Vicksit Mehta: Ahmedabad to Tokyo

...Creative Head at India's leading textile manufacturer, Arvind Ltd.

by Mariel Reed
In 1930, during the Great Depression, the textile industry was dwindling globally. After a boycott was placed on fine fabrics, most of which were imported from England, the Lalbhai family spotted a gap in the market and created Arvind Ltd. By producing high quality Indian fabrics on high-tech English machinery, Arvind was quick to become the leader in textile production. Today Arvind’s Creative Head, Vicksit Mehta is responsible for overseeing the creation of all textiles and designs. He shares with us his experience travelling the world as one of the fashion industry’s under cover VIPs.

Can you explain Arvind and your role there?
I design textiles for apparel (tops and bottoms) for global markets at Arvind Ltd. Textiles make up 60% of the cost of the garment. This is why textiles are key ingredients that contribute to lifestyle. In other words, my role is to manufacture trends and lifestyle fabrics for high-end labels, high street retailers and brands. Since I studied fashion, I like to present garments to my clients based on the philosophy that I have adopted: to maintain a thorough understanding of materials, proportions and construction of classical clothing.

How did you find yourself working in textile production?
Manufacturing gives me an opportunity to broaden my horizons and scope of new learning every day. I feel like a farmer who first sows the cottonseed, then reaps it and goes to the city to sell it. That’s exactly what I do at Arvind, from weaving dreams to producing the final garment whether it be denim, smart-casual or formal.

You seem to have a great eye for a vintage aesthetic. Do you find that there are ways to incorporate this into your work or is it purely for the fun of looking fantastic?
Museums, historic textiles and materials are constant sources of stimulation and inspiration for me. I integrate my historic finds and musings, and my Buddhist spirituality of cause and effect with my work in everyday life. I feel that I am able to bring authenticity to my textile and garment collections when I reinvent ancient archives. I believe in the words of Jim Jarmusch, “It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to”

You are on the road quite a bit and have been travelling to London for about 20 years. What do you find are the biggest cultural differences between Ahmedabad and London?
Society is the reflection of inner life – human beings have the same emotions and feelings. Each city has something to be proud of and something that makes it unique. Ahmedabad is a small city, and has a rich cultural heritage of textiles and crafts. London is a metropolitan city with a myriad of cross-cultural experiences. Every time I visit London, there is something new to explore in terms of street and vintage fashion, high street retail, and quaint cafes, even though structural phenomena are the same. Like I said, it’s the people who make the city. Londoners have a zippy lifestyle and Amdavadi’s relaxed. Both are unique and beautiful.

Any other cities?
My favourite cities are Tokyo, and Paris for its scents, flowers, gardens, merchandise, curiosities, antiques, hardware shops, haberdasheries and handmade goods. It has old-world charm and newness, which makes it unique.

You work with some very high profile clients in the UK. What do you find challenging about working with such in-demand labels?
For us, all clients are demanding, whether they are high profile or mid-market retailers. We have to follow their calendars strictly and align our collection presentations. We have a dedicated CAD artist for each market. We also have consultants in Italy, Spain, New York and Japan. Usually, high profile clients have very early calendars, which pushes us to be ready for them as early as December for spring and June for fall, one year in advance. Therefore designers and brands rely a lot on mills.

Is it rewarding as well?
It’s extremely rewarding. On one hand, designer labels and US retailers have four collections. On the other hand, European retailers have twelve collections. My team, which consists of 30 designers globally, is always on their toes.

Each city has its own creative community; Ahmedabad included. What is the city most known for in terms of creative output?
Ahmedabad is considered the Manchester of the East. 1930 was when the world suffered from the great depression. Companies across the globe began closing down. In the UK and in India, the textile industries in particular were in trouble. Around this time, Mahatma Gandhi championed the Swadeshi Movement and at his call, people from all across India began boycotting fine and superfine fabrics, which had so far been imported from England.

In the midst of this depression one family saw opportunity. The Lalbhai’s (Arvind Founders) reasoned that the demand for fine and superfine fabrics still existed. And any Indian company that met this demand would surely prosper. The three Lalbhai brothers Kasturbhai, Narottambhai and Chimanbhai, decided to set up a mill to produce superfine fabric. Next they looked around for state-of-the-art machinery that could produce such high quality fabric. Their search ended in England. The best technology of that time was acquired at a most attractive price, and a company called Arvind Limited was born.

Apart from textiles, two premier design institutes are based in Ahmedabad; National Institute of Design (NID) and National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). The premier management institute, Indian Institute of Management (IIM) and the Centre for Environment Planning and Technology (CEPT) are based there as well. Students from these universities are contributing to Global creative development.

What is the latest design craze in Ahmedabad?
Honestly, I don’t spend much time in Ahmedabad since my job requires a lot of travel however, I feel Indian energy is moving towards “mass meets prestige” thanks to the celebrity lifestyle and the media. Consumers want to buy all that they had aspired to, which is available to them at high street prices. Top end brands are introducing casual and diffusion lines, giving rise to high demands of collection driven goods. There has been a remarkable growth in the desire-of-luxury economy and the power of the middle market. Specialty stores like Zara are reaching far and wide, giving birth to a global phenomenon and, needless to say, the counterfeits. This principle could have a very positive effect, for instance new emerging markets, and the new rich are keen to buy cheap luxury.

However, consumers who have always bought brands from a genuine understanding of brand loyalty, not from an aspirational point of view, are in the state of confusion. Luxury and authenticity are about a sense of integrity and applying new sets of values to the purchases. This radical breed wants to buy luxury in a form of sincere good service and will stay connected with things and people they love, in other words they want to make a statement of an ultimate Arbiter.

What have you seen are some major trends in textiles for the upcoming season?
As my spiritual mentor, Dr. Daisaku Ikeda says, “a good student is one who inherits the ideas of his teacher, expands on them, adapts them to the social environment, the climate of the times, and the unique character of the country, and creates something new from them". The same holds true for textiles. While forecasting colours and textile trends, I believe in my gut and stay very close to the consumer. I would like to believe that the economic dynamics play a key role in defining casual looks. Designers are orientated towards reinventing clean, modern-classic fabrics with key emphasis on natural and soft hand-feel.

What is next for you and for Arvind?
One thing is clear; today, whether you have $250 or $25,000 you want to look good and feel good. However, the fashion industry is extremely complex. Factors that are some of the most complex in existence combine to make the fashion industry. A number of issues can be clearly identified as common across the industry. Today’s consumer has more buying power than ever before and is generally less tolerant because of the increased time pressure inherent in today’s fast-paced lifestyle.

They demand greater variety and more frequent changes in the choices available to them. From design through production, to the final sale, all members of the supply chain will have to ensure that stores are stocked with the right goods when the consumer wants to buy.

The companies will have to be responsive to customer demands. The product mix has to be managed well. Collection-driven brands will have to ensure that the complete floor sets must be in the stores when a collection is launched, otherwise the opportunity to sell the goods is lost. For the more repetitive lines, it is critical that brands and suppliers do not experience stock outs.

Eventually it will boil down to an experience of newness and direct communications between the brand and the consumer in other words “speed to market”.