From a single center in Mumbai in 1988, JD Institute of Fashion Technology has come a long way to having 27 centers across India today. We sat down with the man behind the success of the institute – Mr RC Dalal as he shares his story with us. With a man of his repute, we thought he wears a strict face like any other college principal. But to our utter surprise, he is a fun-loving man who loves dancing and laughing at silly jokes.
Hear him talk about how he has seen fashion change significantly with time and where he sees it going.
TT: JD has been established in India in 1988. So your father brought it to India?
RC: It was a very funny situation that I and my father started this together. I never wanted to join my father, so I told my father that “One day, you’ll join me”. So, that’s how the birth of the institute started.
TT: What made you interested in fashion? Did you have a fashion background?
RC: Yes, I studied fashion at a time when people only knew tailoring was the thing in India. I studied from the Australian college and then there were only two options at that point of time – either go in for exports because there were only one or two major export houses in India or go abroad and pursue a career. So I told my father one day, “You took so much of pain getting me into a career like this, so why not think of setting up something like this in India.” And simultaneously there were these plans of National Institute of Fashion Technology to be done in Delhi but there was nothing for it in Mumbai. So, we took the first step and said why not have something like this in Mumbai. That’s where JD Institute of Fashion Technology started with a very small handful of people – I, my father, one of the noted designers that time Xerxes Bathena, one of the topmost fashion journalist Meher Castelino and we all 4-5 people we started together something called the JD Institute of Fashion Technology and from Mumbai then it went on to Delhi, to Bangalore, to all 27 places across India.
TT: What challenges have you faced in getting JD here because at that time there was no fashion designing as such?
RC: When I studied fashion and 27 years back when people studied fashion it was a simple thing of taking a 3 meter cloth and putting it around your body and making the person look better. While now of course things have become much more complicated, it has become more scientific, it has become more craft and with art
The challenges were fantastic because there was a time when the students didn’t tell at home that they were doing a fashion designing course and now you have parents coming in with the children to be enrolled. That’s a very major transformation.
The major transformation happened in the year 1996 when Sushmita Sen became the Miss Universe. So the entire focus of fashion, beauty was bestowed upon India and that became the centre of attraction for the entire world. People realized the amount of population and the amount of economy that India could have and generate. That made a lot of change in the way people saw fashion and design after 1996.
TT: How was your first batch?
RC: Our first batch has been fantastic. One of the most promising students was Rocky S, Rakesh Singhvi by the name, who has a label called Rocky Star. He is fabulous; he has done more than about 300 films; he has done period films to most fantastic films. He has been designer for some of the most amazing stars. It’s all with the first batch.
I think every batch! You take Shane Peacock who has the label Shane and Falguni Peacock. You can Gaurav Chhabra. You have Troy Costa. They are all JDians.
TT: For successful designers like Rocky S and Shane Peacock, has JD backed their career?
RC: I think it is just like any other institution, like a school. I would say that there were 15 more students who were studying with Rocky S. I’m sure everyone is doing well in their own way. An institution is always there to formulate the basic attitude and training at a particular place. Rest how they move, what they do and how they get the things ahead is always very important. So any institution would become a kind of a backbone or a kind of a breeding place for them to generate, to have their own creative space and think and learn and then, of course go into the industry and do their own thing.
TT: What are your future plans for JD?
RC: Fashion is getting more and more technical, so that is the most amazing part. The biggest challenge is now to get into the digital space of creative space. A lot of things have changed now because earlier there were illustration, fashion drawing which actually was done so that a person could get an idea as to what is designed and the consumer can know how it would look when it was made, when photography was a very expensive thing. But now the photography has become much more easier and common method.
Things have changed. Fashion forecasting which used to be a very huge distant dream for the fashion designers has become much easier. The overall method of research, of drawing an inspiration and doing something was very complex. Now it has become easier.
The next challenge would be to get fashion more digital, to get fashion more friendly with a lot of people, get fashion which works for a lot of people rather than being as a point of luxury or as a matter of being exclusive to only some.
TT: Tell us about the current fashion scene and scope for kids who aspire for fashion designing.
RC: First of all, it is very important to know what fashion is. While a lot of people think fashion is only apparel which is not right. So let’s get the thing out of the mind of the people that fashion only to do with apparel. I think fashion is an overall lifestyle; it is the way you live. It would be apparel, it would be the way you work, the place you stay at, the car that you drive, the make-up that you use, the hair that you make. It all becomes a part of fashion. As a matter of fact, when you say apparel, it is the largest revenue earner for India because with regards to the amount of import that it has done. The apparel is the largest sector for the revenue that comes to India. Infact handloom is the second largest employment generator for the rural India. So apparel has a very huge amount of connect. Second stream that comes in is interior design which makes your habitat, your living, your working much better. There is also jewellery design and graphic design. In all the things that you take in, these are all part of your daily needs which will never go out of fashion. There is huge amount of scope and it is just making things better because no one knows the best but every day you evolve to do something better.
TT: How can one identify that fashion designing is his or her career line?
