the contemporary consumer. The project applies the action research strategy where the action is undertaken is creating a collection of garments using a traditional craft of India. The design process involved collaboration between the artisans and the designer to create a fashion narrative. An audiovisual documentary is also produced to educate the consumer about the tradition, workmanship, and emotion of the craft. The mean-end-chain process was applied to analyse the relationship developed between the contemporary consumer and the crafted narrative. Data collection through a laddering technique of interviewing involved 35 in-depth interviews of the contemporary UK consumers, which supported the analysis process. The findings identify that products applying crafts provide a high value of fulfilment to a consumer. Such products establish an emotional connection with the wearer as it relates to their self-identity; consumers feel both a personal pleasure as well as
Craft is often considered a healing process. The nature of craft is the tradition inspired by the artisan’s own life, family history and ethnicity (Tyabji, 2007). India has been bestowed with a rich heritage of crafts and cultures that have been handed down from one generation to the other, mastered with practice and experience. Majority of these crafts are handmade or involve the use of specialized tools, preserving ancient and traditional techniques (Metcalf, 2007). Thereby providing employment to a large working force. Based on the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER) survey of 1995-96 the handicraft sector is the second largest source of employment in India, indicating that the livelihoods of millions of people depends on this hand production (Jena, 2010). Indian crafts are unique in nature and their distinct characteristics have had a strong appeal in the West for centuries in history. The East India Company traded Indian arts and crafts to other European countries (Shankar, 2003). In all its diversity, each region and sub culture of India has its unique blends of colors, weaves, motifs, patterns and stitches that have unified into each other and evolved over the years (Taylor, 1998). They are inherently sustainable and have very low impact on nature. Thus forming a perfect response to the current sustainability concerns.
Modernism is considered as the adoption of the ideas of living that mimic the west (Howes, 1996). In the era of industrialization, craft is perceived as primitive and of inferior quality compared to the mass-produced, machine made, uniform quality goods. Thus, craft has lost its significance (Metcalf, 2007). Consequently, the lives of communities who are solely dependent on crafts have been deteriorating. Artisans are skeptical about their children committing to this profession because of low wages and a lack of respect for their vocation. The industrial revolution was based on a division of tasks among workers, which was good for the bottom line as products could be made more quickly; but it stole the personal touch and happiness from the makers to see their product being prepared from the ideation stage to the finish. Thereby replacing their idea of providing superior quality by optimization of profit (Losinger, 2010). This eventually would lead to the disappearance of the treasure trove of skills and traditional techniques. Subsequently, a necessity arises for artisans of India to break out from their existing systems and follow a new path. This essentially requires altering the modern perception of Indian craft through educating this generation about its heritage and relevance. Therefore, the aim of this project is to create a fashion narrative that would connect traditional craft with the contemporary consumer.
2. The Consumer Today
In today’s dynamic marketing environment, fashion is faster, cheaper and innovative, which results in the ever-present demand for newness and the constant reformulation of identity. This damages consumers as individuals, and collectively as a society, leading to constant depression and dissatisfaction (Fletcher, 2007). Change can be brought through introspection. Therefore, the recurring need for the new should be substituted by the desire for an object that provides a hedonic satisfaction.
Although consumers have a choice to express their identity, these choices are limited and defined inside the boundaries of regulated fashion styles. Consumption is guided by personal choice and individual decision, but self-identity is erased due to mass trends. “Fashion is the imitation of a given example and satisfies the demand for social adaptation. At the same time it satisfies in no less degree the need of differentiation, the tendency towards dissimilarity,” (Simmels, 2010). Hence, as claimed by Michel Foucault consumer preferences are governed by the qualities they desire to attain in themselves that is guided by their individuality (Alfoldy, 2005).
Every individual has his own distinctive character and a set of experiences, which can be articulated through fashion (Clarke and Miller, 2002). The products offered should relate to one’s identity and establish an attachment with the consumer. Each craft has a unique story; consumers build a relationship with crafts by connecting themselves to the story (Chapman, 2007). The resultant demand will be for a slow cycle and better quality of fashion that is more evocative and thoughtful. Moreover, through the medium of crafts in fashion, artisans could communicate their identities to buyers and then the buyers could further communicate their identities to the social world, building an emotional connection between the maker, the consumer and the community. Hence, this research aspires to create fashion that will have an overall significance to human culture.
3. Aims and Objectives
The aim of this project is to create a fashion narrative that would connect traditional craft with the contemporary consumer. The objectives of this project are:
- To explore the concept of relationship between Indian craft and contemporary consumers.
