It’s not an easy time to be in the fashion industry in India. Being a designer is a common enough dream these days, but abundant talent is no longer all it takes. You might make a stellar suit, or craft the perfect accessories to take any look up a notch, but if you can’t market yourself well or price your products appropriately, you’re in trouble. Raghavendra Rathore knows this only too well, from his two decades of experience as a designer. So, while he nurtured a dream of opening his own design school someday, rapid commercialisation of the industry and the ever-changing retail climate in India have made him rethink the conventional curriculum.
As Rathore prepares to unveil his long-in-the-planning baby — Gurukul School of Design (GSD) — in Jaipur later this year, he tells us that the timing couldn’t be better. A spanking new structure is being erected in the Pink City, where the faculty will comprise mostly of international names. The designer has been involved with conceptualising each course, and will monitor all of them along with conducting weekly reviews with the students.
Ask about the ‘gurukul’ ideology, and he says it’s more to do with a wholesome lifestyle, which he hopes the students will attain. “We’ll have some yoga and breathing exercises. The direction is merely self-discipline, drawing from aspects of our culture. These things are life hacks,” Rathore says, adding, “We also want to go back to how things used to be earlier, albeit in a more controlled environment. So maybe all through the first year, we won’t allow students to use Google for their assignments. Instead, they can rely on the faculty for any help they might need.”
Rathore muses that design-heavy curricula produce designers who only think from season to season and from one fashion week to another. So while they are technically skilled and meticulous when they graduate, they have no idea how to factor in taxes or hire the right staff. “Finances for a designer are not only about buying cloth worth Rs 3,000 and crafting it in a manner that it can be sold for Rs 60,000. If you see corporate reports, there is no mention of fashion because people don’t take designers seriously if they set out to seek a loan or pick a store location. You shouldn’t have to hire someone to do it for you,” he explains. “What’s more, GST is going to add 18 per cent, and the entire landscape of retail will change. Sales are expected to dip, so basic knowledge of marketing and business is important.” To put it simply, Rathore’s hope and dream for his students is that when they leave the school, each of them “should be able to launch their own business, instead of interning or assisting a designer”.
The design focus being on good tailoring and bespoke creations, GSD students will graduate armed with four years of lessons in understanding how to best cater to clients. “Often, you get so lost in detailing and technical perfections that you forget the customer,” Rathore says. The designer also hopes for Jaipur to play a part in moulding his students. “There are too many distractions in the metros, and just the act of getting to school is a chore. This is more peaceful. Also, the ethos and primitive nature of using hands in Jaipur really attracted me,” he signs off.