Public opinion may have scoffed at the appointment of former cricketer Chetan Chauhan as the chairperson of National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), but NIFT hasn’t been led by anyone from the
Public opinion may have scoffed at the appointment of former cricketer Chetan Chauhan as the chairperson of National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), but NIFT hasn’t been led by anyone from the fashion industry since its inception in 1986. We spoke to NIFT alumni, fashion designers and insiders to get a deeper understanding of how the appointment affects their industry.
The institute has been caught up in bureaucratic tangles for many years now, says leading designer Gaurav Gupta, a NIFT alumnus. “Political interference in this country is widespread,” he rues, “Instead of ensuring high quality fashion education to strengthen India’s growing fashion industry, updating the curricula with modern and relevant courses better suited to the dynamically changing fashion industry or financing important and creative research work and facilities for the existing faculty, the government has been giving it (NIFT) a chairperson and board members who have zero knowledge about the fashion industry. Having said that, he (Chauhan) might possess a good business or a financial know-how, which is always good when it comes to dealing with the commercial aspect of the industry. But to qualify to be a head of a creatively driven institute, you need to have someone who reverberates a robust creative energy. Even if this appointment was made foreseeing a business angle, they could’ve at least brought someone from the retail or merchandise sector. Fashion is a global phenomenon and we shouldn’t underestimate its worth. It is an industry worth trillions of dollars. The administration should support the structure.”
Previous Chairs of NIFT board of governors included names like: Kiran Dhingra, textile secretary and retired IAS officer, Thiru Venu Srinivasan, chairman TVS Motor and MD Sundaram Clayton, DP Singh, bureaucrat, R Poornalingam, textile secretary and retired IAS officer among several others. The NIFT Act of 2006 mandates that the institute will have a board of governors, which is constituted every three years and besides a director general, a financial adviser, a joint secretary (all ex officio) and a representative from the ministry or department in the government of India dealing with NIFT and higher education, it must have two members from the Lok Sabha, one from the Rajya Sabha. Five more experts are nominated to this board by the Central government representing the states in which the campuses of the institute are located as well as two experts in fashion technology, one of whom shall be an educationist to be nominated by the Visitor on the recommendations of the Central Government. According to this act, the chairperson must be an “eminent academician, scientist, technologist or professional to be appointed by Visitor (President of India)”.
Explaining the major differences between a fashion institute and other science or commerce-led organisations, Purushu Arie, one of the top fashion bloggers and ex-NIFT-ian asserts, “A fashion college is entirely different from other educational institutions of science, arts and commerce. Indian education system still provides basic understanding of the latter subjects but offers little exposure to fields like fashion and textiles. Anyone without a prior background in fashion and textiles will have little understanding of the industry. The very fact that Chauhan went on to explain his style statement in media explains his superficial understanding that dressing well is part of his new job. You’ll understand the irrelevance if I, a fashion designer and blogger, seek approval in an institution of physical education by explaining how my bowling style is orthodox leg spin. It’s not about making a style statement but it’s about having the understanding and experience to head a fashion organisation. Governments in both the past and present have shown insensitivity towards fashion education. It’s not just about Chetan Chauhan but several other names listed in NIFT’s board of governors.
Purushu adds, “The institute has excelled for years because of the eminent faculties and incredibly talented students. However, there’s always scope for improvement and a good deserving candidate, as a head would be a good start.”
NIFT alumna and fashion guru Ritu Beri agrees. Beri who was a part of the first batch of NIFT recalls, “Firstly, in my times there was just one NIFT but today there are number of its branches, which goes on to show that fashion is not simply a form of entertainment. It is a serious profession. If we compare ourselves to the fashion schools from across the globe, we are way behind. We need full-time dedication towards it if we want to stand out and have a secured space in the global market. Back then, the institute was affiliated to FIT New York and that had helped it grow to a great extent. Also the number of students was much less — it was therefore more about quality than quantity, back then. We need responsible platforms for fashion education in terms of design, production, and communication and a chairperson will have enough power to change the face of an institution for good. Hence, decisions like these are crucial, as the future of this growing industry lies in his hands.”
Sharing his thoughts on the whole scenario, designer extraordinaire, Tarun Tahiliani, opines that it’s a sad state of affairs. “This decision clearly shows that the government does not have the sensitivity to appreciate expertise and experience in a field. This has always been the malaise. I simply can’t wrap my head around the idea of how people from other fields can come and inspire children pursuing another field of higher education Anyway, it is quite bizarre and unfortunate for the children,” he quips.