- To discover various relationship propositions that can be further applied to bridge the gap between the craft and the consumer.
- To co-create collection of garments with artisans through exploration and understanding of their sensibility and imparting them with further knowledge about design execution.
- To investigate the value created for the consumers through the element of craft in fashion and understand the relationship built.
- To outline the implications of these findings for developing a new brand concept.
4. Review of Literature
The fashion consumer today has a here-today-gone-tomorrow mentality where the latest look, lowest price or the hottest designer are paramount. For the first time in history, the consumption cycles of clothing has become an unstoppable circle of use and throw (Cline, 2012a). This is the result of the high street brands like H&M, Zara, Mango and the like who have outsourced most of their merchandise from countries like India, China, Vietnam, Thailand and Bangladesh to offer cheap and mass fashion. Consequently, the brand identity of India has developed as cheap and mass, therefore for a consumer any product ‘Made in India’ is considered to be of low quality. These high street stores often sell products of Indian craft as handmade. These are not authentic crafts rather a mass product that create an incorrect perception in the Western market (Kopplen & Vaughan 2003). This cycle has in effect caused devaluation of the Indian handicrafts, which is now considered inexpensive and of inferior quality.
However, several of the world’s top luxury brands like Prada, Dior, Chanel, Valentino, and Armani have turned to India to commission elaborate embroideries, traditional textiles and intricate hand crafted techniques for more than a decade (See Research File). To save their brand identity this fact has never been explicitly disclosed to the consumers given the general perception of ‘Made in India’. Conversely, Prada recently launched its ‘Made in India’ collection, which explains that Indian handicraft, like Italian leather or French perfume, has the advantage of bespoke and timeless luxury. Similarly, fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld presented an ode to the country’s royal heritage in a recent collection for Chanel that was inspired by Indian handicrafts. (Kannampilly, 2012)
In an official press release from PPR.com, Patrizio Di Marco, the president of Gucci is reported saying “The world’s leading brands are rightly judged today not just on the quality of their products and services, but also on the way they act in the community and towards the environment.”(Gucci, 2010)
Hence, as is suggested by Tarun Tahiliani, a well-known Indian designer, to connect the consumers to Indian handicrafts and ‘Made in India’; they need to be informed about the history, traditions, and creation of such products India is one of the countries that has its heritage and culture intact in its authentic form through its handicrafts even today (Upadhyay, 2006).
4.1 Proposition 1
Therefore, informing the consumers about the history and technique of Indian handcrafts will increase its value for them.
Fast fashion has created infinite options, which has caused a vicious circle of unfulfilled desires (Cline, 2012b). The cycle of consumption has become so repetitive that people are disenchanted by innovation and have lost self-worth. Thus, people today are disconnected with humanity causing a deep feeling of isolation in society. The fast cycles of consumption and the need to restructure their identities, people are feeling a sense of discontentment that is causing the society as a whole to fall into depression. (Fletcher, 2007). Therefore, design that is inherently a solution to the problem of needs and desires of consumers should be framed to be humanizing, dignifying and highly personal (Kopplen and Vaughan, 2003). Consequently, craft can be used as a design element to stimulate and revoke the lost emotions of touch, admiration, and connection (Murray, 2010). A process of interaction can be developed where the artisan reflects his identity and cultural stories through the independent handicraft on the garment and this becomes an expression to which the wearer engages and associates with. Rather than consumption being a series of impassive use and throw, it becomes a meaningful dialogue between the producer and consumer. (Fry 1995; Borgman 1995).
4.2 Proposition 2
Products created using craft result in higher emotional satisfaction by relating to ones identity and thus will create a positive perception about craft.
In contrast to the similarity and uniformity of mass produced goods, crafts are cultural goods that embody creativity, skill, intellectual property and social and cultural meaning (Tyabji, 2007). Craft is a conversation; its intricacy recites a sequence of stories about the experiences that the artisans go through while making it. Consumers tend to be attached to their garments and this, in turn, encourages them to savor their garments for a longer time and even pass it on from one generation to the other. Bernard Leach believed that the process of making is an intrinsic fraction of craft because it is through this process that craft develops in its true sense through patterns, shapes, colors and forms its complete definition (Murray, 2010).
