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Sabyasachi Replies To Artisans’ Collective Calling Him Out For Cultural Appropriation

On August 16, several artists’ collectives joined hands to write a letter to acclaimed designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee regarding his collection in collaboration with leading fashion retailer H&M. They highlighted that Indian craftsmen were not compensated in the making of this collection, and the probable effects of mass appropriation of these unique designs. In response to… Continue reading Sabyasachi Replies To Artisans’ Collective Calling Him Out For Cultural Appropriation

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On August 16, several artists’ collectives joined hands to write a letter to acclaimed designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee regarding his collection in collaboration with leading fashion retailer H&M. They highlighted that Indian craftsmen were not compensated in the making of this collection, and the probable effects of mass appropriation of these unique designs.

In response to this, Mukherjee replied defending his collection, the prints used and emphasised on the need for a “Designed in India” collection.

The Sabyasachi x H&M collection was released on August 12, and consisted of floral dresses, wide-legged pants, jewelry and more. Called ‘Wanderlust’, the collection was a collaboration between Mukherjee, a Calcutta-based designer known for his gorgeous Indian-wear, and global fashion brand H&M.

Soon after it was released, Mukherjee was widely criticized on social media for collaborating with a fast fashion brand. Several fashion influencers also cited cultural appropriation while stating why they are not in favour of this collaboration.

The H&M website states that “a key highlight of this collection is Indian textile and print traditions brought to life by the Sabyasachi Art Foundation, meticulously crafted embroidery and multicultural silhouettes”.

However, the prints on the clothes have been produced digitally. Some of the prints in question, like the Sanganeri print, are authentic and GI-tagged to some specific artisans in India. In the collection, the prints, though mildly modified, are largely quite similar to the original Sanganeri print.

In the wake of this, a group of various artisan collaboratives and artisan organisations wrote an open letter to the designer.

The letter expressed concerns that the collection draws heavily from traditional Indian craftsmanship, but there is no surety that artisans were involved in any way, have been compensated or are benefiting from the collection.

The letter stated, “We are therefore deeply pained by the missed opportunity that ‘Wanderlust’ has been for artisan livelihoods. The publicity material implies that the range is connected with Indian craft. However, the range is not made by Indian artisans and with no visible benefit to them. This was an incredible opportunity to position India’s design and craftsmanship on the global map.”

Fifteen Indian crafts associations and collectives, including Crafts Council of India, Crafts Council of Karnataka, and the All-India Artisans & Craftworkers Welfare Association, Dastkar and Delhi Crafts Council were signatories.

It asked, “Have the artisan communities that have the proprietary rights to these designs been credited or compensated in any way?”

The letter also questioned the larger signal it sends out to young designers, global brands and corporations. “Will this not set the stage for mass cultural appropriation along with increased loss of livelihoods, especially in light of everything moving online?” it said.

Have the artisan communities that have the proprietary rights to these designs been credited or compensated in any way?

Open letter from artisans’ collectives

In response to this, the designer replied, highlighting how this collection is different from his usual repertoire and the need for it.

In the letter, he stated, “Sabyasachi Couture has always championed our craftspeople and our great heritage of textiles and craft, and will continue to do so. I strongly believe that the beauty of the artisanal, can never be mass produced or reproduced mechanically or digitally. Wanderlust, is not meant to be a substitute for couture or the artisanal. It stands in its own sector and industry, it is meant to reach more people.”

He emphasized on the fact that this collection was made in an attempt to reach more people and put Indian handicrafts on the global map. “As the Indian design sensibility and aesthetic—that is so rooted in our heritage of crafts and textiles—attains more visibility and reaches a wider audience, a truly global audience, we have the opportunity to introduce more craft-based products to the global premium and luxury market that aspires for the artisanal,” he added.

Just as ‘Make In India’ needs to be encouraged, so should ‘Designed in India’.

Sabyasachi Mukherjee

He defended his inspiration board and said that it was well-researched. He went into the specifics of the Sanganeri print, saying, “For instance, the prints used in this collection are not a replication of Sanganeri hand block prints, it is a hybrid that is inspired by the aesthetic of the Sanganeri block print, the French toile, chintz prints and so on. And it has not been marketed or sold as a Sanganeri print, or for that matter as an artisanal product.”

He ended his response by saying “I have always been a champion of the Indian karigar, and I will continue to do so.”