Why the H&M x Sabyasachi partnership stands against India
I stand with the few rare influencers and brands who are calling a spade, a spade.
It is saddening to see a brand that was created with so much promise exhibiting India's rich artisanal prowess to the world, take this route. For the first time, Indian fashion typically associated with hippie travellers who found harem pants on their self discovery journeys, was instead associated with rich rich heritage full of our history. Yes, thanks to Sabyasachi.
However, this partnership is a disservice to what Sabyasachi & his amazing brand stood for, for decades. It is not some launch of India into the global arena that PR is making it to be. He already did that by making his luxury brand a success - and we are immensely proud of him for doing that. I personally aspire to have that much impact on the industry some day. He didn't have to sell out to a fast fashion rogue to prove this point.
This partnership is a disservice to the sustainable movement happening around the world. It is a disservice to Indian artisans. It is a disservice to the rich heritage and slow-fashion that most of India consumes even today by depending on their tailors & local shops to sell them traditional textiles & hand stitch their clothes.
WHY IS IT A DISSERVICE?
Having perhaps THE ICON of Indian Luxury sell out to a fast fashion house known for its unethical business practices, poor quality tailoring & plastic fibers is obviously a disservice to the Indian fashion industry.
Mostly because Sabyasachi was known, until this partnership, for patronizing Indian artisans, making high quality clothes that the richest of brides wore for their big day & sourcing authentic silks from weaving clusters. This partnership sits on the exact opposite end of the spectrum of everything the brand stood for. And that is not what you expect to see from industry leaders.
WHY PERHAPS DID SABYASACHI DO IT?
Sabyasachi is a franchise in its prime - for years, the designer has been seeking out partnerships & investments globally to grow the brand. If you look at luxury houses - there are typically 2 types of growth:
1) You continue to invest in scarcity and expand product range. You keep the brand extremely impossible to reach for the masses, increasing its value over time. To increase your sales you may or may not sell second tier designs through outlet malls. Any major luxury brand from Europe has followed this approach.
2) You partner with big brands from the opposite end of the spectrum & use your earned fashion capital to sell to the masses at a more "affordable" price. Several luxury houses have taken this approach in the past on their way to becoming a mass brand. A very commonly quoted example: Victoria Secret.
Sabyasachi has taken the later route to expand. To be clear, it is not that they chose to expand to the masses that is the problem. It is that they chose the worst of fast fashion houses to do so with.
IS SABYASACHI NOT LUXURY ANYMORE?
With this move & I am sure a few more such partnerships are coming our way soon.. unfortunately the brand is on its way to the highest dilution of its luxury status.
Perhaps its important to note that the Aditya Birla Group, a home grown Indian mass retailer, owns a 51% stake in the Sabyasachi brand since January 2021 that they purchased for $3.9B. Did you know that? Now it seems like it all makes sense right? Why they need to dilute?
Sabyasachi and the Aditya Birla group will go on to make their 100s of millions in royalties & cut of sales. We don't know the rest of the story. Or maybe we do. All we know is that this partnership does not stand for the Indian artisan showcase that Sabyasachi PR is trying to tell you. These clothes were made in sweat shops and the tailors were paid extremely cheap wages in horrible working conditions. That's what H&M's expertise is.
It is more disheartening to see the entire fashion fraternity parade this collection after speaking about the Indian handloom industry & how they support sustainable fashion, just 2 days ago. Every single influencer who perks up and claims they promote sustainable fashion is also wearing this outfit. Look, I know it must be irresistible to say yes to Sabyasachi; who wouldn't? But where are our principles? If we don't have principles, then what do we have? Especially if we have a voice loud enough for the world to hear. Check yourselves and your story you guys.
Words by Dhanya Balasubramanian