Today designers are freed from the manufacturing process, which is really an underlying threat to the inherent relationship between design and craft. Although production factories are providing a source of work and income to the artisans, they constrain their rights and capacity to blend their design sensibility in the creative process. Therefore, merely outsourcing the making of the craft and product is a degrading practice. Hence, the appropriate approach would be to enhance them as designers of tomorrow since they are the best decision makers of their art and skills. This shall leverage the craft society to a design community rather than just a community providing low wage services. A novel tactic of exploring this could be by encouraging master artisans who with their incredible skills help transform ordinary garments and give them a distinctive identity.
As Laila Tyabji describes: “Craft is not just a production process- merely a mechanical, mindless, somewhat outdated form of earning and employment. It is a rural woman’s creative means to conquer her desert landscape, and the confines of her limited income – her way of transcending the dependence and drudgery of her arduous agrarian and domestic life cycle. It is a creative skill and strength that is uniquely hers – an individual statement of her femininity, culture and being” (2003).
4.3 Proposition 3
Craft is the story of the artisan and the artisan should be developed as a designer to establish a connection of the consumer with the artisan’s social community.
Motivation is concerned with the reasons that drive people to undertake certain actions. It gives both impetus and direction to behavior. It is found that the main motive for buying handicrafts would tend to be primarily for their artistic values. In view of this, it is suggested that the artisans may concentrate to develop new designs and models having unique creativity and artistic values for the handicraft items. The success of handicrafts depends on how well the artisans can produce the articles in keeping with the tastes and preferences of consumers (Chattopadhyay, 1939).
However these artisans are hardly aware of the fashion consumer’s needs and trends, this makes it difficult for them to realize these needs in their designs. Therefore, a fair proportion of intervention by designers is suggested to develop products suitable for the international markets and simultaneously educate the artisans about it.
Taking the field of Anthropology as an example one can learn the idea of a successful collaboration where there is a complete transparency of the exchange with the community under study. Hence, designer-artisan collaboration would result to a better amalgamation of the needs of consumers with the craft techniques of the maker creating a dialogue between the producer and the buyer.
4.4 Proposition 4
Designer-Artisan collaboration will result is better narration through fashion.
The significance of adorning craft, which is something thought of and unique makes the wearer feel more comfortable in his own skin, thus making him more at ease in society. Furthermore, this makes fashion a more meaningful consumption where the consumer finds a significance that personally touches him rather than blindly following trends. All the above propositions raised suggest a path to establish a relationship between the consumer and the craft. The following section elaborates the methodology used to apply these propositions to achieve the aim of the project.
This project applied the action research strategy to achieve the aim of the research. Action research is a research strategy where collaboration is seen between the practitioner and the researcher and the researcher is part of the organization within which the change is taking place (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2007).
Fashion is an extremely strong medium of expression and an important tool for a designer to make an alteration in the way the humans see things. Thus, the action undertaken in this research was to create a collection of garments as a medium of constructing a value between the consumer and the craft. In addition, as the literature suggests, an audio-visual documentary is also developed to educate the consumers about the history and technique of the craft applied in the collection (Refer proposition 1).
5.1 Creating the Collection
Due to the time span as well as to provide a more detailed outcome a single craft was taken. Kantha is a traditional craft technique from the eastern region of India and was chosen for reasons of accessibility of the channels of authentic information.
Many fear that designer interference threatens the sensibilities of the artisans and will eventually lead to a decline in the number of skilled craftsmen (Page and Taylor, 1998).
However, literature proposes that the craftsmen today are distant from the market and unaware of consumer needs. Designer and artisan collaboration seeks to bridge this gap (Refer propositions 3 and 4). Thus, a process was undertaken to encourage craftsmen to explore their own skills and creativity to generate new ideas. Artisans were inspired to follow a pathway of design evolution, instead of executing blindly what is considered commercial and modern.
A group of artisans from a fair trade organization, Sasha, was involved to collaborate on this project. Sasha is a non-profit marketing organization for craftspeople and producers from all over India. The designer undertook a three-week intensive workshop with the artisans for the cocreation of craft on the garment. The workshop included the following:
The project started with taking the artisans to the craft museums that stimulated their feeling about the heritage of their own craft.
- Week 1 involved training them to take inspiration from their own lives to create stories and themes, using different design methods of clicking pictures and breaking them apart to see motifs.
- Week 2 involved helping the artisans to make decisions about colors and fabrics and motif placements, as an effective tool to create repeats or patterns.
- Week 3 was allotted to the completion of their individual creations.
The garments and toiles were discussed with the artisans so they had a vision of what the final products would look like and could make decisions of placements accordingly. A research process looking into modern silhouettes and current trends were taken as inspiration. Elements of patchwork, color blocking and layering, which were initially inspired by the craft itself, were explored with the use of contemporary fabrics. For the detailed design process, refer to the research file.
