Fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Swedish fast-fashion brand H&M have collaborated on a joint collection called Wanderlust and it is not being received well.

Mainly, it is instigating rage on two counts; cultural appropriation and inaccessibility. These two things may not be new to the world of fashion but what infuriates people is the fact that the collection claimed to do better, and the fact that Mukherjee himself has always been such a promoter of slow, ethically produced fashion.

The word ‘hypocrite’ has been used often in his context, of late, on the internet.

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Most of the line uses the aesthetic of Indian Handloom but not the techniques. The H&M website states that “a key highlight of this collection is Indian textile and print traditions brought to life by the Sabyasachi Art Foundation, meticulously crafted embroidery and multicultural silhouettes.” But the prints have been created digitally, not as they originally are. Some, like the Sanganeri print, GI tagged to a specific community of artisans, have been altered slightly, but not enough to not remind one of the former.

The designer has now received an open letter signed by 15 Indian crafts associations and collectives, including Crafts Council of India, Crafts Council of Karnataka, and the All-India Artisans & Craftworkers Welfare Association.

The signatories express concern about the fact that the collection draws heavily from traditional craftsmanship, but it is unclear if artisans were involved in any way or are benefiting from the collection.

“Given Mukherjee’s long association with traditional craftsmanship and slow fashion, a digitally printed sari costing a large sum could also be mistaken by consumers for the real handcrafted thing and this becomes a concern adding to the crisis of authenticity,” said Meera Goradia, co-founder of Creative Dignity, which is a network of artisans, craft associations and stakeholders, and a signatory to the letter.

Another issue arose with the pricing of the sold-out collection. Mukherjee was compelled to issue an apology on August 16, for the fact that the site was unable to cope with traffic, and there was not enough stock to meet demand.

 

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The pricing was promised to be accessible, but a ₹9,999 tag on a saree is not what the average H&M consumer would purchase.

Approached for comment, Mukherjee told Hindustan Times that he and his team were framing a response to the letter, but declined to offer any immediate response.

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