RC: I was telling this to someone that if you change your sofa placement every month, that means you have a bit of interior designer in you. Anyone who can actually see things in a different way, who can say what is a good fashion and a bad fashion and criticize it in a better way, who is sensitive enough to feel the colour, feel the weather, be happy when you see a rainbow, sensitive enough to react to the changes of people and the requirement of the people. So it could be the best thing to go and do a design related subject. Normally designers are the ones who are very sensitive, who have their senses very open, like artists. Painters and artists are very touchy, very moody because they are very sensitive. I think anyone who is sensitive enough should pick up art and design, whether it is fashion design, interior design, whichever subject but they should pick it up.
TT: Talking about interior design, do you think it has a good market?
RC: Interior design is one of the largest markets after fashion because people have realized that just wearing good clothes does not bring them out to be better people. They would want to show off their own lifestyle through various forms. Home and work becomes the most important thing. People want to live beautifully, people want to live elegantly, people want to work efficiently. Designing is not about just making things look good but it is about making things work for them in a better environment.
Like how Steve Jobs said that design is a very funny thing unless it works for you. It better work for you! Designers are the ones who create solutions which actually work for you in a very beautiful way.
TT: Do you think interior design will become bigger than fashion design one day?
RC: It will! Eventually people have realized that in interior design you spend more money than in fashion. Overall in terms of your clothing an approximate middle class would spend about a lakh of rupees in one year’s time for your own wardrobe. A middle class would spend anywhere close to 25-30 lakhs on the house which would be for five years. At an average if you go to see, you have definitely spent more money on the place.
RC: There is a market everywhere. There is a designer everywhere. Everyone needs to sell. There was a connection in the market, there was a thought like this that it is only for the niche market and it is only for the elite or beyond a particular society status. Then came in the international labels! The moment the international labels came in, they realized that if a Canali jacket would cost about one and a half lakh, how can a lower crafted jacket would cost two and a half lakhs. So they had to correct their own pricing and now people realize that the market has become more aware, the consumer has become more aware.
TT: Is that the reason why designers are coming up with their budget labels?
RC: Designers realize that beyond a particular point they will not survive. And they need to survive! So when they come out with a Prêt label, that goes to a larger section of society and that is where the money comes in. Otherwise having one showroom at one secluded place in one particular area, how many people would be able to go and actually buy? At the same time the advertising and promotion become expensive. So by selling it through a particular vendor which has 200 shops all across India, having the labour available, that automatically makes the person more aware about things. So that is why you have initiatives like Wills Lifestyle stores and Shoppers Stop who has tied up with Rocky S, Westside who has certain designers and brands.
TT: We saw PETA promote vegan, animal-friendly fashion at JD. Tell us about it.
RC: If you want to do anything or bring about any change or bring about any kind of thought, it should be worked on like a mission. It cannot be done halfway. I think we should take vegan fashion as a mission and the whole of fashion fraternity would be very up and ready to be with it because I think people have heard it but then they are not been able to actually practice it. So I think it is a nice thing to hear about it and tackle the situation on a 360 degree view and approach.
It is a very good thing that PETA joined hands with a college which is one of the largest colleges in India. We have close to about 3500 t0 4000 students and getting these things instilled in them at a time when they are already learning about designing, it will work as a very major formulation in their minds or even if they want to think about something like this, it will not happen. It’s catching their minds early.
Secondly, we should look at all the designers who have already graduated and who are on the process of doing things. So we can speak to them. And of course, I wouldn’t call them the retirement age designers (laughs) but the senior most designers, they could be the one who could support this movement and tell the youngsters that this is the right way to do things.
TT: Would you get ethical, vegan fashion as a subject in the syllabus of JD?
RC: I think it should be a fantastic thing because from now onwards every year we would have at least one sequence which would be dedicated to this particular objective and mission of vegan fashion. We would urge to have students compete towards it so that it goes to a larger section of people and then they could talk about it in different ways and show it off. It would start with that and of course there would be a special research project on this where we could find out so many things about the way this basic idea could be instilled into the designers of they being not only good designers but be better human beings as well.
TT: JD has been associated with a lot of fashion weeks. Please tell us about it.
RC: We have done everything! We were part of the India Fashion Week some years ago. We are now the part of the India Fashion Week in London and we are the knowledge partners for the same. We select student designers who go in for the Gen New category in the India Fashion Week, London which is going to happen on the 15th and 16th of October.
In India, in every fashion week you go you’ll have a JDian displaying a collection. If it was last time at Lakme where Rocky S presented or you go to Kolkata Fashion Week, you’ll have someone, or you have the Upper Assam fashion Week, I just came to know yesterday that two of our alumni presented a collection. In Bangalore Fashion Week, we just had two designers.
Now we’ll look at a lot of places outside India because we feel that Indian designers till the time they are not globally accepted, this is the next challenge. So that is why we were a part of the India Film Festival in Moscow where we presented the collection. We were a part of the Indian Film Festival, Vietnam where we proposed a fashion collaboration between Vientnam and India because Vietnam has this costume called Ao dai which is their national costume and which is so similar to our salwar kameez. It was a very huge thing that we saw. We were a part of the Indian Film Festival in Norway where we presented. The most amazing part now is to take Indian fashion outside India where people can not only just see the colour and texture but they see the urban side of Indian designers who are ready for the international market.