A pattern for collaboration

All about a fashion show, a fashion resource centre and a visit from students of the New Zealand Institute of Fashion Technology (NZFT)

When you talk to students of fashion technology, you expect to hear words like ‘silhouettes’, ‘colour palette’, ‘cuts’ … Instead I hear ‘sustainability’, ‘slow fashion’, ‘fair wages to workers’…

This group of 15 students from the New Zealand Institute of Fashion Technology (NZFT) were on a six-week internship at the Bannari Amman Institute of Technology (BIT) at Sathyamangalam. Selected on the basis of the Prime Minister Scholarship Scheme from their country, the youngsters have not only gotten an insight into the entire range of textile manufacturing but also into the handloom sector.

“New Zealand is a small country, compared to India,” smiles Giles Brooker, educational consultant and Chairman of the Giles Brooker Group who helped facilitate the exchange programme. “There is very little manufacturing there. Most of the manufactured items come from China. We wanted to show the kids a start-to-finish process in the textile field.”

Apart from the big garment manufacturing industries of Tiruppur, the group also visited a centre for hand-woven silk saris at Dhoddampalayam and Ethicus at Pollachi. “There was this one centre where they turned out something like 50,000 garments a day. And then there was Ethicus where it took almost a month to make one sari,” exclaimed Youhan Khosho. Ana Te Whaiti rhapsodised over the Jacquard looms, “It was amazing to watch the weaver at work. The amount of patience needed.”

What struck Rachel Hillier and Katie Flanagan the most was the contrast between the weavers of Ethicus and Dhoddampalayam and workers at the bigger units. “One of the things this trip taught me,” muses Hillier, “is to say ‘No’ to fast fashion. When I start working, I’m definitely going to pay attention to sustainable fashion and to look into issues like working conditions and fair pay.”

Their trip has not been all work and no play. They’ve had pitstops at Thanjavur, Ooty, and Mysore. Which was the most memorable? “Seeing who could run fastest across the hot stones at the temple in Thanjavur,” says Hillier, as her friends burst into laughter. “But the temple was amazing,” says Khosho, and the others nod in agreement.

Ameera, a final year student of Fashion Technology at BIT, felt that the annual visit by the New Zealanders keeps the Indian students on their toes. “We learn from each other,” she says. “For example, they go from idea to final product very quickly. They have their garment made in just 3-4 days whereas we tend to take more time. Interacting with them has helped us also work faster.” Apart from course-related exchanges, the students also learnt about each other’s culture and lifestyles. “And movies,” laughed Ameera, even as she rushed off to make sure that things were in place for the inauguration of the new Fashion Resource Centre at BIT.

Once the ribbon cutting was done and the two groups of students performed a couple of dances, the action moved to the auditorium for a fashion show in which the New Zealanders wore Indian clothes and the Indians wore Western outfits, which had been made by the first group with the saris they bought during their time in India. And how did the New Zealanders cope with the saris and lehengas? “They’re hot and heavy but, oh, so beautiful,” sighs Samantha Gamman.

A step ahead

The new Fashion Resource Centre at BIT has up-to-date machinery, a business centre, a display room complete with dummies and a ramp.

“It’s a huge improvement on our existing centre,” says an excited Ameera. “We have the latest sewing machines and everything else we need to ensure ideas move from our heads to the stage.”

A couple of the NZFT students who were standing near agreed. “It’s a very good space to work in,” they said. “The machines are really something, as we found when we were making our clothes there.”