Sabyasachi X H&M – Has the royal Bengal tiger lost its stripes?

If there’s one fashion designer who can be crowned as the heir of Indian couture, the only person that comes to mind is Sabyasachi Mukherjee. Known as the maverick maestro of aesthetics, he has not only revolutionised the industry with the essence of his artistry, but has also been celebrated on the global podium.

Sabyasachi’s collection over the years has predominantly comprised of textiles that are native to India. A glance at his voguish Instagram handle tells the tale of his effort and hours labour by his ‘karigars’ that go into breathing life into every piece of silhouette.

Sabya’s recent collaboration with multinational clothing-retail company H&M for its new range "Wanderlust" has been lauded by fans and fashion enthusiasts. However, a critical analysis of his association with H&M suggests all sorts of paradoxes from both ends.

H&M comes with a murky past. From being accused of inappropriate workplace environment to unethical production, the collaboration has many flabbergasted. Not that the retail chain is any different from other mass production houses, but the idea of Sabyasachi dropping all the morale his label stands for has definitely raised brows.

Sabya spoke to Forbes India, speaking on his completion of twenty years in the industry. Elaborating on his design philosophy he states, “I like clothes made by hands because when you create something out of human hands, it’s never perfect in the sense that imperfections give it personality. In today’s day and age, when the world gets more and more mechanised, it’s the things that you do by hand that are becoming more and more luxurious.”

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Now isn’t that just the contradictory version of producing garments on an industrial scale, impossible to do manually, and will perhaps lose its individuality. The Swedish retailer on the other hand is the second largest in the world, but over the years H&M has been criticised for its ethical work environment and sustainable policies. As a fast-fashion chain, there is no way it produces fifty outfits like that of a designer for a particular season. It’s a manufacturing entity that hosts worldwide consumers.

Sabyasachi can rightfully be called a home-grown luxury brand. As an ace couturier also went on to reveal that he has sacrificed a lot to never lose focus from his work, for the very fact that every time the company’s turnover grew, it meant more people got employed. He calls it as his proudest achievement.

Contrary to that is H&M that had been named for its labour issues. According to a report by good on you, “In 2018, factories that supply H&M were named in reports by Global Labour Justice detailing abuse of female garment workers. Labour rights organisations like the Clean Clothes Campaign pointed out that H&M has not delivered on its 2013 promise to pay 850,000 workers a living wage by 2018."

The fashion industry in India is evolving each season passing by. From creating a line that is organic and environment friendly to upcycling trends in order to avoid fashion dumping, to providing ethical wages to weavers and farmers, designers aren’t just sticking to business motives.

While H&M has taken a few positive steps with several programmes that promote recycling, eliminating hazardous chemicals, it still comes under an unsustainable, fast-fashion model. The Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report suggests that the clothing industry is responsible for about 5.4% of the world’s carbon emissions, which places it around 5th of all industries!

For someone who has shared his trademark with only the crème la crème, such as Christian Louboutin, a business move as such was unexpected. It seems like Sabya has deviated from the core aesthetics that hold his brand at an esteem. His logo, the royal Bengal tiger, an animal that has walked the planet alone, claiming its territory, avoiding all kinds of trespassing, has now given away to the bait of commercial chaos.

The Sabyasachi brigade is a museum of craftsmanship. He has sat on the throne and been adored for standing out as Indian as possible. From boomers to millennials, Sabya has carved an audience that has him and only him in the view. With a bandwagon that values his clothing as a priceless heritage possessions, going on a high street H&M rack is certainly not favourable but also dumbs down the roar of a Bengal tiger’s legacy.

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