Process has been the crux of this project. To communicate the practice and time undergone to make each garment, to the consumer effectively, a visual stimulus was complied. A video documentation narrating the story, labor, and emotion behind each garment was created (See the videos). It is seen as an important link to connect the consumer to the maker.
5.3 Data Collection and Analysis of Change
Further to understand the shift in the concept of relationship between the craft and consumer a mean end chain (MEC) process of analysis was applied. This technique is a more abstract way of representing consumer values and personal hopes (Klenosky et al., 1993). Armed with this information, researchers can work backwards to uncover the values that drive consumer decisions (Olson and Walker, 1991). One way to do this is value laddering, determining the root values related to the product attributes that are important to the consumers (Gutman, 1882; Reynolds and Gutman, 1988).
In the current study, the traditional laddering procedure (Reynolds and Gutman, 1988) was applied and it offers the advantage of facilitating reflections both on personal buying motivations and on the relationship among “attributes – consequences – ends”. Each consumer was led to a ladder construction by way of reasoning, to reveal the values related to her choice of attributes of the product. A total of 35-consumer interview were taken. This process clarified the relationship between attributes of craft and consumer ethics. The general structure of the MEC used in every interview was of the type:
- Attributes associated with the range of garments designed.
- Meaning of these attributes to the consumers.
- Consequences of this meaning to the consumers.
- Values of such results.
To evaluate the relationship between the initial attribute and the values represented by consumers a hierarchical value map (HVM) was used. This illustrated the links and associations, which outlined the ideals of the contemporary consumer related to craft.
6. Analysis and Findings
All the raw interview data was reduced into A (attributes), C (consequences) and V (value) ladders (See Table 1). The analysis of the laddering data across respondents began with a summary of the major elements by a content analysis procedure (See Table 2). A summary was then constructed to reflect the number of connections between the elements (See Table 3) and then an Implication Matrix (See Table 4) was generated. The implication Matrix is a square matrix that displays the number of times each element leads to every other element in the same row. Two types of relations are represented, direct and indirect. The numbers in the matrix are represented in a fractional form, with direct relations to the left of the decimal point and indirect relations to the right of the decimal point. From this matrix, the dominant connections were then graphically represented in a tree diagram, the Hierarchical Value Map (HVM). The HVM is structural in nature and is representation of the linkages across levels of abstraction without reference to a particular garment.
Having plotted all the elements, they were analyzed in terms of the number of direct and indirect relationships they have with other elements. ‘Happiness’, ‘social satisfaction’, ‘social communication’ and ‘self-confidence’ had the most number of elements leading from them, these maybe deducted as core values influencing consumer and craft relationship. The consequences with high frequency of elements leading from the values are ‘feel comfortable’, ‘feel special’, ‘appreciation’, ‘meaningful’, ‘communication tool’ and ‘ blend with society’ and the attributes are ‘narrative’ and ‘aesthetic’. The resultant dominant A-C-V pathways with high number of relations among its respective elements were:
- Happiness – Feel comfortable – Blend with society – aesthetics
- Happiness – feel special – aesthetics
- Happiness – feel special – meaningful – communication tool – narrative
- Social satisfaction – appreciation – communication tool – narrative • Social communication – communication tool – narrative
While these pathways provide a genuine insight into consumer values relating to craft products, all pathways demand attention because weaker pathways might represent an opportunity for exploration of relationship development.
Table 1 Set of ladders from interviews
Table 2 Summary of content codes
The aim of the research was to create a fashion narrative that would connect traditional craft with the contemporary consumer. The resultant pathways derived from this MEC analysis procedure depict consumer values in relation with the collection created. These suggest that various relationships are established between the traditional craft and contemporary consumer through the fashion narrative. The results are discussed below in details.
6.1.1 Happiness – Feel comfortable – Blend with society – aesthetics
A significant relationship is discovered between the aesthetics of the collection and consumer happiness. Contemporary aesthetics comprising of silhouettes, materials, and color of the garments that in accordance to the current trends is an important attribute, which helps consumers blend with ease in their social surroundings. Thus, making them feel comfortable and leading to ultimate happiness.
Table 3 Coded relationship of elements in each ladder
6.1.2 Happiness – feel special – aesthetics
This pathway signifies another relationship between the aesthetics of the collection and consumer happiness. Some consumers a feel unique because of contemporary aesthetic and deigns, which gives them a sense of individuality. This, in turn, makes the consumer feel a sense of happiness.
