‘Design’ Economy in India

Design Economy Design Policy india design policy

This post is triggered by the ongoing discussion on ‘Revisiting the India Design Policy’ enabling the Design Economy in India. If we need to build a robust design economy for India, we need to literally lay the foundation stone, build it from ground up. So far, the few initiatives that we have seen, although significant, have done very little to help the design industry. By having a few elite design schools is surely not enough. 

Before we start discussing the micro details, the Objective (Mission & Vision) of the National Design Policy leading to the Design Economy needs to be clearly spelt out. It has to deal with two different market segments – Export (looking outwards) and Domestic (looking within). Both would need different handling of ideas and policy guidelines propelling growth in respective segments, within the larger National Design policy framework. 

I will stick to the industry that I come from: Lifestyle & Fashion – apparel, shoes and accessories. 

Exports. We must clear some deep-rooted misunderstandings fogging our minds first. We can’t design all by ourselves for the European or American consumer. Any amount of travelling & exposure with the intention of ‘copying’ that goes under the more sophisticated term in design industry as ‘Inspiration’ would not help. It has nothing do with Creativity of indian designers and even remotely it does not reflect on their lack of it. 
We may claim anything but the hard fact remains that the original creativity & content in Design comes from the very DNA of target consumer. What I call as ‘Acquired Taste’ would never get us anywhere close to our objective. 

A manufacturing exporter is supposed to do the following, all by itself – a) Design & develop the sample collection to present to the buyers almost 18 months ahead of season, every single season b) Every brand claims to have a different philosophy, so the collection has to be almost customised for each brand, c) Then travel the globe with the collections and make presentations at these Brands, d) During adoption process, product pricing is compared across the globe, irrespective of who actually made the sample, means no guarantee of any business, e) Having done all of this, wait forever to know the adoptions and order forecasts.

Hence, we will need to follow the ‘China Model’ of Design for Exports: 
a) Create design studios attached with prototype / sampling facilities. These are independent units, owned by local companies (Designers/Entrepreneurs/Start-ups), in collaboration / Joint-Venture with the leading international Brands. These have to be truly top-class swanky international facilities and not just some sweat shops with a conference room and few machines. 
b) Brands should be invited by offering them dedicated Design Spaces / Studios where they depute their in-house design teams to work and oversea the complete R&D process.
c) Material Bank & Merchandising plays a key role in Design R&D. Each studio should have its own library / archives.
d) Students from Design, Graphic Design and Merchandising streams should be recruited at these facilities, creating employment opportunities.
This proposed Design Studio concept is a completely viable business model by itself and it need not have any manufacturing / buying agency related baggage attached to it.
Prototypes / New Developments from these studios are then sent for adoption by the Buyers at respective Brands. Orders generated through these sample prototypes would be ensured to be placed in India.
There are some Brands who already work with local buying houses in india but they are mostly buying agencies who offer services such as Factory Audits, Quality Control, Production Scheduling, Logistics etc. They hardly do actual design & prototype development work by themselves. 
Going forward and considering the tough international competition ahead, the best way to ensure prospective orders by Brands are routed to India is by taking active part in their design development process.
Once the Design Studio part of business is taken care, the manufacturing industry then would be able to focus on their core competency and build a robust & efficient production line to offer the right product at the right price and at the right time, which are the most basic ingredients for any successful exporter. 

Domestic. Contrary to the popular belief that exports are better than domestic markets, let us understand that this is ‘the elephant in the room’ that we need to address. Indian consumer today, in terms of tastes & preferences, has matured and arrived. Purchasing Power is not a question at all. It therefore deserves to be treated with lot more respect with a dedicated DESIgn Policy. 

As an industry, deep down we suffer from “Designed in Italy, Made in India” syndrome. Or let’s just say we carry this as an ‘aspirational baggage’ to serve the Indian consumer. 
When every international premium brand is looking at tapping the enormous indian retail market, the manufacturing exporters while promoting their own Brand in India still carry the colonial baggage of ‘Designed in …’ ! We have, over the last 2-3 decades, graduated from ‘Made in USA’ to ‘Made in india’, thanks to the Atma Nirbhar Bharat kind of sentiments and initiatives.

The new Design Policy has to be woven around the inherent strengths of Desi materials, Desi Karigar, Desi Tashan (style & attitude), Desi functionality and above all, Desi tastes & preferences of indian consumer.

Also incentivising the concepts of Design with Purpose, Sustainable Design, Functionality with Aesthetics, Designing for Circular Economy etc would go a long way in building the next generation Design Policy for India.

The Design Policy vision should be ‘Designed in India’! That will happen once we have the right Design Policy looking both, outwards & inwards, leading to the DESIgn Economy.

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