6.1.3 Happiness – feel special – meaningful – communication tool – narrative
It is revealed that the narrative of the collection produced is significant in creating a relationship between the craft and the consumer. Narrative is the element of storytelling, which is revealed in the detailed embroideries of the garment. It signifies a personal touch and experience of the maker and the process and time taken to make the garment. This attribute acts as a strong communication tool for the wearer, making the garment more meaningful for the consumer and connecting with them at an emotional level. The emotional satisfaction creates a sense of uniqueness and character, which ultimately gives them happiness.
6.1.4 Social satisfaction – appreciation – communication tool – narrative
Narrative creates another significant pathway that gives the wearer a social satisfaction. The element of storytelling as acts as a mode of self-expression and this leads to a better appreciation of the product by the wearer as well as by society thus providing a sense of social satisfaction.
6.1.5 Social communication – communication tool – narrative
Lastly, narrative as an attribute is a strong tool for communicating ones identity. It creates a dialogue and gives an opportunity for striking a discussion leading to social and community awareness. This provides the consumer a satisfaction of social communication through knowledge sharing and community awareness.
Hence the findings clearly signify that products applying crafts provides a high value of fulfillment to the consumer. The products establish an emotional connection with the wearer as it relates to their self-identity; consumers feel both a personal pleasure as well as a social satisfaction. The products are appreciated more at a personal as well as a social level causing a fashion framework, which is more sustainable.
Table 4 Implication Matrix
The implications of the findings for the brand ‘Karigar’ are described below:
6.2.1 Brand Positioning
Positioning a brand means emphasizing the distinctive characteristics that makes it different from its competitors and appealing to consumers (Kapferer, 2012). The above findings assist in defining the brand positioning of ‘Karigar’.
- Brand for what: The brand will provide with contemporary fashion characterized with elements of traditionalism, luxury, narrative and high quality.
- Brand for whom: The brand is for luxury high fashion consumer, who is motivated by intelligence and social ethics.
- Brand for why: The brand seeks to build relationship and social communication between the traditional artisan, the designer, the product and the ultimate consumer. This will provide a higher contentment to the whole society leading to a sustainable future.
- The brand against whom: The brand shall complete globally against all the international luxury brands through its ethnicity and distinctive identity underpinned by Indian craft.
Aesthetic being a primary focus, products will be created in sync with the trend research. Crafts will be explored keeping the authenticity and narrative intact to create future collections, providing exposure to not only the maker but also the wearer. Thereby, undertaking more and more artisan groups to create a strong global network of transparency and information.
Co design would be the core strategy for building new products. Categories will be expanded to generate a bigger range of products, however, to preserve its exclusivity the garments will be made in limited editions.
Being handmade and unique, the price range of the products would be targeted at high-end consumers. It can also be for the consumers who buy garments as investments and appreciate it for a lifetime.
6.2.4 Target Consumers
The target consumers for this brand would be women who are independent, self-confident and fashionable. Who encompass the power to communicate in some way or the other and make a statement with their choice of fashion? Knowledge guides their consumption behavior. They pursue to satisfy their self-identities by providing themselves with exceptional experiences and they buy luxury motivated by hedonic needs.
These garments are exclusive and timeless; they do not cater to a particular age group and can be worn in accordance to one’s identity. However, due to the cost of making these garments, they are targeted at the high-end clientele of the society.
The products will be marketed through channels of personal experiences and the shop environment will be interactive and will educate the consumer about the process behind reaching each particular piece.
The narrative behind each piece is exclusive and this will generate consideration and build engagement with the consumers. Packaging will be a strong visual tool for communication to establish a connection between the wearer and the maker.
In the world of fashion, consumers are flooded with products to choose from which are renewed very frequently causing extensive damage to the society and the environment. Thus, there is a need to consider a slow cycle of fashion and motivate consumers to change their buying habits. This can be achieved by providing them with more meaningful garments that ascertain a personal link between the consumer and the product. There is a necessity for designers and new brands to incorporate a sustainable approach to their work for the increasingly aware consumers. This would lead to a new fashion cycle of conscious consumption.
Moreover, this project can inspire future designers towards creating a socially responsible fashion. It can change the designer’s as well consumer’s perspective of fashion as new creativity to fashion with traditions and contemporary sensibility. Hence, a bright prospect in fashion can be forecasted, where fashion cycle is slow, meaningful, socially responsible creating inclusive income and satisfying intensely its consumers.
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